Being un-childrened is an outsider status, and no matter how compassionately observant your comments may be, it has been my experience that some parents feel entitled to object unkindly to any comparisons you may make between raising children and gaining the cooperation of dogs. (You can easily guess how I came by this insight.) I take it for granted that no one will mind if I compare myself to both young children and my greyhounds, and so here goes.
Whether slicing the world into clickable bites, or re-translating the expectation “Put Your Lunch Box Away” into its component actions, I have personally found it a tremendous relief to realize that I am no less perplexed than my dog, or some of the 3 year olds I have lately met, by the higher order expectations which have loomed over my life these 46 years.
The phantoms of storms, the smells that don’t smell right…don’t I feel equally helpless when faced with sudden events that, in the moment, seem to threaten my survival? Bigger brain, indeed.
Pre-schoolers set no less high a standard for understanding what you want from them than any dog I have met. Unless you know that cleaning up the sand box starts with putting down the shovel, or that the time for sharing is NOW, how can the task come to anything but tears? Thus have I, too, misunderstood the signals of social realities, distracted by shiny gum wrappers while everyone else was putting away their toys.
Anxiety and shyness may be displayed in obvious ways by both dogs and human anklebiters, but natural programming to please the bigger dogs/humans, and fit in with the equal dogs/humans often masks uncertainty with subtler behaviors (or non-behaviors as the case may be). Faced with a world that is largely meant for another species, young children and dogs can only hope for true communication between themselves and the People in Charge. On both sides of the fence, guess work is rampant.
Recognizing the anxiety that lies just beneath the surface does no harm, although it seems to bother a lot of people to acknowledge its influence. As children, my dear parents never had any such indulgence of their anxieties. Indeed, it is clear that one of the bonds they shared was to have learned at a very young age that they could show no vulnerability, lest they run afoul of the needy adults who dominated their homes.
It is true, the world is full of Jack London dogs who bound into the wilderness with eager self assurance, and Lassies who, I will acknowledge, should be allowed to vote. But the charming ability to please is no guarantee that the heart is full of confidence, and the knowledge, conferred by my dogs, that this secret lives in my own heart, has blessed my life in countless ways. And if their shy, dignified reticence has made me a better listener to your mouthy toddler, then that is just too damn bad.