The many languages of abiding love
Published on June 21, 2017 in Writing
Several years ago, I read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It was a real eye opener for me to realize that I could think I was expressing love for someone, but that they might not see it as love because they spoke a different love language. Sort of like me speaking German to someone who understands only Italian.
Having had years to think about my relationship with Gunny, and having now met hundreds of dogs thanks to Gunny’s Rainbow, I think that people often make a mistake by thinking that all dogs express love the same way (running to the door to greet you, kissing your face, etc.). And that there is something “wrong” with a dog that doesn’t want you to pet him all the time or beg for your affection.
They are as diverse as people; each is an individual. And while we can read books on dog behavior and hope that we can interpret what they are trying to tell us in a broad sense through certain behaviors, the truth is, I think first and foremost they are individuals who want to be understood. I also think that the Love Languages apply to most dogs.
The 5 Love Languages are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Each person (or dog) has a primary way they like to give and receive love. For example, my grandmother did not often say “I love you,” but she did countless tiny gestures to express her love – like smushing up our chocolate ice cream when it was too frozen to eat. Like my grandmother, I do Acts of Service, especially when someone is in a jam, to let them know that I care. But if you are doing an Act of Service for someone who needs Words of Affirmation, you are not speaking their language.
Having attended “Gunny school” for almost 15 years, and having then continued my education by working with dogs for the last eight years, I encourage you to think about who your dog is and what his/her love language is. And when you can, make an effort to love them in the way they best understand love, not just the way you want to give it.
In Gunny’s case, he was content to Receive Gifts so long as they were edible, but he didn’t care much for toys or other objects. He was not a big fan of Physical Touch; for most of his life he would get up and walk away if I tried to pet him for long. And while he loved to be told that he was handsome, he didn’t care one wit if I expressed Words of Affirmation about anything that he was doing because he wasn’t looking for my approval or praise.
Quality Time and Acts of Service, those were his love languages. He always wanted to be together. I came to understand that he would rather lie in the grass near me while I was reading a book than get a hug. He loved that I made his food, fluffed his bed, and took him on walks – my Acts of Service. His greatest Act of Service was listening to me and giving me Quality Time. Always. He wanted to be a part of everything and although he was not generally patient about most things, he would listen for hours if I wanted to talk to him.
I think that you can have a richer and more meaningful relationship with your beloved dog when you look at him/her as an individual with likes and dislikes, and you try to love them in the way they understand best. If they love to be petted, then pet them! If they want to learn tricks and win your praise, then do it! But be open to the fact that maybe the thing that makes your dog feel more loved than anything else is to just be with you.
I wish for each of you a deep understanding of how to give and receive love with your beloved companions. It takes work, just like any other relationship. And it is worth it.