Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Dog is Neither Shovel Nor Child

Yesterday, I quoted a book entitled Noodling for Flatheads that has a chapter in it about the mechanics and morality of cockfighting.

While hardly endorsing the "sport" of chicken-fighting (far from it), author Burkard Bilger notes that there is a clear collision of vision that frames the debate:

Animal activists will tell you this [battle against cockfighting] is all about morality.

Cockfighters will tell you it's about individual liberty.

Sound familiar?

It should. This is the kind of collision-of-vision we have in the world of dogs all the time, in which one side sees their animals as surrogate children, while others consider them mere property to be dealt with as the owner desires.

What's interesting here is that the lines shift around quite a lot depending on whose ox is being gored, chicken is being plucked, or dog is being abused or killed.

The same people who are still pounding the table in indignation about the evils of Michael Vick, three and a half years after the fact, are silent and flumoxed when you ask them what should be done to prevent one million Pit Bulls a year from being killed in America's "shelters".   Mandatory spay neuter for Pit Bulls?  Require special licensing for Pit Bulls?   Require passage of a special course in dog care and responsibility for Pit Bull owners?   Require Pit Bulls to pass a Canine Good Citizenship course?  We can't do any of that!   That would be discriminatory, and it would impinge on people's property rights. Waaaaahhhh!!!

The same dance plays out in the arena of Puppy Mills.  Require commercial breeders to pay licensing fees high enough to cover twice-a-year inspections by the state?  Require minimal space, water, food, veterinary care and socialization for the dogs?  My God, you're going to drive the big commercial puppy peddlers out of business.  These people have property rights, don't you know?  This kind of special licensing and inspection is discriminatory! Waaaaahhhh!!!

Collision of vision problems in the world of dogs will always be with us, of course.

That said, in the January edition of Dogs Today I try to give a nod to the fact that perhaps (just maybe) people and dogs would do better hewing to a Middle Way.
* * * *

A Dog is Neither Shovel Nor Child
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!


Viatecio said...

Your note on "Abuse? But that's the way it's always been done!" reminded me of something.

I think the conversation was on the topic of training techniques, and someone brought up how "old-school methods" work in the same line of logic that forcing women or people in Third World Countries to work in factories did, or some similar argument. The people are paid little, work in crap conditions, get sick from horrid diseases resulting from unclean environments, etc...but they still produced clothes and other goods! Similar to how the fallacy of how the yank-n-crank crowd basically hung dogs until they came on command (or so "they" want you to believe).

I wanted to mention to these people, but never got around to it, how it was interesting when you make the conditions better, pay the workers a bit more, provide a cleaner environment and boost morale with some extra incentives, they can still produce some great items...but they're still working and haven't been let go as an act of mercy. In a similar manner, one can still corrections in dog training, but not to the degree or application that a "trainer" in 1903 might have used them.

So basically, it's just a fancy way of saying to not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

/got nuthing, you just reminded me of that

PBurns said...

The Devil is in the details.... and so is salvation through the truth.

If you go back and really read dog trainers from the 1700s, 1800s, 1900s, and up until now, you will not find much abuse. In fact you find dog training pretty much as we do it now, albeit without a lot of overlay to teach tricks and fancy talk about markers etc. Cesar Millan lifts about 6 pages from me (with permission and credit let me hasten to add) about the history of dog training, which is one more (small) reason to buy the book. Suffice it to say that the Greeks were giving dogs treats!

All work places, of course, are a bit coercive in the sense that if you do not work, they do not pay you or feed you. Along the same lines, people who work their dogs are pretty famous for saying "if he doesn't work he doesn't get fed," which of course, does NOT mean that they starve their dogs in practice, but that they do not keep and kennel dogs that are useless. They are moved to pet homes, given to someone else who thinks they can make something of them (many a dog has been turned around), or are put down in rare cases.

Of course, businesses have been using the excuse "we cannot afford" to for centuries. Without slavery business would collapse, and then without child labor, if we have wage and hour laws, if we have vacations, if we have Social Security, if we have retirement packages, if we have health care, if we have OSHA, etc. In fact, businesses toddle forward and seem to turn a profit.

But, to put a point on it, we need to look at how we actually act in the real world before we get too expansive about being nice and saying it is cost-free. Most people love to buy stuff made in China and sold at WalMart (and every other store in America) where the workers are paid a bowl of rice with a fish head on top. That $10 shirt was made by a worker paid 75 cents an hour who had no health care and no retirement. The sad truth is that in America today we import good made in 19th Century conditions and sell them in 21st Century stores and we pat ourselves on the back for doing it.

And do we do the same thing with dogs? Well yes. Ever been to a commercial Kennel. Very much the same idea.

And, to bring it back to dog training, if "click and treat" is all you have up your sleeve, you cannot really train a dog because you only have one of the three tools of operant conditioning. Yes, it is the tool used the most, but it is not the only tool because it cannot get all of the job done. We still teach guns dogs with check cords (though more on that later, as there may be a better new-generation tool).


Unknown said...

Thank you for this editorial. Your comments on 24/7 kenneling resonate very strongly with me. It feels good to have some verbal affirmation (yikes, what a horrible noun) of a position I had to take a couple of months ago. Thanks.