FAIR IS NOT EQUAL
I feel like “Fair is not Equal” has begin to replace “It depends” as my motto at work these days. I have a number of cases these days where people want to give perfectly equal treatment to two dogs in the house. On the surface of it, the idea of treating everyone the same way seems like a good idea; after all you would not want to be excluded from a party because you are the only woman, or the only tall person, or the only dog trainer in a group! That would not be fair at all. The problem is that when you try and give equal treatment to two people with very different needs.
When we have a baby and an older child, we often see people around us try and give equal treatment to both children. If grandma comes to visit and she brings a toy for the baby, then she will most likely bring a toy for the older child too. This sounds fair, right? If you have two dogs and you bring home one special chew bone, and give it to your favourite dog, the other dog is likely going to be pretty upset about missing out. This in fact is likely a quick way to a dog fight! When we try and make fair equal, we can actually get into trouble though.
Consider for instance what the older child might think if grandma arrived with two rattles both designed for a child of about 6 months of age. If the older child is two, he may or may not care, but if he is 5, he is going to care a lot. The same is very true of our dogs. If you have a puppy and a middle aged dog, the pup is going to be interested in very different things than is the middle aged dog. This is the situation that prompted my blog today.
I have a client who has a 7 year old retriever with degenerative disc disease. Her 7 year old has been her constant companion for his whole life and they have done all sorts of cool things together; from hiking in Northern Ontario to sports classes locally, and road trips across Canada, to quiet family dinners with her aging parents, my client has taken this dog on every possible dog adventure his heart could wish for. Now that he is suffering from back pain though, he isn’t allowed to do as many things as he used to do. The one thing that they still do together is sit on the floor with her head on her lap while she grades her high school student’s homework. Every night after dinner, she sits down with a pile of paper on one side, and her special buddy on the other. They have done this ritual for the past seven years, from September till June, at least five nights a week. Recently though, this client has been missing some of the training activities she did with her 7 year old, so she brought a new puppy into the family.
This particular lady wants to be fair to both dogs, but sometimes she gets fair confused with equal. The first way she got confused was when she signed her puppy up for puppy class. She felt guilty that her older dog wasn’t going to training too, so she signed him up for a class as well. The problem was that she didn’t have time to devote to two sets of classes, so some of the time she missed class with her older dog and then she felt bad about spending money on a class she didn’t attend. Not only that but her older dog was often stiff and painful after his class, which really wasn’t fair to him at all.
The next place she got confused was leash walking her puppy. Young pups don’t actually know how to walk on leash. When she brought her youngster out for a leash walk with her older dog, he just got all tangled up and annoying! No one was happy; not the lady, not the puppy and definitely not the older dog.
My client knew that puppies need to eat more often than do adult dogs, and she wanted to be fair, so when she fed the puppy, her adult dog always got a meal too. He got his normal two meals a day, plus a little extra at lunch time. Her adult dog gained a few pounds, and that was hard on his joints, which meant an extra trip for him to the vet, and extra medication for pain.
Perhaps the least fair thing that this nice lady did for her two dogs was let the puppy have free run of the house with her older dog. She just didn’t feel good about her puppy being in his crate much of the time. The puppy took to harassing the older dog, which resulted in a grouchy adult dog, and an overtired, overstimulated puppy. The last straw came when school started in September though; on her first day sitting on the floor grading papers with her nice sedate adult dog, her cup of tea and her whirling dervish of a puppy. Within minutes her neatly organized evening came apart at the seams with papers strewn all over the room, her adult dog snarling at the puppy, and a hot cup of tea all over the floor.
When we met, my client said to me “I don’t remember puppyhood being so much work with my older dog!” The thing to reflect on with a case such as this is that at the time she didn’t have another dog to compare to, so instead of trying to give her first dog exactly everything that she gave to another dog, she just gave him what he needed. Fair, is rarely if ever equal.
So how did we resolve this? We acknowledged that fair is not equal and she stopped trying to give everything to the puppy that she gave to her adult and vice versa. Her adult dog does not need an extra class or a daily extra meal. Her puppy does not need a leash walk, or freedom of the house just yet. Once we stopped doing things that weren’t good for each of the dogs, we could really look at what each dog needed.
In the first few months, puppies need a lot of extra attention, training and structure. It isn’t forever, but it is important. We stopped all leash walking and added in two ten minute training sessions each day. Instead of wrestling a young strong dog on leash around the block with one hand, while trying to encourage her older, sedate and slightly painful older dog to keep up, all the while trying to avoid the inevitable tangling of the leash, she returned to her fifteen minute strolls around the block with her old friend. Her young dog benefited from the extra training sessions and her older dog got the time and attention that he needed from his normal routine. Not equal, but fair.
To address the lunchtime habit, we moved the older dog’s walk from first thing in the morning to lunch time, so that the puppy could have quiet alone time in the house with her lunch, while the older dog got what he needed. This helped to take weight off sensibly, and avoided the issue of the older dog mooching around the pup’s food bowl. Fair is not equal but each dog can get what they need when their needs are properly addressed.
Finally, we addressed the issue of the pup having free run of the house with an ex-pen in the living room. This allowed my client to have time with both dogs in the room, but without trashing her student’s assignments, spilling tea or harassing the older dog. Over time she will be able to give the younger dog more and more freedom as long as she is minding her manners. These few changes took the household from equal but completely unfair to not equal, but much more fair.
I think it is easier to identify when fair is not equal when we are talking about medical issues. My client was really trying hard to make things both equal and fair, but each dog had different needs. When her older dog was sore from gaining weight and being too physical, she didn’t feel the need to bring the younger dog to the vet for medication; that obviously would be neither fair nor equal. Likewise, she did not feel that she needed to revaccinate her older dog; her older dog was not due for vaccines for another 18 months, so just her puppy got vaccinated. When it comes to medical issues, we are much more clear about fair and equal and we do what is fair. When it comes to the rest of our dog’s lives, we are much more muddled. We try and do the things that we do with one dog with both, even if it would not be fair. To be fair, we have to take in the needs of the individual instead of the activities that we do with one or the other dog.