I’ve got a wicked case of the social media blues. The symptoms are repetitive eye-rolling, while compulsively murmuring the phrase “what the fuck” as I scroll. I let it make me cranky and that pisses me off even more. I feel like I should have perfected the “scroll on by” and let it go attitude by now. Misinformation and ignorance get applauded and all comments that aren’t lockstep cheerleading get castigated. Echo chambers are the rule. And I keep getting irritated.
Things I’ve learned on social media this month:
- You can’t just walk your dog. You have to announce that you’re working on “loose leash walking.”
- You can’t just play with your dog. You have to “open a play window.”
- You can’t simply say I like my dog’s looks. You have to describe them using breed-specific jargon such that only the initiated know what you’re talking about.
- You can’t safely and intuitively play with your dog. You need to hire a trainer to teach you how.
- You can’t let your dog sniff the ground without announcing that you’re doing so and then listing the benefits of sniffing.
- Feeding your dog involves understanding the nutrient differences between blue and green mussels, and posting a “story” in which your dog’s food bowl ingredients are identified with detailed information about each ingredient summarized (there had better be at least 6 different items in there or are you even trying to get it right?), and your supplier is tagged… then that account has to reshare your story and your bowl photo… like a hall of mirrors.
I’m sure there’s dogma in every community, online and off. I just happen to bump up against it the most in the dog world. Of course, we all are worrying about how others see us. Image-stagram would be a better name, and we all want the cool kids to like and follow us. Look, me included. I totally admit it: I’ve tried mimicking some of these stilted trends to see what happens. We are all self-critical and feel like the cool kids and the popular crowd are doing something right. We want to do it right too – to exude that confidence and charm.
The thing is, what I’m seeing isn’t confidence and charm. It’s a frenetic defensiveness. Every post is a production chock full of posturing – like a few dozen amped-up dogs of every breed all straining at the end of their leashes at the dog park, barking their fool heads off at each other. E-collars are the devil! Prong collars save lives! Tools are the greatest! Relationships are everything! Feed raw! Petco drama! Someone bullied me/my team/my point of view! (Look out because now I’m going to post 654239874579697346 stories about why my POV is the best!) Snuggle your fur baby! For the love of god, never snuggle and never refer to your dog as a furbaby! And so on…
I keep wondering “where the normal people at?” Where can I find simple dog-loving folk who don’t buy into fads, pseudoscience, or scare tactics? Who don’t have anything to prove? Who aren’t posturing and hollering, and don’t have an axe to grind? And once again I will offer it up: I’ve done it too. I’ve posted about my dissatisfaction with this or that (rather like I am right now), my beloved point of view on some issue, my own unique and clearly valuable take on some current fad or position.
Underneath it all, I think it’s fear of death that’s motivating this panicked vibe. All this posturing and labeling and elaborate jargon and the concomitant adherence to perceived tribal rules and mores? It’s disciple-speak – adopting a language and with it a framework to have a connection to a team or tribe, to feel a sense of belonging, of home and safety. If I adopt the same terms, framework, priorities, and values, maybe I can be one of the cool kids. Engaging in hungry discipleship sure looks like a great entry point. Belonging is powerful; it eases existential angst.
Joining the club offers up that sense of belonging and safety. In the club, you get to feel in control. The belief system isn’t conscious at all, but if it were, it would go like this: If I can feed my dog the right thing and use the right words and play (or train) with them the right way – if I can do it right, and talk about it in the right language, it’s all a fending off of death and loss. If I do it right enough, I won’t experience the pain of loss.
More experienced folks have suffered enough loss to know that none of this matters. It doesn’t matter how you describe your dog’s conformation or your dog’s play activity or your training methodology. It doesn’t even matter that much what you feed your dog (having fostered multiple starved and malnourished dogs brought me to that conclusion. Good food is great, but inadequate quality food is way superior to inadequate quantity. Mica beat cancer at age 12 and lived to 14 or so after a lifetime of shitty kibble. Berlin (a purebred GSD) made it 15 eating nothing but chicken backs her entire life. Talk about unbalanced, but 15 is amazing for a GSD. Fussing over what to feed is a uniquely human enterprise. My dogs eat shit every chance they get, quite literally… deer shit, coyote shit, each other’s shit… hell, Cinder was a connoisseur of human shit when we hiked in places where filthy humans failed to bury their shit. Worrying about what dogs eat is fine. Have at it. It isn’t bad and it isn’t wrong. But it doesn’t really matter that much. I’m sorry. I wish it did.).
The only thing that matters is being in the moment and being as connected and present as possible in the moment with the dog. Dogs don’t give a flying rats patootie about your training methodology, or how well you explained it in that IGTV video you posted. They just want a fulfilling relationship with you.
It’s all bargaining with the inevitable. It’s not until you’ve experienced enough loss and seen enough death and had enough bad things happen to good dogs (or people) that you can grasp in a flesh and blood and bone way that none of it matters that much. You need to experience that cycle of throwing every available intervention at a dog (herbs, supplements, acupuncture, cold laser, etc) and watching it die anyway, and then do that again, and then again, to understand that nothing is a panacea. No food, no supplement, no approach to care or nutrition… none of it is effective in any kind of profound or ultimate way. Sometimes you can buy some relief or some time. But all of this rigorous adherence to the dogma of whatever it is: the training, the food, the lifestyle, the tools, all of it is bargaining with death, and you’re doomed. That’s reality. That’s honest.
Once I was able to firm that up in my mind, I felt a lot freer. I’m a lot more relaxed and present now that I no longer try to get it right. And being more present allows for much more joy and much more experience of the good. I remember a big ah-ha moment was when someone told me the Dalai Lama eats hot dogs. And not Tofu pups or some all natural, organic, lovingly-raised, massaged with goat milk, pastured heritage pork. Nope. Nasty chemical-laced snouts and udders. I don’t know if that’s true but it’s literalness doesn’t matter. It was a metaphor, an invitation to deep acceptance that we’re all going to die and it’s ok. I found it really freeing.
I try to be forgiving towards those who are so afraid of death they create a dogmatic death grip on life. I suck at it, but I keep trying. I believe that how you are with your dog is how god will be with you. I ask myself who and how do I want to be with my dogs? What do I want to hear? If I were the observer, what would I want to see? Because deep down, god (however you understand and use that concept) is watching. My being with my dogs is a natural extension of my “faith.” I make my choices and try to walk the path that I can place at the feet of god. Because ultimately despite having a meager Instagram presence, mediocre book sales, and wanting all the normal things folks on social media want (fame! Followers! Money!), I can’t quite sell my soul to get there. I refuse to be beholden to a dogma about how things must be done. I hold firm to an ideology of something a whole lot more gentle, calm, committed to intimacy, joy, and a good shared life. If that firmly places me in an uncool camp, at the lunch table all alone, or worse, so be it. The dogs don’t care about that either.