The Amish dog is as unique and gentle as its owner. From the beginning of our time visiting Amish homes, we noticed how important early childhood contact with dogs and cats was within their culture. Amish children, in most homes, start interacting with a small energetic dog and several ‘barn cats’ before they have taken their own first steps. In this way, an Amish child will learn how to play with animals and, more importantly, get them to do things for and with them. They also learn that these farmyard animals are prone to accidents, often fatal, and that it is unwise to anthropomorphize a beast in one’s mind. Most Amish children have the difference between a ‘human soul’ and a beast’s ‘breath of the Holy Spirit’ realized in a definitive way before their 3rd birthday. This is a practical childhood lesson in an environment where animals will be used for food, and to perform work, out of necessity.
We started to notice an odd similarity among a majority of the pet dogs on these farms. Although mutts, they are miniature and gentle animals that function as a doorbell and entertainment for the entire family. These friendly dogs are so similar in physical size and temperament that it seems like they could be classified as a unique breed. Amish pets are blessed with constant contact and repetition followed by affection when something goes as expected. They are the early childhood training ground for how to handle animals of all sorts. An Amish girl or boy will be harnessing and commanding respect from a 1,500 lb. driving horse before they are school age, and we observed that the training of the ‘young master’ begins as an infant surrounded by pets that are to be treated in a certain way, with respect and yet firmness.
When you drive into the barnyard these tiny dogs greet you with just enough noise to let someone know you are there. They are never threatening, and you will never wonder if it is safe to exit your vehicle. You just know that you have been noticed. They are never stricken with separation anxiety, which results in a need to jump all over you. They are simply there, as an escort to the door that goes silent once acknowledged by the owner.
One day, a couple years ago, we watched as a 4-year-old Amish girl dress a kitten in doll clothes that were at least one size too small! The kitten objected loudly, as the girl’s mother assured us her daughter was just getting her cat properly dressed for ‘its checkup’. It wasn’t the first time the kitten had been dressed up properly for visitors, nor would it be the last. The mama cat sat nearby watching the struggle unconcerned. It was obvious that this mature mother cat had likely been put through the same initiation by one of the older children. When there is nothing to look at on the walls, no TV, and no modern distractions, the fun of watching a kitten being stuffed into a doll dress and bonnet is hard to explain in a few words.
Pets definitely reflect the character of their caregivers. Early contact between a child and small domestic pet results in a mutual benefit which is observable in the behaviors of both. For Amish children, becoming comfortable handling animals is a necessity that prevents large-scale disasters later on in their childhood.
I found some ‘dog pants’ to keep your dog dry on rainy day walks just in case you suddenly feel the urge to dress your pet, safely and for the right reasons!