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Is Your Pet Kid's Quirky Personality Your Legacy…. Or Your Fault?

Friday October 20, 2017

Author: Karen Spinelli

We all have strange familial tendencies.  Odd things we do that we blame on our parents. But how much of it is nature and their half of our genetic code? And how much is nurture and the fact that their behavior in our environment conditioned us?  Did we all become weird because of nature or nurture?  And does the same hold true for pets?  Is your pets’ quirky personality your legacy, or your fault?


I can’t help but keep things around me balanced and symmetrical – thanks mom.  And I can’t help but ask a lot of questions to fully understand every facet of things around me – thanks dad.  Maybe those things are sewn into my DNA, or maybe they rubbed off from 20 years of living with them.  Either way, I’m pretty sure those idiosyncrasies have my parents’ names written all over them.


I also can’t stand smoking.  I don’t want to see it.  I don’t want to smell it.  I don’t want to pass through it as I walk into the doors of a restaurant or store.  I know that comes as a result of growing up riding in a car with people smoking.  Luckily, as time progressed, so too did the knowledge of its health risks, leading to the achievement of a smoke-free house and car.  I know I can thank environment for my clean-air-only adult life . 


I bring it all up because the other day I made the realization that my two dogs very much have personality traits of me and my husband.  Like it or not, I think their eccentric personalities are a reflection of us, their parents.  Things we value in ourselves, and things we don’t acknowledge about ourselves….  staring us in the face with wagging tails.


Jaisy, my black and white cocker spaniel, has been with me since she was 14 weeks old.  She and I are like 2 peas in a pod.  Our personalities mesh very well, and I think we even bring out the best in each other.


We are both most comfortable when we have a routine, and have a tough time when circumstances try to break that comfort zone.  We both try to step up our courage when we think the other one needs protecting, but deep down, we’re each pretty anxious.  And we’re both at our happiest snuggled on the couch together, with a yummy snack, binge-watching Netflix.


Meg, our chocolate brown cocker spaniel who we rescued when she was 4  (and Jaisy was 8) is more like my husband.  They are both more spontaneous and thrive on impulsivity.  If they ever did decide to make a routine, it would only last until something else that caught their attention and their preference came along– usually a squirrel or a video game.   The only pattern they follow is finding sun spots in the living room for naps.


Although I know this already, there are times when the nurture aspect of their personalities becomes so apparent, it makes me giggle inside.  Those moments when my dogs do things that drive me to hug them and remind them how much I love them.  I see them as endearing and perfect.  Then I remind myself that it is because they are a reflection of me….  so I can relate to their kind of crazy.


Jaisy needs to run the perimeter of our yard every day….   in a clock-wise direction.  I have never taught her to do this, however I give her credit for it being a habit that makes complete sense.  Each day she smells every inch of the yard to ensure she knows what has been in her territory. In her mind, she is protecting us.   I follow her each day and make sure I have cleaned up any things that could be harmful to her or her sister. In my mind, I am protecting them.   Even if it’s cold or rainy, and we don’t want to be out there, we do it because it needs to be done.  And it feels good once we get it off of our “to-do” lists. Don’t get me wrong, both Jaisy and I can be unpredictable and live-in-the-moment too…..  every once in a while we shake it up and go counter-clock-wise.


She likes her meals to be at the same time every day – and somehow she knows exactly when it’s time.  Thanks to her belly knowing when it’s breakfast time, I never have to worry about the possibility of over-sleeping - she wouldn’t allow it.  I can rest assured that by 8 am Jaisy will be draped over me, licking me awake, just to make sure.  And I never have to be concerned about working too late, as she will start pawing my hands off the computer when her belly starts telling her it’s dinner time.  If you ever see typos in a blog, you can bet that part was being written around 6 pm.  I can completely relate to this when I’m the one circling my husband once MY belly-clock starts going off, wondering if he’s ready to eat yet. 


