One of the literal translations of the latin canis major is “the greater dog” (as opposed to lesser, in size). Yes, it’s true that I prefer big dogs and so that fits nicely, but as I’ve been evolving in my Work, I started to think about what it is that I’m aiming for, in dog care, and I realized that I’m pursuing the greater dog, in all respects.
When I was studying canine herbalism, I envisioned myself more as the community herbalist that people heard about through word of mouth. (“She’s a little odd, but she knows her stuff!”) I pored over my books and attended lectures and classes and symposiums with some of the best herbalists from around the world. After becoming certified as an herbalist, I worked in a local veterinary office in the hopes of seeing exactly which health conditions were most common in my community, and to learn more about the conventional approaches to them. (This proved to be an almost comically poor choice for me. As an honors student and Dean’s list graduate and all that, I was a complete nincompoop in trying to decipher the practice’s unending vaccine schedule, advise patients in proper chemical flea treatments, and recommend Hill’s Science Diet.) Not surprisingly, this turned out to be very short-term employment, though I appreciate the patience of the staff for asking me to stay and give it a shot.
Working with a nutritionist and in small local retail settings, I realized that many common health conditions in dogs could be resolved (and prevented) through diet alone. Here I was, thinking that I was settling for a retail job while I was getting myself on my feet, when in fact it proved to offer the best experience I didn’t know I needed. Dogs came in with dull coats and flaking skin and itchy ears. Petting dogs, I felt lipomas; trimming nails, I handled inflamed paws. People came in off the street looking for dog food and after asking a few questions, I learned that the dog had loose poop or lots of poop or needed to lose weight or gain weight or stop farting or stop shedding or …! Way too often, the person didn’t realize that there was any health condition to address. They just wanted to know how to resolve separation anxiety or which collar works best for a dog who pulls or if they should use flea & tick preventive in the winter or is there a local trainer?
So, in trying to maintain a blog on canine herbalism, I found myself wanting to post about diet and mental stimulation and chemical treatments and physical activity and the importance of training with distractions and all sorts of things that are not necessarily plant-related. But they do have to do with the greater dog – the whole dog in its potential as vibrant and healthy and happy.
Now, in walking dogs, I am enjoying a closer relationship with each dog, and it has been adding to a really fascinating and rewarding journey, so far. I started taking them hiking for the kind of exercise that dogs need, and then to historic sites purely for fun, and realized how much fun we weren’t having, until then! I know how they poop and if they’re eating and what they’re eating. I know their preferences and what makes them anxious and that sometimes they need a good wriggle in the grass.
After doing obedience and drafting and therapy work and then getting involved in shelter work and the paths that opened up from that, and starting to settle into health care in the form of nutrition and herbs as the focus of my canine interests, I have found instead that as my journey flows and morphs, it comes full circle. In pursuing different paths, I was building a more well-rounded foundation in my pursuit of The Greater Dog. I now find myself circling back to the obedience that my first Swissy led me into, back to my books on understanding canine cognition, back to engaging dogs in fun, and weaving those tools into a wider approach to The Greater Dog, which is found not just in nutrition and herbal support, but in learning new words and having a job and in positive relationships and environmental stimulation and in enjoying a laugh (yes, dogs laugh, too).
It is serving us well, and I am serving dogs in the community far better than I had imagined.