My dog is a Retriever. I’ve known that part of my Labrador Retriever’s name for a long time, but it had never really sunk in before. There is a very precise dance routine we have when it’s time for our walk; I take the leash, and my dog goes hunting for a gift. It’s always something important or extremely critical. Like his bone, or his ball, or the special tug-o-war rope. This prized possession is brought but never really given. I have to pry it out of his cold wet mouth. Some days I can revert to our training and just give the order “give”. Which he will begrudgingly, since I brake the covenant. The accepted protocol is me grabbing it and pulling out. There is no doubt who would win in the wild in such contest, as I’ve scrapped my fingers on his teeth quite a few times. But in our pre-walk ceremony, I will eventually win once I’ve spend enough time growling and pulling. We are then ready to calmly “sit” and put the leash on. The leash, just is ceremonial. I don’t really need it to walk him, but it’s simpler and calms other human‑dog couples who do not have the complete symbiotic walk existence.
The gift that my dog brings is also ceremonial.
There was a show on Animal Planet explaining the various shapes and behavior of dogs. How Chinese Buddhists selectively bred dogs to look like small lions ‑ since the real things are symbols that were a little hard to keep around their emperors. How the British invaders of the royal palace saved a few of these forbidden dogs, brought it to the British court and started an insanely short evolutionary change in dogs. Lap dogs were a rage. Then more and more specialized dogs were bred. Some traits were external, but other were more inborn. Like the use of terriers to get rid of vermin and rats. To this day, a terrier’s instinct is to viciously kill small animals in the household. Nothing in the way you train your dog will take this desire away. Don’t have a rabbit or gerbil if you have a terrier.
Retriever’s were used for hunting. You shot something and your dog would go and fetch it for you. This would only work if the deep desire of your dog is to please you by bringing you something prized. And you showed your approval and happiness to your dog by breeding its offspring.
I always knew that my dog had a complete, unlimited, unwavering and genuine joy of seeing me. It always brings my spirits up no matter what else is happening in this universe. Some mornings, when all I want to do is “get the walk over with” and don’t want to put up with the shenanigans of finding a gift and playing tug-of-war, I don’t return the love back to my dog.
I have to remind myself that my dog is a Labrador Retriever. And the greatest joy he knows is retrieving a prized gift and bringing it to me. It’s centuries of selective breeding just wanting to please me. I will spend the rest of his short life trying to thank him for that.