Jaisy also expects her treats to be given as soon as she’s done “a good thing”.  This is great for motivating her to do those good things, though doesn’t really allow for a quick middle-of-the-night bathroom break with an immediate return to bed.  I’ve tried that.  Pretty quickly I miss that she’s not curled up next to me back in bed, will get up again looking for her, and find her sitting at attention in front of the fridge, patiently waiting for her baby carrot or pea pod. (Luckily, as long as it’s crunchy, she considers it an adequate treat.)  Only then can we all go back to bed together.   Who can blame her?  We all want to make sure we get credit for the good things we do, right?


Both she and I are specific in the way we like things.  Her favorite game is indoor frisbee.  It can only be with the small floppy frisbee, since she has no interest in large or firm ones.  And it can only be inside, since outside she will merely watch you throw it and then walk away.  We have a cleared “run-way”,  a carpeted straight-a-way from one end of our living room to the opposite end of our dining room for this purpose.  But it’s all worth it when Jaisy flashes that big grin and runs back with “the fris” hanging out of her mouth. I can relate to this in her.  I like sitting in one specific spot in our living room.   If someone else comes into our house and sits there,  I don’t know what to do with myself.  Luckily, Jaisy usually claims it for me and holds it until I can claim dibs.



While Jaisy enjoys the simple things in life, a quiet snuggle during a meditation or while reading a book, like her mom, Meg requires mind stimulation and adrenaline, like her dad.  Most “rules” in our house have been born out of something Meg (with the help of her dad) has done.


Meg, like my husband, never seems to wonder IF she can do something, but rather, HOW she will do it.  This is great when it comes to things I need his help for.   That laser focus is a fierce weapon at those times.   Not so great when it means she is leaping off our 10 foot high deck after her tennis ball, a moment whose memory will forever remain etched in my brain and still makes my heart stop in its tracks.


Her ball is like my husband’s smartphone – always within their reach.  She goes nowhere without a mini-tennis ball like he goes nowhere without that phone.  For both of them, it’s like a security blanket that gives them something to focus on if a moment of boredom hits.  Since the ball is usually in Meg’s mouth, even while she’s sleeping, we slyly switched all of her regular tennis balls for their mini-size counterparts, to protect her jaw joint.  Interestingly, as her ball keeps getting smaller, my husband’s phones seem to keep getting bigger.


Meg invents games to occupy herself since her mind seems to be always spinning.  For my husband, it’s an endless stream of ideas that fills multiple white-boards in our basement.  For her,  it usually entails some type of lining up her ball, then pouncing on it to push it under something (a couch cushion, a dining room cabinet, the seat of a car…..  it’s equally fun to her wherever it occurs).  Then she will look at you with soulful eyes, and whimper for your help to rescue this prized possession.  You feel like her hero, until seconds later when you see her lining it up just to push it underneath again. 


If something looks goods to her, she has already snatched it and eaten it before you even have the chance to think “I should watch out that Meg doesn’t get that”.  This is much like my husband.  If they want it, why wouldn’t they let themselves have it?  Jaisy and I, on the other hand, will sit back, wanting to eat those things, but knowing we’re not supposed to. This became apparent the day my husband tried to mail a holiday package of treats to his boys out of state.  In the two minutes it took him to come out of the post office with a box to package it all in, he found Meg on the floor in the back of his jeep, lifting her head out of the bag, licking the evidence off of her lips. Jaisy, on the other hand, was still seated on the front seat where he left them, making sure we knew that she was where she was supposed to be.



Since I didn’t birth either of them, and I didn’t know either of their moms or dads, I can’t classify their peculiarities as genetic nature.  Though, neither can I rule that out.  I can, however, look at most of their personality quirks, look back at us, and sheepishly grin - “Yup, those are our kids”.   Thank you, environmental nurture, for pointing your finger at us. 


It’s nice to have a mini-me.  A little being that makes your heart smile, and fills your soul with “I did that……  and I love them”.


Sometimes, that mini-me is the mirror to ourselves that we might not have otherwise recognized.   Those are the moments that make your heart say “oops.... I did that…. but I love them”.


In the end -  during good times, funny times, quiet times, chaotic times, and even cringe-y times, I can’t think of any other little beings I would rather have teach me about myself.

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