My Daughter Doesn’t Have The “Dog Gene”… And That’s Okay

Lea Jaratz


I’m almost ashamed to talk about this in my circle of pet lovers, but I’m ready to confess that my four-year-old daughter doesn’t have the “dog gene.” It’s what I think makes me, all my cousins, and our parents fanatical about dogs. We all have multiple pets, with no end in sight. And while her little brother sleeps with stuffed puppies and would rather play with pets than kids during play dates, it’s pretty clear that my daughter could live her life just fine without pets. Our big dog, who licks her face and shattered her tea set by knocking it off of the table with his tail, is more of an annoyance than a companion. He’s not fluffy or wiggly or cuddly. I don’t think she’ll ever sneak him onto her bed or offer him a piece of her hot dog. They co-exist. They’re housemates. He’s just something that’s been around since she was born and she tolerates him. She just didn’t get the “dog gene.”

But, last night, we were talking through some of her big thoughts at bedtime - how she had a bad dream about spiders and wonders what will happen when she is five. Worries I can’t do much to fix. But she confessed that she was worried someone would come into her room and take her treasured alarm clock. Bingo. I have a fix for that. I explained that Kayden is a really excellent watch dog, the best I’ve ever known. (Which is sort of true. I mean, he’s a huge chicken but has a hell of a bark and I doubt any burglar would mess with a black pit bull in the dark.) She looked up at me, scanning my face to see if I was doing that thing where grown-ups sometimes tell kid what they want to hear, but she could see I meant it. I explained that Kayden’s number one job was to watch out for us. I reminded her that he barks a mean bark even at the mailman, who he sees every day and actually kind of likes. Imagine what he would do if a stranger came into house!

Smiling, her face a bit relaxed, she asked me about his number two job (getting hugs and pets from us) and his number three job (playing with us out in the yard) and number four job (cleaning up our spilled food). But after thinking up his seventh job, I changed it up a little and explained our number one job for Kayden: love him and be kind. Give him affection, make sure he has what he needs, play with him. I could see the wheels turning behind her sleepy eyes. She realized that she has an obligation to her housemate to be friendly and loving, because he does so much for us, in an unspoken, stoic, and tent way.

If I have the opportunity to have this conversation with her again when she is older (and I hope I do), I think I will explain that Kayden’s number one job is to provide our home with a little stability. He doesn’t have moods or good days or bad days. He doesn’t get hangry, over-tired, or stressed out. Every day he is the same- affection-seeking, quiet, loyal, and protective. And, maybe, in return, our job is to provide him with the same stability - peace of mind knowing he’ll always get a nutritious meal, cool water in his bowl, a bed to sleep on, and some petting when we’re sitting down to a board game around the coffee table.

It’s okay that my daughter doesn’t have the “dog gene.” Maybe she just hasn’t met that special pet, or maybe her life will be made full in other ways. But I am grateful that I do have the “dog gene” so that I can teach her about the mutual benefits of being compassionate and kind to the animals in our lives, so that she can perhaps appreciate how animals live in the moment and think simply. There’s more to pet companionship that vet care, walks, and remembering to feed them, even when the day has been crazy. They teach us about mutual respect, loyalty, and simplicity in a way that most human interactions just can’t. So, it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t have the “gene,” as long as she has the empathy to glean these lessons from the animals that do come into her life.

In honor of National Kids and Pets Day, we invite you to share the most significant role that pet plays in your family’s life.

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