This blog is less than a month old and it has about 1000 views, with visitors from 17 countries. As thrilled as I am to speak to like-minded people, I am thinking today how sadly rare and special my readers are, and how incredibly lucky their dogs are. You are all people who deeply care for your dogs, are interested in their welfare, care to learn more, spend time doing it. For every dog you own, there are hundreds, if not thousands, not as lucky. How can we change that?
Tell me. Why don’t our schools teach basic canine behaviorism? Millions of dogs live as pets and share our homes and our lives. Canines are interwoven into human history and our everyday lives, yet most people shoot from the hip when interacting with dogs.
One of the most frustrating things for me as a breeder is navigating through the myths on dog behavior and dog training and separate those from solid canine behaviorism. And then, another challenge and my biggest fear is protecting the puppies I brought into this world from suffering when their well-meaning owners misunderstand dog behaviors, or when they employ poor (and sometimes downright cruel) strategies for behavior modification.
Have you seen a viral video of a toddler bouncing on a large dog, whose patience is stretched to the limit as the dog screams in canine body language his discomfort to oblivious human owners? Have you seen photos of children getting their faces right into dogs’ faces, the dogs so uncomfortable that every fiber in their bodies is begging for reprieve (folder ears, averted gaze, roached back)?
There is a lot of misunderstanding between our human and canine ways of expression. And then there are dangerous myths hurting the dogs. Some of them are so deeply ingrained into our society and our language that it is an uphill battle to change them. Take a word “housebreaking”. In its very root, it implies a process of breaking the dog. Smack him or scare him enough for soiling inside the house and you’ll break the habit, unfortunately along with breaking the dog’s spirit. It is downright an insane approach when you consider that your dog does not want his living quarters soiled any more than you do. It is a matter of communication and opportunity 99% of the time. Communication we humans fail at. Opportunity we don’t give. When a person screams at a dog peeing on a carpet that human is thinking that the scream means “don’t pee on the carpet”, but all the dog hears is a human screaming when he pees. He will avoid peeing in front of his owner. A person can take him for a walk all he wants. The dog will hold his full bladder fearing that the owner would scream again. He will promptly relieve himself out of owner’s sight, behind prized Bergere chair, once back home from the walk. Not because the dog is spiteful, but because he is trying to not offend his human.
Another doozy is so called “dominance”, no matter how many scientific papers and popular science articles disproved it, people love to explain everything in terms of a dog “being dominant”. Yea, all 10 lbs of him trying to assert his dominance over you, or humping another dog because “he is showing dominance”. Give me a break, or better yet research dominance and catch up on science.
My daytime job of a designer takes me inside people’s homes and I can’t tell you how many times I witness dogs unsuccessfully trying to communicate with their owners. I saw an anxious dog looking at his empty water bowl till I insisted that the dog was asking for a drink (and boy, did he drink and drink once the bowl was filled). I saw dogs licking their crippled paws because their nails were permanently kept too long. Dogs manhandled and shut down because they tried to say hello to me. Dogs that were bored, and overweight (given treats as a substitute for a real interaction), and just profoundly sad.
I am mentioning all those depressing things because that is not you and your dogs! You are a silver lining on a very dark cloud. Thank you for reading my blog! Thank you for caring about dogs! Let’s change things one dispelled myth at a time.
Resources to share far and wide:
- The Association of Professional Dog Trainers on dominance
- Turid Rugaas, a Norwegian trainer and author, a great resource on canine body language
- Puppy Culture, the best resource for puppy rearing protocols for breeders and owners