To Own A Dog


Think about this for a minute. What it is to have a dog, another species, for a friend.  A companion who will be there with you, day after day, asking little more than something to eat and a safe place to live.

I can take my dog’s leash off and know that she’ll return to me. She will chase critters, smell good smells, snack on fresh grass or play ball, but always with an eye on me.  When she is done with her most current adventure, we’ll go home together.

I can ask her to come to me and remain by my side, and she will choose to respond because it’s our habit to cooperate with each other, even though she has freedom to choose otherwise.  Yes, I trained these things but she does not follow my requests out of obedience.  She follows because it works for both of us, to live in harmony together.

My friendship with this dog affects other people as well. Walkers, cyclists, and equestrians all smile as we pass by. My dog’s joyful leaping and running infects other people with her happiness; a reminder of the pleasure of being curious and free.  I am gratified to realize the power I have to make another living creature so joyful as she bounces and runs on our way out.  Alone, it’s just a walk, but with my dog it’s our shared exploration.

And then I see people smile when we return.  Now my dog walks quietly at my side, keeping me company. Everyone is happy to see our companionship. Things feel right in the world when a person is out with their dog, together with friendship.

There is no comparison between a person walking alone and a person walking with a dog. I have all of the benefits of solitude; time to think and breathe, but none of the disadvantages of being alone. I am not alone.

Not all dogs are so beautifully balanced, but a lot of dogs are, or have the potential to be. How amazing this is, a species that is not considered rare or valuable – just a dog that we take for granted, willingly staying in our homes and by our side. Dogs are widely available; many people can have one, which means that you can go out and adopt or buy a friend. Think about that. You can adopt or buy a friend. Doesn’t even matter if you’re a nice person – you can still have a friend.

I put in some time to get to friendship, but that wasn’t work.  As with all relationships, part of the pleasure was finding ways to have both of our needs met.  I enjoyed her youthful silliness as well as the training time that gently helped mold her maturity.  And now, as my dog approaches her twelfth birthday, I marvel at the connection we’ve built with little more than the natural capacity of our species to fall in love with each other.

I can pet her soft fur, share a snack, or we can walk. I can work on my computer and she’ll be found asleep under my desk.  And when I go to bed for the night, I know she’ll sleep nearby.  She is always there, waiting for me, for the price of her name.

In exchange for a few meals, the occasional walk, and a hand on her head when she asks for attention, I have a friend.  Day after day, that’s all it takes for my dog, a different species, to choose me.  An animal living contentedly in my home and giving back to me in ways to numerous to count.  A bit of a miracle, really.

If everyone had a dog for a friend – not because they thought they should get a dog, or to do dog sports, or to guard the house, or because families have dogs – if people got a dog for a friend, and then learned to treat that dog as a friend, the world would be a very different place.  A kinder, warmer and better place.


About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.
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14 Responses to To Own A Dog

  1. enid says:

    Both you and your dog are lucky to have found each other


  2. anne robinson says:

    What I find amazing about bringing a dog into our lives is that we ask them to leave behind almost, if not all, of their instinctual behaviors (marking, foraging, resource guarding, territorial defense etc.) and ask that they do it our way. The fact that they not only do it but do it with such joy is very humbling and blows my mind.


    • dfenzi says:

      I’m with you there.


    • Eunice Ockerman says:

      I’m torn between letting my basenjis experience the full off leash life the breed originally lived and the hazards of modern day life: Cars, Coyotes,Rattlesnakes, Foxtails, ofther off leash dogs.


      • dfenzi says:

        To be honest, if you think your dogs won’t come back when called under the vast majority of circumstances, then I would not let them off leash. My young terrier goes on walks but most of the time he is not ready for off leash freedom. It’s getting better – slowly but I will not risk his safety. Now – other dogs and snakes and foxtails – he could encounter those risks on or off leash so less relevant to me.

        All of life includes risk and you figure that part out for yourself. Personally, I need to be quite surprised that my dog doesn’t respond to before I would take the risk of off leash in a high risk area. Otherwise we either walk on leash and stick to areas that are less likely to cause problems.


  3. Kathy Anderson says:

    They are just wonderful beings. I love my relationship with my dogs..Best buddies!!


  4. Mark smith says:

    It is beyond doubt that dogs make the best people.


  5. Cecilia says:

    Loved this article you have written about living with a dog. I can only add to this that being with a dog breaks done many barriers humans built around themselves. I train assistance dog puppies and own an 11.5 year old Labrador so I can see people approach us and talking to us being curious about the puppies and sometimes the relationship between my two dogs.
    I see people approach kids in wheelchairs and ask about their dog, this would never happen without the dog’s presence. I see autistic children talking to complete strangers and proudly introducing them to their dog where before only fear of strangers and withdrawal existed. Small and large miracles happen every day in our lives thanks to these wonderful creatures!


    • dfenzi says:

      I have recently finished co-writing a book about an assistance dog named Buffy – her owner (Brenda Weeks) and I felt that talking about service dogs was important. The book is written from Buffy’s point of view, and is very similar in tone to the book I wrote from my rescue dog’s point of view (Brito). Keep an eye out for it in six months or so – it’s being illustrated now. Written to a younger audience (maybe 4th grade or so) but educational to all. This topic comes up – the role a service dog can play in encouraging social interactions.


  6. Vickey G. says:

    Beautifully expressed. Sigh. I wish I could trust my 1-year old Lab off leash not to chase critters. She does great until she sees a deer or a rabbit and then off she goes, sometimes for 30 minutes. I no longer let her off lead on hiking trails for that reason. This is a normally well-trained dog who’s about to pass her CGC but her natural instincts take over when she’s “on the hunt”. Any pointers?


  7. Margrit says:

    I just love love love this article of yours, Denise. It is so very true and I am so very blessed to have three friends at home who are always at my side. I can’t thank my doggies enough to be in my life. Thank you, Denise, for making it so very clear, that we should NOT take our dogs for granted. They are even sooooo much more than “”””just”””” friends!!! 🙂


  8. lana v gorina says:

    This really resonated with me. I always found it amusing how two different species can not just live side by side, but also form this unique bond to enhance their lives. I looked at it with an eye of an extra-terrestrial visitor: looking down at this small blue planet he/she sees that two species format a symbiotic relationship based on free will and enjoyment each others company. How incredibly fascinating and special! Two unrelated species, who evolved separately and don’t even have common means of communications, found a way to live together and enjoy it. Think about it. It’s nothing short of a miracle. Our dogs are nature’so gift to us.


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