I’m embarrassed to admit a key reason I haven’t yet blogged about the Loews Coronado Bay surf dog festival: I am photographically challenged. It’s not just that I tend to take lousy pictures; I also break nearly every camera I touch, even disposable ones. I’ve joked for years that my ex-husband, a photographer, put a curse on me: “You shall never, ever take a good picture in my lifetime.” It’s a funny excuse but unfair; Al and I parted on reasonably good terms. And, at least as far as I know, it’s untrue.

So. I am herewith taking all responsibility for my photophobia and confessing: Being used to shunning photography before being forced to take it up when I started blogging, I forgot my camera in the hotel room for the surf dog event.

This is all an elaborate lead in to last night’s email exchange with Clare, my best friend and San Diego vacation companion.

Because I didn’t bring a camera and neither did Clare — you’ll have to take up her photophobia with her — we were happy to find that one of the festival’s sponsors, CanineMix.com, was taking pictures and posting them on their site. Here are the ones of Archie, Clare’s dog, and Frankie:

Archie at the Surf Dog Festival

Frankie at the Surf Dog Festival

When I sent the link to Clare, she wrote, “Great! But why does Archie always look tortured and Frankie always looks like a runway model?”

I responded, “Arch does not look tortured! And I think Frankie looks like he has 5 o’clock shadow.”

Go ahead, laugh. Clare and I always do. But it brings up the point: Just as we tend to assume others judge us by our partners — it’s not just women; ever hear the term “trophy wife”? — we also secretly believe that others judge us by our dogs.

And to a certain degree, they do. A badly behaved, out-of-control dog often reflects the training given or, rather, the lack thereof. And we think ill of someone whose pup is matted beyond the point of good health. All other notions of being assessed on our dogs’ appearance are pretty much in the realm of the irrational. Which doesn’t mean we don’t fall for them, as the burgeoning canine fashion industry attests.

In fact, more people pay attention to balding, arthritic Archie, now 15 years old, than they do to Frankie, spry and cute as a button at 10. That’s because Archie is a friendly guy, still meeting and greeting the crowds as he did in the past, while Frankie remains shy to the point that he can only be admired from afar.

Should what other people think matter to me and Clare? Hell no. Does it nevertheless? You bet. And don’t try to tell me you never experienced similar feelings, no matter how much you love your pup.

P.S. This is not to suggest I don’t have onsite pictures of the surf dog event; I do — that’s another shaggy dog story — and I plan to post them. I just wanted to get the fact that I didn’t actually take any of them off my chest.

8 thoughts on “Our Doggies, Ourselves”

  1. Oy vey. I cannot believe you left your camera at the Surf Dog Festival but actually since my camera is not an accessory like say, my purse, I can believe it, and this of course, is coming from your friend who loses her glasses and prescription sunglasses for days at a time.

    I love the photos.

    Frankie wearing his Hawaiian shirt in the sand — priceless.

    Archie is 15? Dog bless him!

    1. I didn’t leave my camera *at* the festival, luckily, but back in the hotel room. I actually took some decent pictures with it, just not of the festival. I’ll post them soon.

      Archie doesn’t look a day over 12, and he’s a sweetheart.

  2. The main thing I notice about Jellybean (I’m personally mortified by how fearful she is since I think it reflects poorly on me as a pet professional 😉 is that people are very hurt that she won’t go up to them. On the other hand, people assume that mega-friendly Britney is only like that with them specifically.

    1. It’s so funny you should say that; people take Frankie’s shyness personally, too — and because I’ve written a book about dogs, I feel that mine should put his best paws forward and do PR for me! And people *did* seem to think that super-friendly Archie took a special interest in them…

  3. This feeling of being vicariously judged has a lot to do with my work. One thing I had to learn about humans while working at PetSmart was that failing to react to their dog the way THEY wanted (not necessarily what the dog wanted) hurt their feelings. So, though, some poor fearful canine soul was telling me, “Please, don’t even look at me…I don’t know you,” I often had to choose which end of the leash I was going to treat insensitively, which is not a choice I enjoy.

    This perceived judgment heightens the stress on owners who have dogs who are disappointing them, either with their manners, their shyness, or even their canine anti-social behaviors. Do we live in a culture so negative as to see only the 20% mistakes and ignore the 80% good stuff?

    When we allow the dog to be a vehicle of our judgment… are we (unfairly) judging others by their dogs? Are we irritated by or impatient with the person trying hard with the “bad” (anti-social) dog? Or do we present ourselves and our dogs as an opportunity to practice?

    I find that “civilians” (my word for the humans who don’t speak dog language) judge your dog’s behavior based on looking at you. So, I exploit this. I tell them how SPECIAL they are because the dog is standing, NOT cringing. The dog is not shivering, ONLY cringing. The dog is not running away, only walking. The dog PAUSED a half-second before sprinting to safety. There’s always some teensy trace of good stuff there–Is this where we “positive” trainers need to put our mouth where our treats are? LOL

    I guess if you are a raging egotist, you could claim to be training the dog for a movie. “Oh, no, we are working on looking terrified/aggressive/out-of-control. What do you think? Isn’t he an amazing actor?”

    When people (civilians) meet your dog, they also feel that you judge them by the dog’s reaction. That if your dog doesn’t think they are nice (dog thought being evidenced by licking, fawning, and snuggling up to them), then you won’t either.

    Every dog has weaknesses. It is our role to NOT portray them as “a work in progress”, nearly the bonsai of our unrealistic dreams, but as the sum of all their strengths. And once we can look at dogs that way, maybe we can learn to look at humans differently, too.

    (Man, wish that last paragraph didn’t make me feel like such a hypocrite!)

    1. You always write thoughtful comments, Nicole, but you’ve outdone yourself with this one. Thank you.

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