He’s not ‘the dog’, he’s family

Oscar putting his paw on my legOscar is a Labrador. He came into our lives when he was just an 8-week-old puppy, although Elizabeth and I had visited him regularly since he was 2 weeks old. We instantly fell in love with him and made the 400-mile round-trip drive to visit him almost every week until we were able to bring him home. He is now 19 months old.

Prior to Oscar, I had often heard people refer to a dog as ‘the dog’. I can’t think of Oscar as ‘the dog’. He’s family.

I’ve had this conversation with the parents of some of Oscar’s friends. They’re very much the same. I think it has to do with the depth of bonds we form with animals. I know other people have the same kinds of bonds with cats, horses, and other animals.

Oscar has completely changed my life. We’ve formed a bond of the kind that I never knew existed, only because it’s not something I’ve had the experience of before.

He loves to play. I play with him every day – a lot – and I laugh out loud at his puppy antics. Someone told me that Labradors are still very much puppies until they are 3 years old. I wonder if that also means he will still steal clothes from the clothes horse, logs from the side of the fireplace, and tissues out of the bin, until he’s 3 as well.

He’s also very affectionate. He likes to come up to us and have his head, face, or neck rubbed, and then usually moves into a tummy-tickle position. When we stop, he looks up as if to say, ‘Hey, why are you stopping’. He also has a bit of a habit of sticking his wet nose in my eye socket. I think it’s just one of the ways he shows affection.

He gets nervous from time to time and I feel such empathy for him. Prior to Oscar I never really thought of animals having personalities. I knew they did, and I’d heard people talk about animals in that way, but it’s one of those things you don’t ever think about until you’re in the situation yourself. Oscar’s personality makes him all the more human to me.

I was quite a nervous child. I got nervous going new places, mostly in case I couldn’t get home again. I was also terrified of lifts. I had claustrophobia. I was 18 years old before I got over that fear.

Oscar gets nervous going into new places too. I feel I can relate to him. He also won’t go up a flight of stairs indoors. I think it’s the fear of not being able to get back down, even though he loves running up and down stairs outside. We first saw these kinds of fears when he was a young puppy. When we got him ready for his first walk, it took us about 15 minutes to coax him out of the house with lots of tasty treats because he was so afraid to cross the threshold of the front door and go down the single step to the front path.

He’s still like that now, not with our front door, but at other peoples’ houses. He hesitates and crouches low going over the threshold of houses he’s not been in yet. It took him three attempts on three different days to go into my mum and dad’s house for the first time.

My mum cuts my hair for me. She’s done it since I was a child. One day we brought Oscar to Mum and Dads’ and he wouldn’t enter the house. Elizabeth had to play with him in the back garden while my Mum cut my hair in the kitchen. It just shows part of his personally to us. As humans, we all have our ‘things’ – the fears, and loves, that make us who we are. I can empathise with Oscar, and that, I suppose, makes the connection stronger.

One of the things that causes me to smile every day is when he decides it’s play time. He looks to me as his playmate. I wanted to be the pack leader but I guess dogs choose for themselves who is assigned to which role. He does follow me around though, everywhere. Whenever I get up and move to another room, he gets up and follows me.

He frequently brings a ball or other toy to me. He stares right at me with the item in his mouth and does a little upwards nod as if to say, ‘OK Dad. Come get the ball’. If I don’t look at him, I hear a thud as he drops the toy. It’s like he knows the sound will get my attention. Sometimes, when I’m working on my laptop in the lounge, he jumps up on the sofa and profusely licks my face. Even when I have been busy writing, I can only laugh.

For the whole time Oscar has been with us, I’ve been writing a book about self-love (it’s almost finished now). I sometimes wonder if he was always supposed to come into my life at this time as I’ve grown so much as a person in that arena and a lot of that has been due to Oscar. I feel I’ve learned much more about myself, I’ve gained confidence, which is an important part of self-love, and I’ve stretched myself in new ways.

It’s all these things and many, many more that generate a bond of the kind that I hadn’t imaged before Oscar arrived in our lives. I suspect that, if you have a dog or other animal in your life, that you will be able to relate to this.

I just couldn’t refer to Oscar as ‘the dog’. It feels disrespectful, like he’s second rate or something. He’s family.

35 thoughts on “He’s not ‘the dog’, he’s family

  1. John Sinclair

    Puppy until three years old? Our Labrador started acting like a grown up when she was about SEVEN.

