Why My First (And Probably Best) Relationship Was with My Childhood Dog

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I’ve had pets for as long as I can remember. When I was 7, I was that “creepy girl” who brought their snake to show-and-tell (as well as a mouse because… Well, 7-year-olds are supposed to like that sort of thing, right?). This was probably the first time I realized I was a little different than the other girls… Only a few boys stuck around to witness me feeding the snake, and all the girls ran away squealing.

I had a few birds, too, which seems weird looking back since I don’t like birds so much now. We had cats, fish, more snakes, dogs, and even a cow. (Although, to be fair, the cow was kept at someone else’s house – for some reason, my parents wouldn’t let me bring it to my little corner of suburbia. Something about how it wouldn’t fit through the dog door.)

With all these pets, there’s one who stuck out above the rest: A dog named Oren.

My mom was a pizza delivery driver at the time, and Oren was a “tip” from one of her customers. (As strange as that already is, it’s not even the weirdest tip she ever got.) This dog was everything that you hope for with a pet dog. He listened to everything he was told, even if we hadn’t implicitly taught him the command yet.

When I slept, he was right by my feet. When I went trick-or-treating, he’d walk me up to the door and wait patiently for me to get my candy before leading me to the next house. When I walked to the store (just a few blocks away in the small town I lived), he’d make sure no one hassled me along the way, and he’d wait right outside the door until I was ready to walk home.

He was one of my best friends… Not that I had too many friends because of the aforementioned “let’s bring a snake to show and tell” fiasco. He taught me what to expect from someone who cared about me – and as strange as it seems to say it like that, there are actually a lot of similarities between a good dog and a good partner.

He was truly loyal.

He loved going for car rides, but he wouldn’t get in someone else’s car. Only ours. He was nice to everyone, but he reserved his extra attention for us. If anyone even threatened to mess with me, my brother, or the house, he turned into the meanest dog you’d ever seen – but once they were off the property, his job was done, and he’d sit. When someone who wasn’t supposed to be at the house would come, he’d chase them as far as the gate – and then sit.

We never had to close the gate, because he understood who fed him and who took care of him, and we never had to wonder where he would be.

He was helpful.

On grocery day, he’d hold the door open for us by sitting in front of it. If I brought rocks in the house (something I always did, despite being told numerous times that I shouldn’t), he’d take them back outside for me before I forgot. If I tried to sneak any random animals in the house (usually garden snakes or frogs), he’d block the door until I put the critter down.

He was fun.

I’ve had a lot of dogs who were afraid of trampolines, but Oren wasn’t one of them. If I was on the trampoline, he was on the trampoline – having at least twice as much fun as I did. I’m pretty sure we even napped out on the trampoline a few times. My brother and I were His People, and if we needed anything, he was right there – even if what we needed was just a friend.

He was gorgeous, in his own way.

He wasn’t the most “conventionally attractive” dog – just some random mutt with a “muddy” color pattern – but that didn’t stop him from being one of the most beautiful dogs I’ve ever owned. Maybe it was just because of how amazing he was in every other way, but his long, silky, mottled coat was something almost mesmerizing.

He cleaned up after himself.

I’ve been trying to teach my puppy to clean up her own toys like Oren did, but so far it’s not working out so well. Oren didn’t have as many toys, but he kept him together. (After spending the last several days taking care of my nieces and nephews in addition to my puppy, I’m really starting to miss having something that kept up on its own mess.) He never had any accidents in the house, he never left treat crumbs all over the floor, and he certainly never left his tennis balls in the middle of the walkway.

He cleaned up after me.

If I left my toys all over the place, he’d nudge them out of the walkway so that I didn’t get in trouble for it. If I dropped some food on the floor (as eight-year-olds are likely to do) he’d clean that up, too – but only after he was told he could. He even made sure I got in the shower when I was told to, by badgering me until I did. Hey, don’t pretend you don’t need someone to push you to take a shower sometimes.

He gave me gifts.

He knew I liked rocks, so he would leave some pretty ones near my playset on the front porch. He knew I liked frogs, so he’d dig them up for me – and then make sure I didn’t take them in the house. He even helped to deliver some gifts bought by my parents – without messing up the wrapping. “Take this to Barbara,” they’d say, and he would.

He was forgiving.

I remember one summer day, he napped in the shade of my brother’s truck, instead of the truck bed. My brother had been in a hurry and forgot to check under the truck before pulling out, and Oren got hurt. (Thankfully, only his tail was run over, so there was a little kink in it, but no serious injuries.) The very same day, Oren cuddled with my brother at bedtime – to let him know that he wasn’t mad about being run over. Of course, the guilt of this was enough that my brother made sure to check after that – and Oren slept in the shade of the trampoline from then on.

He understood “no”.

I think in “real” relationships, there’s this assumption that “no” means “maybe” – but it doesn’t. Dogs understand that, and yet it seems like such a complicated concept for so many humans. Not only does no mean no, but only yes means yes – and Oren understood that. If it wasn’t his, he waited until he was told he could touch it. If he didn’t get an answer, that was a no. If he was told “yes” by someone who wasn’t part of our family, that was a no. If the person who told him “yes” wasn’t the person who owned that particular item, that was a no. And if there was no room on the couch, he’d never squeeze himself in – sometimes, the “no” is implied.

He could be trusted.

Aside from being able to leave the gate open, or being able to leave my toys out without worrying about him snatching them up, we could also leave food out while we went to the bathroom or something, and we’d know that it would be perfectly safe when we came back out. Food was only his if it was given to him. Toys were only his if they were given to him. And if he was told not to do something, he wouldn’t have to be told a second time.

He was protective.

If he didn’t recognize someone who came by (and they weren’t accompanied by someone he did know), he would do what it took to make sure they weren’t trying to peek into the house. At some point, someone actually shot him over this – we never did find out who – but he took his responsibilities very seriously. When I’d walk to the store, he’d check in on me periodically, by looking through the door. Once, he came just inside the door because I had gotten out of his sight, but once he had confirmed that I was still okay, he went right back outside where he was supposed to be.

He became the reference I would compare all future dogs to.

It’s not very common that you get a “perfect” dog without even trying, and maybe he set my expectations a little high – but even though he wasn’t my first dog, he’s the first dog who made a difference in my life. Truthfully, though, these aren’t just qualities you want in a dog – they’re great qualities for your partner, too.

While it sounds a bit weird to be comparing a dog to a girlfriend, realistically, you should be looking for someone who has all these qualities… And we should all strive to be this type of person, too. There’s a reason why so many of us feel so close to our pets. They offer us everything that we wish we could find in a human. Believe me – it’s not that hard to be a good person. Just try to be a little more like a dog.

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