So far, I have been blessed to share different portions of my life with several different dogs: a dachshund (Wiggles), two English setters (Marnie and Mickie), three Pembroke Welsh corgis (Peanut, Popcorn, and Indiana Jones), and now the one and only Mighty Wonder Buck, our rescue mutt. Have you ever stopped to consider how many types of dogs there are? I did a brief (very brief) survey online just to check the number, and couldn’t pin it down. One site identifies five “breeds” based on function: there are companion dogs, guard dogs, hunting dogs, herding dogs, and working dogs. Checking out the American Kennel Association website, however, the term “breed” is a bit more inclusive. I have never heard of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, or a Leonberger. My personal favorite is the Xoloitzcuintli (pronounced “show-low-eats-queen-tlee”) Really? Who comes up with these? Far from being the cute little glamour queen the name sounds like, it’s actually a pretty cool canine of the guard dog variety, which means despite the fancy moniker, his nickname should be “He-da-boss”, so don’t mess with him or his family.
There are probably those who would argue the point, but most dog-lovers and owners of multiple dogs would tend to agree that, regardless of their intended function, dogs have different personalities, likes and dislikes, and temperaments, some based on breed and some not. As such, there is probably a “nature/nurture” argument that can be made within the functional breeds themselves, that is, certain breeds tend to like certain things or behave in certain ways, because they were designed that way. Nature puts it in, and nurture can capitalize on it. They are born with certain capacities, and disciplined training improves upon those capacities.
Case in point. We didn’t know much at all about Pembrokes when we “rescued” our first two litter mates from the local veterinarian. Peanut and Popcorn were about one year old when we adopted them into our lives. Our vet told us that the breed tends to be high energy, happy, exuberant. This was perfect for a family of three high energy school-age girls! First, we brought home Peanut. One evening, we decided to take her for a walk in the neighborhood, but found that she kept wanting to circle around the back of us and then come up the front to continue walking. After a while, she would do it again. Then again. Finally, some of the group purposefully began to hang back to see what Peanut would do, and predictably, back she trotted to the back in her effort to pull us all in together—she was herding us! Like she was bred to do! It was fascinating to see.
Things were going well after we brought home Peanut. What a sweetie. But when I decided to retrieve sister Popcorn as well, it soon became evident that their first year of life had been less than perfect. To begin with, they were both afraid of feet, or of the broom—the implications of this did not bode well. And although they were “housebroken”, they apparently had also been broken in other ways. We began to find doggie biologicals throughout the house, until one day we came home from church to find a small brown pile in the middle of our bed. Now for a stumpy-legged Corgi to get way up there took effort and determination—someone was trying to make a statement!
Our seasoned vet told us that this was probably the dog’s way, who was yet unable to distinguish between “good human” and “bad human”, of showing anger to humans in general. Based on her less-than-friendly demeanor and her un-Corgi-like elusive behavior, we assumed correctly that the perpetrator was Popcorn. This was going to take more than carpet cleaner and laundry soap. This was going to take time and patience. Bonding takes relationship, and relationship requires communication. How could we communicate with this dog that we were “good humans”? Strategies, anyone??
Much as some of us would dispute, humans are not dogs. But there are some interesting similarities that, I think, can be safely made between people and their beloved puppies:There are a variety of opinions within the psychological community concerning personality testing. As such, there are a variety of personality tests of different levels and depth and measurements. You can be a color (green, blue, orange, or gold) or an animal (lion, otter, beaver, or yes, our good old Golden Retriever), or a shape (square, circle, triangle, or squiggly lines), or even just a letter (I think it spells DISC?). There are even more sophisticated tests that have been developed by people with lots of letters behind their names. These tests can actually be quite helpful, since we can’t look at a person and tell by “breed” what innate personality traits they may have by nature, (regardless of what nurture has done for them…or to them.)
Valid personality testing can give us some indication of how best to communicate to this person, how to relate to them, since the important thing with people, as with our canine compadres, is relationship. And as posited earlier, relationship means communication. Some personalities tend to be more sensitive to what others are feeling, some may be literally oblivious. While the latter may come across as unfeeling, it is a dangerous assumption to presume so. Some personalities pick up on social cues pretty easily whiles others just have to be hit over the head with it. It took me awhile to figure this out in our marriage, and if you’ve persevered in marriage for longer than, let’s say, six months, you may have figured this one out also… Communication strategies—one of the values of personality testing.
Another plausible usefulness of these tests is the indications of typical strengths and personal challenges that seem to be endemic to particular personality “breeds”. Our Corgi may have been pretty adept at herding us, and this would have been a great thing to nurture in her if we had been cattlemen or shepherds. But we weren’t, and since this innate quality was purposefully neglected, it passed as she matured. I guess, even in dogs, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Interesting to think about, especially when it comes to identifying the innate gifts and certain traits in our children, our employees or committee members, our church congregants, and the list goes on.
Conversely, although Peanut probably would have been a good herding dog, she would most certainly not have been a quality hunting companion. She hated water—swimming was definitely not her strong suit and I could not fault her for it. We were at a lake one day, and I had her try to swim out to me. She seemed to think I was in some kind of trouble out there in this wet stuff, and was trying to get out there to help me. It was a very big heart in that very small dog! We didn’t do much of the swimming thing again. Similarly, with not only our children, but ourselves and others, it is important to try different activities to see what fits, while at the same time to have wisdom to know when to change over to something else. I think I’m pretty glad Bill Gates didn’t go into professional football, or I might be typing this on a pica with lots of white correction fluid…
As worthwhile as recognizing the different types of people, it is critical to remember that we are, in fact, talking about people, the only order of being created in the image of God, and therefore we cannot be reduced to a test result. If dogs can be rehabilitated, how much more human beings? Again, we must be careful to utilize these tests as a strategy for communicative relationship and change, rather than merely a category to explain away and accept (and therefore enable) someone’s destructive behavioral choices and responses. By the same token, we did not allow Popcorn to continue defecating on our bed, nor would any other sane dog owner!
Popcorn and my husband, Bob, had a particular “come-to-Jesus” confrontation, if you will. This was a breaking point, not of the heart, but of the head, not of the spirit, but of the will. Someone needed to be in charge, and it was to Popcorn’s benefit that it not be her. It was gentle, but firm, it was consistent and yet forgiving. She and my other half became best buddies for the rest of her little life, and what a good life it was, once the proper communication had been establish and the relationship realigned.
Thank God that’s exactly what Jesus came to do for us: communication on our level to realign us with proper relationship with our Father. He knows how we are created, and therefore how to connect with each of us within our unique personalities, and is willing to help us in connecting with each other, not in spite of, but within the context of that unique-ness.
Viva la difference!
From God Loves Dogs, by Dawn Jones