  2. David R. Hamilton PhD

    Oh dear. I have a long way to go then John. 🙂

  3. Jan

    Hi David!
    At first when I read that you couldn’t refer to Oscar as ‘the dog’ I felt a bit guilty as I do refer to my almost 14 year old Staffie as ‘the dog’, then I realised that in my world, of which he is such an important part, ‘the dog’ is a term of respect for the invaluable role he plays, which no human could possibly fulfil. I’m sure you know just what I mean 🙂
    He’s a perfect example of unconditional love for everybody he meets and even though he’s not as agile and strong as he was, he is still devoted to making sure I’m happy.
    I wish you, Elizabeth and Oscar many happy years together.
    Namaste (that’s to Oscar too)

  4. Jan

    PS I’ve just read John’s comment about how long puppyhood is.
    Geezah only started showing signs of ‘growing up’ in the last couple of years!

  5. That is so true David. I feel the same way about our cats. I’ve chosen not to be a parent in this lifetime, so our pets are the closest thing to children! That’s how I see them, and I love them to bits 🙂 <3

    Talk about characters! We have 10 cats, and they are all so different. I do believe in letting them just get on with what they do. If they want a cuddle, they come to me, and if they want to be outside, that's where they go. Although I do give them a little cuddle sometimes when I feel like it, I don't really believe in trying to make them sit on my lap if they don't want to. It's their decision! 🙂

    As they say, dogs have owners, cats have staff! lol 🙂

    It was great to see you in Norwich a couple of weeks ago, and I hope you'll be back soon!

  6. Mandy McLernon

    After coming along to some of your speaking events and hearing you speak lovingly about Oscar and always looking forward to your posts and hearing how he is doing. I decided to get myself a dog, everything you write is so true, she is my baby girl, my shadow, where I go she goes and she makes me laugh all the time. Thanks for sharing all your lovely heart felt story about Oscar. I’ve learnt if you have a heart shaped hole in your life, get a dog, they fill it up with unconditional love. I’ve taught her many tricks and she’s taught me what love really is.

  7. Katie Zapko

    Loved the article, thank you! Our golden retriever was a puppy until about 7 as well. Jack not only taught me unconditioanl love, but to not be so serious about life; make time to play! Jack has now crossed the rainbow bridge to heaven and we miss like we miss our other family members that have passed. We are grateful to have had such a gift of life.

  8. Cathy

    Yes, our lab was 5 when she started settling down, lol. They’re so sweet! Have fun!

  9. Louise

    Haha, my Lucy (Fruit Loop) labrador is 7 1/2. She still steals socks, wood out of the wood basket and ANYTHING out of the bin! She’s a very happy lady walking around with a full body wag on with something ‘special’ in her mouth showing everyone how clever she is 🙂 Lucy is a true advocate of unconditional love and one of my biggest teachers. You will have many more years of puppy love from Oscar. Have fun 🙂

  10. I feel just the same about my puppy, despite having a dog in my life for the past 60 years, this one has stolen my heart in a whole new way. She will be two years old this month and I hope she will be with me for many many years

  11. Ann Goodman

    We now have a rescued border collie named Megan.
    She just loves to swim in the river looking for any stick or grass
    that may be floating in the water. She never stops and is always
    ready for a game when we come back home. She now has her bed in
    our bedroom and has lots of cuddles when she is settled and snug.
    She has learned to live with Hazel and Heather, cats. Heather is quite
    feisty, meaning she is a bit nervous.
    Hazel leads John a dance and will actually sit in the window asking to
    come in and then she wants to go out immediately. It is amazing their smallness
    of their little bodies but the power to manipulate. I did read once,
    an iron fist in a fur glove, just sums them up doesnt it.

  12. Maxine

    I love it. They say children keep us free, as can pets and all new experience broadens the perception 🙂

  13. DearDavid and Oscar, I do seem to recall saying a few years ago, that Labs and Poodles both stay young for much longer than the usual time for dogs, and the 2 were bred together for people with allergies, as seeing eye or companion dogs, but few ended up being ok for the job…because the time it took to grow out of the teenager years was too much…lol which I love about both these breeds…
    I have had a dog, or 2, in my life, since I can remember, and never will I ever go without having one, it seems unless you experience the same love for a dog, you have no idea the connection…my life is not complete without my dogs, and I introduced Richard to my then Molly, Apricot Poodle, in fell in love hook line and sinker, we have 2 now, a black 5yr old, and chocolate brown 2yr old, both Poodles…love them to bits and back, you will enjoy many years with Oscar, and I may suggest…when he is about 7 or 8 yrs, get another one…to keep him young and to carry on when he leaves…love you xxx

  14. Toria Shaw

    I absolutely loved and related so much to this article, David! Animals we bring into our homes and hearts have a far deeper meaning than “the cat” or “the dog”, they truly become our family. I hope many others take the time to read this article because I think it’s so important to portrait animals with personalities, feelings, and emotions. Hopefully, this will enable our societies to treat animals more humanely – especially those enslaved in the mass production/meat industry. We, as a human race, have a long way to go with how we treat each other and animals. Thank you for brightening my day! Love and light.

