Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA
I’ve known about “My Last Dog Syndrome” (MLD) for many years. I didn’t know the name, though, until recently. Lisa Mullinax CDBC coined the name on her Facebook page, 4 Paws University.
MLD is a funny name and it’s kind of serious, too. It’s not actually something a dog gets. MLD is something we humans suffer from. It is the idea that our last dog – the one who we still think about and pine for – was somehow better, less flawed, more perfect than the dog we live with now.
Lisa writes on her Facebook post that people often complain that: “My last dog was never this destructive. My last dog stayed in the front yard and never went past the driveway. My last dog loved kids.” Fill in the blank. The dogs of yore seem to have been magical in so many ways. And, the dogs of today – imperfect and unruly or worse – pale in comparison.
The real danger of MLD is that it can get in the way of training. My Last Dog was perfect and this one is broken. The reality is very likely that neither of those statements is completely true. I know of what I speak. I will tell you stories for hours of the enchanting (dare I say mythical) brilliance of My Last Dog, Juno. She was Dinseyesque, “practically perfect in every way.” But of course she was also not perfect, not at all. She chewed woodwork, ate clothing, and pulled on leash like a demon in her early days. But, we forget all that don’t we? And that is the gift of dogs. We remember the joy and their soulful eyes and the nights they stayed with us when everyone else had walked away. My Last Dog stole my heart and saved my life.
How can today’s dog compete with that? The heart is often so generous. It remembers the love and comfort of a dear gentle dog on a cold night. And oh yeah, the training and struggle? Forget about that. And, we do forget. Even if you don’t think you trained your last dog – of course you did. Maybe you didn’t go to a class or hire a trainer. But, you still taught him. One way or another you and that dog learned to be perfect together. It was luck and chance and some skill. You made it work and the skies opened and the sun shone and you figured it out, both of you. It happens. I know. It feels like magic. And, it’s not.
I remember the day Juno died, the end of our long story together that was not long enough. Not nearly. Our vet carried her body so carefully to his car. She would be cremated. The vet hospital staff would send her final paw print on a little painted plaque a few days later. The house was so quiet. Every so often I’d think I saw her from the corner of my eye walking in the room or jumping up on the bed. But, no.
Those of us who love dogs know we can’t replace them. We also know we can’t live without them for long. Stella, who came after Juno, was a puppy. She was sick in the early days, terrible in the typical ways (though, honestly less-so than Juno), and terribly quirky in unexpected ways. I remember the first time I called for her and said Juno’s name by mistake. “Juno, come!” I caught my breath and felt my knees give way. I sunk to the ground and sobbed. When I looked up I saw that she had come to me, barely 5-months old with that weird look she gives even now almost 10 years later. She came to the wrong name but, without question, to the right person. I needed her then more than ever and there she was.
I love the way Lisa put it in her Facebook post. “Your dog may not naturally take to the things your last dog did, but I promise that he has a truly amazing and unique quality that your last dog didn’t. You just have to find it!” And the magic is in the finding, learning with each other, communicating with each other, playing and training with abandon that leads to delightful exhaustion at the end of day with each other – a cuddle on the sofa in the glow of the television sharing that last little bit of pizza crust.
There are no magical dogs. Maybe not. And yet, all dogs are imbued with the magic of their kind. I think that’s the real joy of loving dogs. Each is so different. And at the core, each is so beautifully – dog.
Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston, Texas. He lives with two amazing dogs, Stella and Stewie, and the perfect memory of his last dog, Juno.