Most naughty dogs, and face it, most dogs are naughty sometimes, do not know the difference between stealing a defrosting steak and stealing something potentially lethal. Most good dogs, and face it, most dogs are good most of the time, do not understand what exuberantly running across the street to greet a canine or human friend could do to them. Untrained and unmonitored, dogs will pick up food from the street, walk on broken glass, try to pull something hot off the stove, steal chocolate, eat poisonous plants, stick their head into a hole which happens to be the den of some biting creature, have a tussle with a porcupine. Since you are the one to keep your dog safe, the way you’d keep your children safe, doesn’t this make you your dog’s parent?
Many dogs, even dogs without official jobs, work alongside humans and help them with chores or all kinds, moving the sheep, finding the lost child, fetching the downed duck, detecting an explosive device. They help people feel well, too, alerting them to potential problems, assuaging pain, letting them know the phone is ringing or taking them where they need to go. Doesn’t this make the dog your partner?
And more than likely, even if you adopted your dog at a shelter, you paid your money and signed some papers. Doesn’t this make you your dog’s owner? Or the more PC term, your dog’s guardian?
What do words matter? We take care of our dogs, they take care of us. But words are powerful. So perhaps they do matter. Perhaps what you call yourself deeply colors how you view your dog and your role in his life. Perhaps parent and guardian guide you to seeing the dog as a puppy, forever infantilized, the child who never grows up. Perhaps the word owner inspires you to see the dog as a thing, something you can discard when you tire of him. Perhaps the word partner helps you recognize that even without an official job, your dog will stay close and comfort you when you are sick, will let you know there’s someone at the door even if you know that anyway, will offer you a reason to take a long walk, play a game or do other things that are social and keep you young. Perhaps the word partner, my choice, will remind you that sometimes the dog knows best and sometimes you do, but since you supply the food, the warm bed, shelter from the weather, since you watch out for traffic and broken glass and put your medicine away carefully and take him to the veterinarian when he needs a check-up, that you are the senior partner, but even so, there are occasions to swap roles, because he knows some things you don’t, and maybe the word partner will help you keep that in mind, letting you think about when to be in charge and when to just be.