On Dogs Loving Conditionally.


Raising a puppy is delightful and yet so so so challenging.
(Moms of children please don’t laugh at my naivety. I recognize that what is to come is so much harder!).

There are moments where Franklin trots happily on my left side with a loose leash – he can be happy as a clam outdoors. And yet two hours later I find myself suppressing a desire to drag Franklin along behind me just because it soudns easier than his zigzag sniffing of All. The. Trash. and All. The. Twigs.

And then there are lovely moments when I murmur, “Franklin, you are so good. You are the best.” Just now, I laid on the floor and Franklin came right over and snuffled his nose under my neck, just above my shoulder. I heard him snort out in contentment and then saw his eyes close. Oh! Can I relive that? And when he rolls right over on his back with the goofiest grin expecting a belly rub. Oh! If that would happen every hour! And when he is so eager to perform “high-five” that he completely misses my palm? Ah. And yet two hours later I’m trying so hard not to yell at him.

A week ago training became especially difficult because Franklin started nipping our ankles/backs of our legs to get us to go in a certain direction. It wasn’t unexpected, as he is indeed pure Australian Shepherd, but the forcefulness of his nips took me by surprise. His little teeth are sharp, dang it! We’ve been asking for a sit immediately after a nip/bark, and then clicking, treating, and moving on with the walk. And yet it feels like again and again and again we repeat the same thing with no substantive change. But then today I saw him suppress his impulse to nip my leg by half-way jumping and then immediately plopping his bottom into a sit. I still feel such victory at that!! And yet this is just one instance. Although I praised him like crazy for it…


As it turns out, I have had to overcome one misconception: dogs (and especially puppies) do not love unconditionally. Sure, they love exuberantly and openly. But they certainly have moods. Franklin has grumpy moods, barky moods, hungry moods. He is an animal with needs and demands and his every thought is not, “I adore Shannon. She is the best,” (I wish!). He is planning how to get his needs met. One of those needs certainly is getting attention and a lovely petting. However, in the same way children have to learn to have self-control, I’m learning to teach Franklin that we don’t always look at him when he barks, we don’t always walk the way he wants, or stand right next to him every hour of the day (he is the epitome of a “velcro dog”).


Through this dear puppy, Bryan and I practice increasing the depth of our patience. Just when our reserves run low, Franklin does the sweetest thing like sit politely at the foot of a seven-year-old who wants to pet him (right after nipping at my heels). I’m also learning to change expectations. I expected Franklin’s nipping and his exuberance, and even his intelligence, (he pees and poops on command and responds most of the time to the commands introduced so far). But I certainly didn’t expect my own exasperation. When did I become so short tempered with a baby? Don’t misinterpret me, I haven’t yelled or hit our pup. But I’ve found myself just “needing to be alone” for a second. Thank goodness for the frequent (but short-lived) puppy naps.

I’ll end with a story of triumph (in Bryan and my little world): we took a walk through Clarendon (the most bustling neighborhood of Arlington) and I couldn’t help but beam in pride. Not a bark heard out of him. He must’ve met at least 25 people. There were so many: Kids! Smokers! Men with Limps! Men with Sunglasses! Women with Strollers! And he happily sat for a pet. I think we may have a vain pup on our hands … but can you blame him?

School is crazy as we close out the year, and as I get ready for Stephanie’s wedding, but I am trying to appreciate all of these moments. Our sermon this morning was on unconditional love – and how as a church of believers we are called to practice that with one another. I am challenging myself to think through that calling. God loves the “real, sinful, unfaithful me” so why can’t I love the real sinful everyone else where they are – unrepentant and broken?

How are you? How was your weekend?



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