Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Real Work of Modern Dogs Is Psychotherapy

Sigmund Freud and his dog.

Dogs are entirely man-made, a function of human choice, and often a choice made by specific people in specific locations.

The farmers and huntsmen of the fields and fells of Great Britain made working terriers.

The native people of the Arctic made the sled dogs of the northern snow and ice.

The stock men of Europe made the hard dogs that could stop angry bulls or wild pigs.

The Bedouins and Tuareg made the running dogs of the Middle East.

The shepherds of the borders and highlands of Scotland made the dogs that love and live to herd.

But do we not have tribes of people today who are still making dogs?

Yes, the tribes are different, but they still exist, and they are making dogs just the same.

The terrierman with dirt on his hands has been replaced by the overweight matron with gold lacquer on her finger nails.

The musher with 13 dogs dogs in harness has been replaced by a fellow with a sled dog on his passenger seat and 200-horses under the hood.

The bulldog man now owns a wheezing wreck that can barely waddle to the edge of the field where it is trotted out as the team's mascot.

The running dog is now sprawled on the couch, and instead of a night lamping it might get a slow walk around the block.

The border man with stout legs and calloused hands has been replaced by a suburbanite whose dogs chase frisbees rather than herd sheep.

Where are we going in the world of dogs?

In every direction under the sun, and often straight to hell.

That said, there is some comfort in this observation:  cool tools never die.

And really is there any tool so cool as a dog?

Sure there are a lot of very crappy shovels sold at Lowe's for the "Harry Homeowners" who confuses real digging with putting in a rose bush, but good shovels are still made and sold if you know where to go to find them.

And so it is with almost everything else apparently, including working dogs.

Real sheep herding men and women are not runnning to "barbie collie" theorists for stock or advice anymore than gun dog men are going to backyard puppy peddlers, or terriermen are going to Kennel Club pretenders.

Up in Alaska, the pulling dogs are not registered in the Lower 48, and in the deserts of the Middle East, the test of a dog is not what's written on a piece of paper but whether the hare is returned to hand after a swirling chase in the dust.

And as for the real bull dog, this country is crawling with well-built Pit Bulls capable of busting, catching and stopping a feral pig on any given night. Hell, we now have TWO television series devoted to their exploits!

So what does it matter if there are a lot of pretenders in the world of dogs?

So long as the dogs that result are not too seriouly deformed or genetically defective, what is the harm of barbie collies, tennis ball retrievers, and fantasy fox terriers?

No, the work of these dogs is not in forest or field.

Instead, the purpose of these dogs is to give their owners a sense of identity... or perhaps it's to serve as a surrogate child, or a welcome wag after a long day at a soul-crushing job. 

Perhaps their job is to give their owner a chance to win a beauty contest or an opportunity to work out their long-repressed hair-dresser fantasies.

But so what? Is it really that odd that this kind of psycho-therapy work has become the real work of the modern dog?

Yes, many dogs today are transvestite terriers, counterfeit collies, and bogus bird dogs, but as pets most seem to work out fine, even if they are pale immitations of their storied ancestors.

Isn't that good enough?



thelocaldog said...

I would emphasize that "pet" is a purpose - a job, a very important one. I think we must be careful not to denigrate that "work". Actively, carefully and ethically breeding for the skills necessary to successful "pet-hood" is just as commendable as breeding a herding, guide or bomb sniffing dog. We are oddly dismissive of the domestic dog's primary role in Western culture.

John said...

Perhaps the first rule should be one borrowed from the Hippocratic Oath : First, do no harm to the breeds. Perfectly okay to have a dog whose only job is to be a companionable pet, but don't create grotesque exaggerations of the "working" model for the sake of some ersatz "beauty" contest known as a dog show that are a great deal more about people and their egos than they are about dogs.

John Parker

34e045c6-f96b-11e1-85ea-000bcdcb2996 said...

We are dismissive of dog's primary "job" in Western culture because it is a sorry misuse and abuse of the potential of our canine friends. The breeding of companion dogs is the cause of the enormous numbers of dogs in shelters. If you want a pet dog, it's not hard to adopt from a shelter or rescue, or to get a working-bred dog that failed in his endeavors and was labeled "pet quality" for his trouble. Breeding dogs simply to be pets is highly selfish and unkind to our so-called best friends.

LeaMikhaela said...

dogs are mans best friend..they have the quality that they know how to comfort their boss..i love dogs but not that really that addicted

modern psychotherapy