|Article from the January 2011 issue of Dogs Today.|
A Dog is Neither Shovel Nor Child
Balance is key to a correct relationship with your dog
Balance is key to a correct relationship with your dog
I have good news and bad news.
The good news is that most dog owners have decent to extremely satisfactory relationships with their dogs.
The bad new is that “most” means we have only cleared the 51 percent threshold.
The simple truth is that millions of dogs and their owners have interpersonal relationships marked by stress, indifference, miscommunication, and even misery.
Are there commonalities to these problems?
Generally speaking, yes.
A Dog Is Not a Shovel
One problem is that some owners fail to recognize that dogs are fully sentient beings that need more than food, water, shelter, and sanitation. Dogs also need mental stimulation and exercise every day, no exceptions.
This means that if you kennel your dogs twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, you are failing your dogs. In fact, you are treating your dogs worse than the most hardened of psychopathic criminals on death row.
And yet, how often do we see this? All the time!
Go to any commercial breeding or long-term boarding kennel, and you will see cage after cage of dogs deprived of the most basic kind of mental stimulation. Most are rarely walked or even turned out from their cages. Instead, a high-pressure water hose is used to blast feces into the scuppers. The gate to the kennel run may not be opened in a week
This is not a life. This is abuse.
“Abuse?! But that’s the way we’ve always done it!”
Slavery and torture are also ancient traditions, but that doesn’t make them right does it?
We need to do better than this.
Dogs are not inanimate property. If you leave a shovel out in the rain and snow, it is of no concern to the state. But do the same thing to a dog, and not only will the state step in – it may fine you, remove your dog and, in extreme cases, jail you.
While there may be no legal obligation to provide exercise and mental stimulation for your dog, failure to live up to this responsibility is at the core of many, if not most, dysfunctional relationships.
Job One then is exercise and mental stimulation. Satisfy your dog’s needs in this regard, and you are half way home.
A Dog Is Not a Child
At the other end of the spectrum from those who treat dogs like shovels, are those who treat dogs as if they are children.
A dog is Canis lupus familiaris, not Homo sapiens bambino.
Accepting a dog for what it is, is the cornerstone of having a correct relationship.
Dogs drink from puddles, bark routinely, bite on occasion, and turn around three times before they curl up in the grass.
You cannot warn a dog about consequences, or explain to them why you are taking away their allowance. A dog does not have morality, does not believe in heaven, and does not fear hell.
Dogs consider it normal to roll in animal feces and to eat them too. They greet each other by sniffing each other’s butts, and they often drink from toilets because they do not have hands to turn on a tap.
Many dogs have strong prey drives, and some will kill your neighbor's cat as quick as you can say "Bob's your uncle."
In short, your dog is not your “fur baby.”
Do not deny the nature of a dog or its particular needs, any more than you would a tiger or a hummingbird.
And yet, look around. So many people insist on treating dogs as children. What’s going on here?
Most of the time, it’s a classic case of displacement -- a childless woman, gay man, or senior citizen transferring maternal or paternal needs to a dog.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with treating a dog well, or even doting on it, provided that the dog is not allowed to run riot and basic discipline is imposed.
That said, it’s important to realize dogs do not see the world the way we do. What an owner sees as an act of beneficence, a dog is likely to see as weakness to be exploited.
The bottom line is that a dog’s owner must set the rules, establish the routines, and decide what behaviors are permitted and which are not.
And yes, this means the dog must be subordinate to you.
It’s not a question of being mean or not caring. Quite the opposite. It’s a question of providing the dog with the clarity it needs to know it is not an equal in the household.
A dog is a dog, and a dog is less than the owner, less than the spouse, less than a child, and less than any human guest.
If there is any question about this in the mind of either you or the dog, the basis for a less-than-satisfactory relationship is set.
It’s All Up To You
Perhaps the most common failing in the world of human-dog relationships is the failure to train.
Watch closely, and you will see that people who raise perfectly acceptable children often have dogs that are out of control.
How is this possible?
One reason is that even the most active parents are only partially raising their own children – schools and society are doing most of it.
Beginning at a very early age, kids are bundled off to day care, kindergarten, and grade school where they spend eight hours a day being taught to raise their hands, line up for lunch, and respect adult authority. Socialization and exercise occur on the playground, while more after-school instruction is provided by coaches, church, police, television, movies, and books.
In the typical human household, children spend less than 10 minutes a day talking to their parents. Whether we chose to admit it or not, it is the larger social fabric of society that provides so much instruction to our kids.
Not so with dogs.
If you send your dog to public school; they will not train it! Instead, they will turn your dog over to the local pound where, if it is still unclaimed five days later, it is likely to be put to sleep.
Did I mention that a dog is not a child? True!
While the bad news is that you cannot pass off dog training to the local public school, the good new is that your dog does not need to know very much to make it in this world.
Four or five basic commands -- sit, come, stay and down -- are all that are needed for both dog and owner to have reasonably happy lives.
And here’s the other bit of good news: any and all dog training systems work pretty well.
Dog training is not rocket science; it’s repetition, timing, rewards and consistency.
A final bit of good news is that if you are looking for a good book on dog training, there’s a new one that sets out multiple methods of training the basic commands. Cesar’s Rules, by Cesar Millan, features Millan and eleven other dog trainers detailing the most common methods of teaching basic dog commands. Check it out!