Yesterday, I took Molly out for our regular run, but instead of heading west down the hill when we left home, I led her in the opposite direction, which takes us up a slight incline, and then in and out of a few streets before we reach the bottom of a long slope (at which point I remember that I will have to run back up it to get home and think, why did I go this way again?). We were nearly at the bottom of the long slope when Molly began to pull at the lead.
Now, she pulls at the lead most of the way, which, I figure, is good resistance training for my upper body, but this was a really strong tug on the lead, which usually means she’s seen another dog, or a cat (or occasionally a sheep or a horse). I looked around but couldn’t see anything. I looked over to Molly to find out what she could spot that I couldn’t, and from the way she was looking around, she couldn’t see anything either.
Then I remembered: the last time we ran this way, there were two dogs, wandering around at the bottom of the road. Their owner was in the garden and saw us coming before there was an altercation, but Molly was very keen to have one.
Twice, while we have been out walking, Molly has been attacked by other dogs who were running free off their leads, so now her logic seems to be ‘bite first, ask questions later’. I can’t blame her. However, I found it interesting that she remembered the point at which she’d seen the other dogs, especially given we’d not run that way for a while. As we kept going, and she kept looking for them, I realised that this is something I’ve noticed dogs do quite a bit, both with Molly and with our former dog. At our old house, there were fewer ways we could walk, so Molly memorised the routes fairly quickly. This meant she would strain with anticipation when we neared gardens where the dogs were out. She would appear to be disappointed when the dog was absent or didn’t notice her.
As Molly and I started back up the long, slow hill, I ignored the part of my mind which keeps telling me to stop by thinking about the way that dogs are such creatures of habit. They love routine. They seem to hold onto it without considering other possibilities. They see something happen once, and assume that from now on, that is what will always happen. For example, Molly gets fed twice per day, at breakfast and just before we have tea. The breakfast feed happens as soon as we get up, but sometimes I get caught up with making our own evening meal and the inevitable chaos which is that time of evening with small children. This means I might forget to feed her at 5pm, but luckily, Molly is most persistent in reminding me.
And I remembered that the day we got our old dog, Cooper, we took him on a walk through a park where there was a water fountain. By the time we got to the water, he was thirsty, so I filled my hands with water and let him drink from them. The next time we went, he made a beeline for the fountain, even though it was behind a bend in the path, and he’d only ever been there once.
Molly and I made it back home, and as usual, we both had a drink of water, I had a shower, and then I made lunch. Afterwards the Handsome Sidekick and I had a cup of tea, then I woke Third and Fourth Offspring, gave them lunch, and then left them with the Handsome Sidekick while I walked down to collect First and Second Offspring from school. We came home, had afternoon tea, then they played outside while I made the evening meal, and started the bedtime routine. It wasn’t until just before I went to bed, when I was getting the ingredients ready for the breadmaker, that I realised my own arrogance.
Creatures of habit? Aren’t we all? As I put the yeast and flour into the bread tin, I noticed how I’ve not only memorised the measurements to the point that I don’t need the recipe anymore, but also that I manage to get almost the correct amount of water or butter, because I know how much it ‘looks like’ to be right, without having to measure it. (Breadmaking’s an exact enough science, however, that I do measure!)
It’s not just the bread, though. It’s everything. The whole day. We thrive on routine, not just with regards to our daily lives, but also what we expect from other people. I was being so dismissive of how dogs judge based on one experience. They decide they like some people, and not others. It takes a good bit of persuasion for us to change their minds either way. But humans are totally like that too, we just hide it better. We reinforce our judgements all the time, and have them reinforced by the company we keep and the media we consume. We stereotype people and then ignore the evidence which flies in the face of that stereotype.
We’re so the same as Molly and Cooper. So much the same. But the difference is, we could reason against it. I could actually decide not to judge people, because I have that capacity. It does take effort, because my preference is, like dogs, to react and be done with it. Having to constantly question if I got it right, or whether someone is to be trusted this time, or how my relationship with them might be changing… that’s difficult. But if I imagine that I could be more than just my instincts, then I need to make the effort.