A few months ago, while sprawled out on the couch next to him, my husband sent me a text message. “What’s for supper?”, he asked. Though I had been sitting next to him for over an hour, checking my blog and social media accounts, he felt that the only way he could get my attention was by sending me a text. I think I have a technology problem.
I suppose I’ve known for a while that technology can easily and negatively impact our personal relationships. The evidence is everywhere and the examples, like that personal anecdote, are frightening. Spouses, significant others, parents and friends all too often take a backseat to our mobile devices and social media accounts. Glancing around any random restaurant, or perhaps even your own dining room, will prove my point.
But what about our dogs? What does this mean for them?
As a deaf dog blogger and advocate, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about this. As smartphones, smartwatches, laptops and social media platforms occupy so much of our attention, in what ways and to what extent is technology disrupting our relationship with our dogs?
One reason I’ve been thinking about this lately is because of my friends at Purina® and a particular topic that was raised during the recent Better With Pets Summit. During one of the panel discussions, panelist Mykel Maria Delgado raised an important point that gave me pause. In her home, pets compete with smartphones and other electronic devices for human attention and interaction. So much so, that she has affectionately christened them “plastic cats”.
Upon my return from the Summit, I wrote
“That off-handed joke was a light bulb moment for me, reminding me to to set down my phone or laptop and make time for my dogs (and cats), and to live in the moment a little more often. Emails and Instagram shares are fleeting; it is the quilt of small, quiet moments with our pets that create meaning in our lives and the lives of our four-legged friends.”
Back in the comfort of my home, reflecting on my experiences at the summit, but most especially that wise pearl offered by Ms. Delgado, I decided that, in order to be a better pet parent, I had to make some changes. I had to be more present for my dogs every day.
So often, these creatures come into our lives when they are still pups. We grow together, teach and learn from one another, frivolously spending uncountable days together, both physically and emotionally intertwined. A pack or a family; the semantics do not change the landscape. Paw in hand, we face the world together.
Except when we don’t. Except when we get caught up in work and kids and household chores.
We are living in a modern, productivity-driven world with rapid-fire technology that streamlines our lives and, at least in theory, deepens the human-human bond. Unfortunately, this same technology opens a divide between us and our dogs, one that grows increasingly harder to traverse.
At this moment, my phone is glued to my palm, Facebook is beckoning me, Tweets are whistling, a dozen emails are waiting, several blog posts are due and I have stacks of dishes that need scrubbing. My phone is open, my laptop is on, and the television is flooding the house with white noise. I am bouncing from one task to another, amped up on caffeine, texting my road warrior, also-workaholic husband and feeling a bit amiss.
This insanity is not unique to me. It is not unique to the community of bloggers that I call my extended family. No. This frenetic pace is the new normal these days. So very many us live this way, to one degree or another.
The great irony, for me at least, is that I am a pet blogger. When I say that I adore dogs, I am speaking from my heart. For a very good reason, I connect deeply with dogs in ways that I can’t with people. And yet, as I fill my days and nights with a whirlwind of tasks and texts, I am on a fundamental level erecting an invisible yet very real barrier between myself and my mission, my passion, my love: my dogs!
You see, more evenings than not, I hunt and peck the night away with my four beautiful, deliciously dirty dogs laying at my feet, longingly, lovingly, patiently waiting for me to stop, to breathe, perhaps even extend my hand. I don’t know how I let my priorities get so askew, but today is a new beginning. I am making a change. I am shifting my priorities. I am checking myself before I wreck myself- and my dogs.
Here are three ways I am going to reconnect with my dogs. Our time together is short and I will not squander it away. One day, many years in the future I hope, when Edison or Darwin or Galileo or Foster have more bad days than good, I will have to make terrible decisions and place their well-being above my own selfish heart, and when that time comes, I want to know that I took no day for granted.
- I will put down my phone! I will designate “off the clock’ or “off the grid” time and I will set down my phone. I will leave it in another room. I will turn if off if I have to. Instead of looking at status updates and photos of other people’s lives, I will experience my life, my family, my dogs and find deeper meaning in small, quiet moments, the real stuff of memories.
- I will get off the couch! I will play tug with Galileo and fetch with Foster. I will give belly rubs to Edison and play “run around the table” with Darwin. These are some of their favorite activities and I will pack as much playtime into their lives as possible. I will teach them tricks or new hand signs or get down on the floor and wrestle with them, whatever it is that brings them joy.
- I will schedule one-on-one time with each of my dogs! I love living with pack of four boys. They are silly, they are loud and they all MUST play with the same exact toy at the the same exact time. They are, well, boys. As much as I love being a multiple-dog home, I do miss having one-on-one time with them. I will make time each week for special adventures with each one individually. An afternoon with Galileo at the beach, a bagel for two at an outdoor cafe with Edison, Darwin’s adventure at the pet supply store where he gets to choose his very own brand new toy or a short hike with Foster; these are the status updates I will share privately with my dogs, not Facebook or Instagram.
By shifting my priorities and making different and better choices, I think three things will happen.
- First, I will spend more time living in the moment with my dogs, enriching both their lives and mine.
- Second, I will create time in my dogs’ lives that is singularly focused on them; they will have more play sessions, more opportunities to just be a dog and the bond between us will deepen.
- And third, many years from now, when I look back on my life and my dogs’ lives, I will have a long string of happy memories to comfort me; play time in the park and leisurely walks and afternoon naps under a pile of dogs. Today is the day I thread that first stitch.
What is your favorite memory of your dog? Do you find that technology effects your relationship with your dog? How do you create special moments with your pet? Tell the world in a comment below!