Posted by: fireweaver | November 25, 2008

if it comes natural…

part of my doting-new-mommy bit has involved me flashing Xyla pictures all over work at anyone showing vague interest in the phrase “omg, i have a new puppy.”  today, this led to a long discussion about living with dogs (this sort of stuff does happen when one is a vet, even to us monkey vets) with a coworker.  it seems that she has a puggle¹ that’s just about to hit 2 years old and is very much feeling her oats.  growling at mom when told to get off the furniture, that sort of thing.  i think i’m about to climb up on my soapbox here, bail or bear with me.

in ye olden days™, there was a pretty sharp distinction between people and animals.  only those rich enough to have loads of leisure time had dogs that were kept solely for their charming personalities; otherwise, dogs were around the house for some purpose (hunting, herding, etc).  nowadays, the majority of us who have pets have them for fun, not necessity, and we have this whole focus on “the human-animal bond” between us and our pets².  i’m going out on a short limb here and saying that’s also the exact same reason why we have that dog-whisperer guy and his double-handful of bestsellers or that sharp-tongued sassy british chick busting pet owners on tv.  it’s not the dog’s social structure that’s changed, it’s ours.

dogs are wolves, straight up – herding instinct & behaviors are merely re-focused hunting activities, tiny lapdogs were merely bred to have puppyish non-threatening behavior patterns, for example – and they need their instinctive pack structure.  they don’t speak english (or french, or somali, or whatever the humans are speaking at home), but they do have an amazingly rich vocabulary of body language, glances, vocal intonation.  every interaction with your dog is indeed a conversation, the trick is just to be communicating in nearly the same language.  those growls the puggle is throwing out when told to hop off the couch?  nothing more than her questioning the audacity of a lesser-to-equal pack member telling her what to do.  the problem in this story is that many people, because we’ve grown away from thinking of our animals as utilitarian tools and towards thinking of them as family members, treat their pets like retarded children.  for cats, meh, not so big a deal, since felines are independent and indifferent creatures anyway³, but dogs are a different story.  acting as though dogs are just like small people, only slow, juvenile, special-needs, mute people incapable of taking care of themselves without supervision does them a grave disservice, and simultaneously confuses them to all get-out.  they’re not “lesser”, they’re “other”.  in your pack at home (for be sure, while we’re busy thinking of them as subhuman people, they’re most definitely thinking of us as fellow canids), if you don’t want to or don’t know how to step up and confidently be the alpha, the dog is instinctively driven to try.  somebody’s got to be in charge.  when you get the knack of “speaking” dog, and it all works the right way, we all know our place, there’s peace in the pack, and no need for fighting.  i explained this theory to my coworker, and she said it all sounded like a lot of hard work, this whole mental re-allignment.  oh well, i suppose if i could make it sound simple, i’d have a handful of best sellers, too.

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¹i have very strong feelings against this whole bizarro-world trend of “designer mutts”.  PSA here, people: if you want a small-to-medium sized cross-bred dog, please head down to your local shelter and rescue one, sadly there are plenty, and they need you.  ahem.

²clearly, i am indeed a product of my own times, and am just as ridonkulus about my baby as the next person.  see “doting-new-mommy bit” above.

³not hatin’ on my cat-lovers, just describing social structure of the species.  ps: domestic cats =/= lions-only-smaller.

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