  15. Monika Ashton

    A dog opens your heart.
    It sounds as if Oscar has filled your life with joy.

  16. Joy

    I can relate to everything you say. My two are 15 months old and they are family. I too wonder when they will stop shredding plants, toys and anything else they can get in their mouths but they bring such love to the house they are more than worth it.

    I love following your journey with Oscar so keep it up please.

  17. Marie Jowett

    I love your post and I love how you understand your new family member. We always had dogs in the family growing up. Now I have a cat for the first time and I just love him. Our animal friends teach us so much. X

  18. Sue Eastman

    David my dog Bessie is 13 going on 3 months and still has amazing energy & a wonderful connection. I so embrace and endorse your comment “A Dog is not just a Dog they are Family and such incredible soulmates.

  19. When I was being challenged with M.E. I used to love going to the park and watching dogs and playing. They are so present in the moment, so full of life and unconditional love. Both dogs and cats are such great teachers in life too. I grew up with dogs – they were 100% part of the family. I have a cat now. He’s lived with me for 10 years and is about 17 now, so in his twilight years. He has a wonderful character and way about him. Tazbo is my best friend – he has to be as he knows too much! I have created a range of crystal healing pet charms call Taz Rocks in his honour 🙂

  20. Dympna Worboys

    What a lovely article David thank you for sharing your thoughts about you relationship with Oscar.
    It’s a real blessing having such a connection ,I experienced that with my wonderful black cat named Pixie she had been badly neglected and had no fur on her tail or legs when I rescued her ,she didn’t take long to recover with the love I and family showered on her she was far more to all of us than a cat she was understanding welcoming gentle and connected with friends so well.She got texts and used to wake me in morning and we’d plat footsies coming down the stairs ,she bridged an enormous gap in my life ,I had the privlidge of her in my life for 8 wonderful years by which time she was 16 and an ageing lady .The vet loved her but very sadly her time had come which brings tears to my eyes now .PIXIE REMAINED DIGNIFIED TO THE VERY LAST EVERYONE CAME TO SAY THEIR GOOD BYES TO HER SHE APPEARED to understand and she had to be put asleep as her tumour was so large .

    She has left. Her lessons and paw prints on her hearts forever .I miss her every day and as yet just can’replace her she was “Star”
    I always enjoy your articles and you talks keep inspiring in you special may
    Le Gra Dympna

  21. Kathleen Dale

    So glad to follow your journey with Oscar…..I am in complete agreement that not to recognize the personality of our animal companions is disrespectful. Life has allowed me to experience wonderful personal friendships with dogs and cats and even a guinea pig named Jeremy who would make a vocalization that sounded like “we eat, we eat” every night after I got in from work. At this moment I am blessed to be sharing my life with a beautiful white cat named Lillay who was a feral kitten when I found her. She has grown beyond her original fears of almost everything and everyone (with the help of some herbal/flower tinctures) and now initiates moments of genuine affection by walking on my body when I am sleeping and sitting on my chest until I wake and give her a cuddle. She also knows where her “treats” are kept and will go sit by that drawer and wait for me to realize what she is doing……I find it interesting that she never uses her voice to “ask” for treats. All in all I believe our animal companions teach us about “unconditional” love, and our same species companions are the best for lessons concerning “conditional” love.

    May you and Elizabeth and Oscar enjoy Life’s adventures for many many years to come, David.

  22. Heather

    Dr. David, you’re the best. Thank you for another wonderfully uplifting article.

