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|Lessons Learned from the Movie Marley & Me|
|Written by Steve Dale|
I’m a fan of the movie “Marley & Me.” Certainly lots of great movies over the years have been made with canine stars, from cartoon dogs to Lassies. But there are precious few movies where dogs on the big screen are playing ordinary, food swiping, pillow chewing, leash pulling dogs. That’s one reason, I think, why John Grogan’s book, and now the film “Marley & Me” is so relatable. After all, very few of us have cartoon dogs or heroic Lassie dogs, lots of us have a Marley dog or we know one.
Absolutely, Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson in the lead roles are funny, and of course, so are the 22 dogs who play Marley. But there are lots of serious lessons to be learned from watching the movie too.
Jen (played by Aniston) and John (portrayed by Wilson) pick out a puppy based solely on Jen’s connecting to one individual dog. The eager couple doesn’t ask questions before they buy. For starters, they should have inquired about medical history. Is there a genetic history of hip dysplasia or allergies? Both are among the potential health issues in Labrador Retrievers.
Clearly, John made up his mind about buying a puppy from this one breeder without considering any others. Shopping around isn’t a bad idea. Perhaps there was a reason why the puppy chosen by Jen and John was significantly less money. They never asked about why this one pup was ‘on sale.’ Jen sensed that it was the right pup. While making an instant emotional connection with a specific puppy should be a factor, a more significant issue is that chosen pup’s temperament, which may or may not be suited to your lifestyle and in this instance lack of experience as dog owners. I wonder if Jen and John would have asked more questions if they were purchasing a washing machine?
So, they bring Marley home and Jen and John unwittingly proceed to train Marley to destroy their house. Puppies are like toddlers, they’re curious and don’t know what to do or not to do until they are taught. Crating a dog not only assists with house training, but also keeps puppies out of trouble, from deciding pillows and shoes are toys. Inside a crate, a dog can’t get bored and dig at the sofa. Jen and John were lucky, Marley could have chewed on a plugged-in electrical cord. Since Marley is given the opportunity to repeatedly practice these ‘worlds worst dog’ behaviors, they become normal for him. In fact, it is just as normal for puppies to explore using their mouths as it is for young children to explore with their hands. Marley is totally just acting like a puppy. Marley continues these behaviors as an adult because it’s self-rewarding, and no one is around to teach him to chew at a treat inside a Kong toy instead of a pillow.
Finally, Jen and John decide to go to a dog trainer, played by Kathleen Turner. Of course, Marley should have been enrolled into a class months earlier. Turner’s character blames John being unable to dominate Marley to explain the unruly behavior, When the trainer attempts to demonstrate how to dominate Marley using a choke collar, Marley responds by clocking her – running full tilt and knocking her to the ground.
Marley wasn’t ‘showing her who’s boss, but he was saying, ‘you’ve done nothing to get my attention.’ The trainer wasn’t communicating from one end of the leash to the other. So, as Marley had done his entire life – he just decided to do something that seemed fun.
Coincidentally, as I go to press with my piece, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior issued a press release with many of these same thoughts, adding, “At no point was Marley trying to be the “alpha male of the pack,” as claimed by the film’s dog trainer. Training does not require ‘dominance’ and harsh corrections. Being a good leader by training and reinforcing desired behavior using positive reinforcement is the safest and most effective way to train puppies.”
Had the trainer pulled out a liver treat or tennis ball from her pocket, she likely would have gotten Marley’s attention – and training could have begun.
Without revealing a spoiler moment, at one point in the film Jen is clearly heartbroken. Even this untrained and absolutely incorrigible Labrador offers affection to Jen, instantly understanding her need. Dogs are able to sense these things while husbands can be inept. John looks at his dog’s action, and only then he walks over to comfort his wife.
Repeatedly, it’s discussed how well Marley accepts the children, one by one – even staying up all night with a colicky baby.
And no matter what disaster ensues – even when she is at her post partum end of her rope, Jen never really considers giving up Marley, and the thought never even occurs to John. Clearly, for all his foibles, Marley is loved. And at the end of the film, all the family members demonstrate their love. John points out, how, in some ways, just about all dogs – even the unruly Marley - are better than people. He’s right about that.