Lessons I Learned from My Cockapoo (Or Finding Your Inner Puppy!)

People who know me know that I spend way too much time with my pets, especially my cockapoo.  I saw a bumper sticker on a car while I was in traffic one day and I really wish I could have asked her where she got it.  It said “My husband said it was either him or the dog.  Me and the dog are a lot happier now!” (Not to knock all you married people, but if you marry a dedicated pet person (male or female), you should have had clue before you said “I do.”)

I spend a great deal of my time with my pets.  They are extremely important to me and are essentially my fur babies.  I think of them and treat them as if they are people.  They have a pretty good understanding of me, my habits and my moods.  Even the kitten I’ve had for about a month now is really picking up on my habits (and everyone else’s!).  My babies are Yzma (my grumpy 13 year old cat), Ursula (the demon kitten from hell), and Remy (my almost 3 year old little black cockapoo).  I joke with people that he’s a “Cajun cockapoo” (only partly because his name is Cajun French) because he’s been “blackened.”

The main reason I say I need to be more like my cockapoo is because he is not obsessed with food.  He is actually the first dog I’ve ever had who is not completely focused on what I’m eating and getting some of it. I’ve had dogs who were total “chow hounds,” and the five-second rule didn’t apply at my house because the food item usually didn’t last five seconds on the floor if it even made it to the floor! I’ve also had dogs who were a little more sanguine about people food and treats- they wanted them, but they were okay with waiting, mainly because they knew they were going to get them.

Remy is a totally different kind of creature.  People food is optional to him.  If he wants it or is hungry, it’s good, but if he doesn’t want it/ like it, then the cats can have it if they want it.  There are a few things he will almost always eat (Brie, half and half, mackerel) and there are some things I can pretty much guarantee that he won’t be interested in (bacon that I cook, eggs, chicken & most meats- no, those aren’t backwards).

If any of you are dog people, then you probably expect your dog to be very food-driven.  It’s the easiest way to teach your dog a new trick or reinforce an old one. My best friend’s lab Watson will do anything for a treat.  Anything left uneaten by another pet is fair game and does not last long unattended. Remy however just isn’t focused on food.

Like all my pets, Remy and the girls get part of what I eat (provided it is safe for them, of course).  Lately it’s a lot of fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs, and the occasional splash of half and half.  The biggest surprise for me is that a lot of times Remy  just isn’t interested in most of it. (FYI: he likes iceberg lettuce- the weirdo!)  He’ll sniff his plate and if he isn’t hungry or doesn’t want it, he leaves it there.  Sometimes, he’ll eat a little if the girls want it or if he was saving it for later maybe. But usually, if he doesn’t want it, he’ll give a token woof (to say “don’t think you’re entitled to that!”) and let them eat what they want. I know he’s not sick because when we go to bed, he usually eats his kibble (loves it!) and the Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter dog biscuits but as far as the people treats, eh, not really interested! Thanks, but no thanks!

What does get his attention?  What does drive him?  His toys! He loves to chase his toys! When I come home at the end of the day, it’s cuddle cuddle, run and get the toy! Then it’s “throw it! throw it! throw it!”  He will woof at me if I get distracted and don’t throw it. If it gets stuck on a shelf (bouncing off his nose usually), “whine cry woof! I can’t get my toy!” It happened this morning in fact.  I usually throw his toy (usually a stuffed animal or the soft ball) while I get dressed and ready for work, and this morning the ball bounced off his nose and landed on the dresser where he could see it but not reach it. “Whine whine woof! I can’t get the toy!” If I were to offer him a treat, like one of his cookies or a dried chicken strip, he’d probably stick it in his bed or let it drop, but no- the toy comes first!

So why am I talking about my goofy dog? Because believe it or not, I’m learning a few things from him, such as food is necessary to sustain life and sometimes just because it’s yummy, but for the most part, it’s not a big deal! Play time and cuddle time and sleeping are all much more important than food.  He spends a big chunk of his time now playing with Ursula.  They chase each other and wrestle quite a bit and he’d rather be doing that than eating.  They also spend a lot of time sleeping in the pet bed, or my bed, and he even spends some time grooming and getting groomed by Yzma.  All of these are things he’d rather do than eat (or guard) a plate of chicken breast.  He gets more upset when Yzma is sleeping on his toy (or too close to it) than when she eats the hamburger I set down for him.  He’ll defend his toy; the hamburger not so much.  She can eat all she wants because the important thing is his toy.  I often think that no one had to remind him that food is fuel; he knows it instinctively. He doesn’t confuse food with love or acceptance or a coping mechanism for stress: food is what you need when your body needs fuel and you get hungry.  On the other hand, I have to remind myself that when I want to show Remy love and affection and acceptance or calm him down, I need to hold or play with him.  Playing with him is the best way to show him how important he is to me because the bit of food (people or pet) isn’t going to make any difference to him.  Being active with him, playing with the ball, going to the dog park or taking a walk is what he loves to do.

Remy keeps reminding me that food should not be my focus either.  It’s okay to enjoy it, like he loves the TJ peanut butter cookies, but really being active and having fun and spending time with the ones you love are really what needs to be our focus.  You wouldn’t think that we top of the food chain human beings need to be reminded of what’s really important in our lives, but every time I come home to that curly little black mop, I know he’ll keep me focused on what really matters (and it’s not the rotisserie chicken!)

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