We all know a dude who bought a Harley when he reached that point in his life. Tattoos, piercings… Oh, is that an Alex and Ani bracelet you’re wearing? It’s a human thing to buy, make, wear, collect, and/or display the stuff that we feel expresses who we are. It’s basic self-expression, and fun to poke fun at (ourselves and each other), and fun to explore.
We do it with our pets too. I think we should all own up to this. It’s not a bad thing; it’s just a funny human thing. We “click” with a dog (or just as often, we click ON a dog!) and fall in love, and somehow our identity gets wrapped up in loving that dog and being that dog’s person. For some of us, this extends to the breed, and we become basenji fans or deerhound dudes. For others, it’s all about the backstory and the rescue. I guess this happens with cats and pigs and turtles too. It’s very cool, and also very interesting.
But you know I’m going to say something a bit more critical than this incredibly obvious and bland observation. You can count on me to be incisive, so here goes: For some folks, I think this is actually a little bit of a problem. Sometimes, despite loving your pet and trying to be a good owner (or at least starting out that way), your dog becomes an extension of your own ego. When that happens, your psychological boundaries get a little fuzzy and you stop seeing them accurately as animals and pets, and get a bit enmeshed with them. I know, that sounds like psychobabble, so let me be more clear – I think sometimes for some people, the dog stops being a dog and functions as a prop and/or psychological crutch for the owner.
I’m not just talking about purse puppies. Their owners are easy to pick on. In the malinois world, you see folks that want to be as badass as their dogs’ reputation. However, owning a malinois is by far the most badass thing about them. The dog is a stand in for a prowess they never had and will never attain.
But what I’m thinking about is more subtle, more nuanced. I stumbled upon this particular flavor of dogs as ego enhancers when I was looking at photos on a very popular dog group on social media. Some photos get a huge number of likes, and some gain very little attention. Because I am ridiculously competitive, I started wondering why, and looking for patterns. One thing that jumped out at me was that the quality of the photo didn’t seem to matter that much. Bad photos might earn a ton of likes, whereas some good photos might get ignored.
Omitting posts about dogs that have died or posts seeking a name for a brand new puppy, both of which tend to receive enormous amounts of (well deserved) attention, I think I spotted a trend. Photos that tend to showcase the dog resonate with people. Photos that tend to obscure the dog don’t. Ok, I might be wearing my Captain Obvious cape, but stick with me here. Look at a ton of Facebook or Instagram photos of dogs. Some people step back and let the dog shine in the photo, and some people seem to get in their own way. Looking at photo after photo of a bazillion dogs, that’s what I think I noticed – that some people somehow manage to capture and share the dog. Some people just capture and share themselves.
When you look at a photo of a dog you’ve never met, do you feel like you can see into the dog’s soul? Do you feel like you know the dog? Or do you feel, despite photo after photo, like you couldn’t recognize the dog if you bumped into it on the street? Maybe the owner is just a lousy photographer, but I suspect at least some of the time, the issue is that the owner can’t see the dog. Yep, I’m psychobabbling again, but I really mean it. Have you ever spent an hour chatting with someone and walked away feeling like the other person never quite noticed that you exist? He or she was so busy telling you whatever it was they were telling you, they never received you. You never felt heard or acknowledged. It’s subtle, but it’s common. I see that in some photos of dogs. The owner is so consumed with their own thing, they can’t really see the dog. And because they can’t see the dog, they can’t show you the dog.
Ponder this. Look at photos. Let me know what you see and what you think.