  23. Margaret McCathie

    Hi David, as I read your blog on Oscar it only reminds me of Bramble our late member of our family. She was a special friend to Kenny and he loved her so much. As you describe Oscar,s behaviour it reminds me so much of Bramble,She played like Oscar and when Kenny and I went to bed she got in beside us kicked me out the road and snuggled in to her Daddy. I always said Kenny was having an affair with a black woman. I remember your first visit with Oscar here and he did come in over the threshold of the door quite comfortably I wonder if he sensed our love for dogs. You are the alpha male that is why he follows you around. Enjoy the love it is unconditional.xx

  24. Hiya David!

    I grew up with animals including dogs. I think a lot of breeds continue to have puppyish traits long beyond puppyhood. There is the most wonderful cartoon series which beautifully and humorously captures the essence of dogs from the point of view of how we think their doggie minds work. There is a book available but I follow on Facebook and the cartoons always raise a smile! Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/OffTheLeashDailyDogCartoons

    Love to yourself and Elizabeth!

    Sf xx

  25. Betsy Achladis

    We have four dogs,all rescues (and three rescued cats,three cockiteils,also rescues!) . The oldest is a Shih Tzu she is nineteen or twenty. She was sixteen when I got her. She is blind,missing most of her teeth,but she knows when the squirrel is in the bird feeder and she will chase it up the tree! We roll a small ball to her,she pushes it around the garden. She thinks she is a puppy still! She is an inspiration when I feel sorry for myself. She never gives up on anything,she makes me push myself that extra step when I feel I can’t.
    And Junior,he is an Australian Shepherd,he is our nervous Nellie. After four years he is terrified of all toys. And rawhides and chew sticks and fireworks and thunder…you get the idea. His worst enemy is a hairbrush. It took well over two years for him to be in the same room when I brush my hair. He still fusses and growls when we brush the girls (his “sisters”) or the cats. One can only imagine what a horrid life he had before. He is going blind too due to cataracts,his face gets greyer by the day. Yet he too chases that squirrel,as well as the cats.
    Enjoy the puppiness of Oscar. Savor his endless joy of simple pleasures like teasing you with his ball. Cherish those slobbery kisses. They are only with us for a short time,etch those memories into your heart. The best thing about dogs is they give back the love you blanket them in to infinity and more. The love of a dog is one of lifes greatest treasures. Enjoy your little man, I am off to bed just as soon as each one gets a kiss and a hug.

  26. Sheena

    What a lovely article, made me smile. Thank you

  27. Absolutely agree that these creatures come to us when we need them – my beloved Barty has seen me through the death of my mother, provided a loving and non-judgemental ear for my (then) teenaged children’s confidences and continues to be a warm and loving presence in our home, although now very deaf and increasingly blind. Oscar sounds a delight!

    I blogged about Barty as The Most Beautiful Thing here http://www.lizzie-carver.co.uk/blog/my-most-beautiful-thing.html

  28. sharon macdiarmid

    This is a nice story thank-you, and Oscar is gorgeous. It was only when we first inherited a dog and formed a close bond with him that it occured to us that of course all animals have personalities and feelings. Thanks to our lovely Max. We now have 5 dogs, three of which were found abandoned on the street (in France), and several rabbits who are also dear creatures. The more interaction you have with ‘animals’ to more you feel horrified by what is happening to them everyday so that people can eat sausages and things. Actually quorn products are really tasty.

  29. Maria Anthony

    Responsible and loving dog owners can
    expect lifelong unconditional devotion
    from their dog. They are there at every moment
    like a soul mate.

  30. Olea

    well…he is a dog, but i understand you, i had a cat Pisi, she has been with me for a year, and even though she is not among us for already 3 years, i still love her, it is like she has allways been with me, and allways will be. now many other animals live with me, but i don’t feel the same bond, although i love them all. animals are our family. thank you 🙂

  31. David R. Hamilton PhD

    I totally agree with you Maria. 🙂

  32. David R. Hamilton PhD

    Thanks for your lovely words Betsy. 🙂 You have such a wonderful bond with your dogs. I can feel it from your writing. I will certainly cherish the memories … I get slobbery kisses from Oscar every day. Yes, the love of a dog certainly is one of life’s greatest treasures. 🙂

  33. David R. Hamilton PhD

    That cartoon series is sooooo funny Sarah-Fiona. Thanks for posting. 🙂

  34. David R. Hamilton PhD

    I loved coming to visit Bramble, Margaret … oh, and you and Kenny as well. 🙂 That is sooooo funny that she kicked you out so she could snuggle in beside Kenny. Yes, Oscar easily came in your house, which was lovely. Must be all the warmth. 🙂

  35. This is all so wonderful to hear. We have a dog and cat and we treat them as we would any human being. They are a part of our family too. Our dog often behaves just like a child (he’s 3), and he misbehaves just like one too 🙂 Our cat is over 20 and a strict surrogate mother to him.

    Much love … 🙂

Comments are closed.