The development of self-worth begins in puppy-hood. Dogs need to feel nurtured and valued by their four-legged mother, their adoptive human parents, and any other humans of constant importance in their lives. This nurturing involves love, praise, and acceptance - otherwise known as unconditional positive regard, which given freely without conditions, makes for a healthy, well-balanced dog.
Applied to my experience, it meant that as a puppy I had to modify my natural behaviour to live in harmony with humans. Even though I failed sometimes and made a puddle on the floor, or ran in the opposite direction when Missus or Mister called me, I knew they still loved me, even if they didn't like my behaviour. Because of this, I have grown into a confident adult dog who expects everyone to like her as much as her human family does. The upside of this is that I'm extra friendly for people and to other dogs; the downside is that some people and dogs are cranky, unsociable so-and-so's who don't want my friendship.
Yesterday, the whole unconditional positive regard thing had to work both ways. It began by raining buckets, which Missus used as an excuse not to take me out for a walk until 3 o'clock in the afternoon, even though the weather cleared up long before lunchtime. This was so she could draft her idea of a perfect letter to a publisher. She also, for the hundredth time, edited the first chapter of her children's novel. I swear that if she edits it again, it will disappear altogether, having already shrunk down from thirty pages to three. Missus even read it out loud to me before sticking it in an envelope with the perfect letter, just to check if it sounded okay. I loved the bit about Bluebell, the fictional chocolate Labrador puppy doing some major shredding of Noah's horrid stepmum's shoe collection. Of course, I'd never do anything like that, firstly because Kate in the novel is nothing like Missus, and secondly, because Missus has a comparatively modest number of shoes designed for comfort rather than show.
I did manage to test Missus's patience when finally she took me the park, where I regressed back to puppy-hood by running off with a football belonging to some boys, then refusing to give it back for about ten minutes. Missus still loves me, although would have preferred me not to let her down and cause her such embarrassment.
Dogs are very loyal to their owners and will stick by them in the most appalling circumstances - even if tempted to take temporary leave of them while following the scent of food, cats, or foxes. This loyalty is a canine version of unconditional positive regard.
In 1870, Senator George Vest represented a man who sued another for killing his dog. He won the case by virtue of a speech for which he has become famous. You can read its complete original version at http://www.milwinkennel.com/poems/FaithfulFriend.htm but I've taken part of the speech and rewritten it to underline my relationship with my family.
Tribute to a Chocolate Labrador Retriever
The one absolutely unselfish friend that Missus and Mister have in this selfish world, the one that will never desert them, the one that will never prove ungrateful or treacherous is Brunella. She'll stand by them in prosperity (uh, not happened yet) and in poverty (also not happened, but a bit of a juggling act at times), in health and in sickness. She'd sleep on the cold ground where the wintry winds blew and the snow drove fiercely, as long as she was snuggled up between Missus and Mister. She'd kiss the hand that had no food to offer, as long as she could go foraging and scavenging for whatever morsels she fancied, even ones considered gross by humans. She'd lick the wounds and sores that came in encounters with the roughness of the world. She'd watch over Missus and Mister as they slept, as if they were a princess and her prince. If all other friends deserted them, she would remain. If the recession caught up with them big-time and battered them into the ground, and everyone treated them like garbage, Brunella Labrador would be as constant in her love of them, as the sun in its journey through the heavens.
If Missus and Mister became friendless and homeless outcasts, Brunella would ask no higher privilege than that of accompanying them, to guard them against danger, to fight against their enemies. And when death took them, their bodies laid in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends deserted them, there by the graveside would the Labrador be found, her head between her paws, her eyes sad, but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even in death.
Boohoo, I don't want to think about this any more, but just used this personalised version of the great senator's speech illustrate how unconditional positive regard can cement a lasting relationship, based on love and trust between dogs and their humans.