We as humans have made such progress with how we view dogs, but it seems with so many steps forward, we take a few more steps back
At one time, dogs were given far more freedom than they have now, many having at least the daytime run of their neighborhoods. But that freedom also came with a price. That price could include a much shorter life span because of wild predators, being hit by a car, being shot for worrying livestock, or harmed by not- so- nice dog haters. But this freedom also came with environmental enrichment of the best homemade variety. and it came with choices, not something many dogs get these days. Read more about choices dogs need.
Dogs learned to navigate their world safely or they risked injury
Survival of the fittest. Dogs communicated with one another much more effectively than they do now because they had to. They learned how to appropriately interact with kind humans and avoid unkind humans. They used their brains and problem solving skills regularly. They came home for their meals and the children of the house usually knew to not bother the dog when they were sleeping or eating. The expectations of life with a dog were overwhelmingly much more realistic. Dogs were expected to be, well, dogs! I would never advocate going back to this type of dog care taking, but it certainly had its advantages for both species.
Fast forward to the present
We expect dogs to lay quietly and without complaint all day while we are at work, often for at least 8 hours and then become stressed when they want attention and exercise when we get home. We don’t understand when we discover that our furry friend has chewed through a wall or a crate out of boredom and a complete lack of mental stimulation and physical exercise. We expect our dogs to make do with minimal interactions with us during our workweeks, with only a few hours of our exhausted evening time, before we nod off in front of the TV. If they are very lucky, they sleep near us for easy free valuable bonding time. Read more about that here. If they are unlucky, we limit them to yet more time without us by restricting their access to all of the home that the humans live in.
We expect a lot from our dogs
We expect them to walk by our sides at a “heel” position when the walk is often the only experience they get with the outside environment daily. That’s if they are even that lucky that it happens daily. We expect them to ignore the myriad of smells that swirl around their noses with enticement. And then we wonder why walking Muffy for 10 blocks in that heel position did nothing to decrease her energy level. Read more about that here.
We expect them to be fully trained within their first few weeks of their life. When reality hits, instead of hiring a well qualified expert to assist, we go online searching for advice from random internet users, which will usually make matters worse for both human and canine. Read more about that here. We forget that our human children go to school for 12 years for a reason and that we don’t get confused when our 12-week-old human infant is not potty trained yet. We are patient with our human children and understand developmental stages, yet the canine part of this equation leaves us frustrated.
We insist our dogs interact with people and other animals when they are young and impressionable and then grow distraught and concerned when they find their growls and barks as an adolescent and start telling us that they prefer not to, thanks very much. See more on that here.
We take their food away because someone told us we should and then are surprised when they start to guard it from us. We hug them suddenly while they are sleeping soundly and then are confused because of how defensively they respond. We fail to supervise and teach boundaries to our children with our dogs. Which in turn, also fails to also provide spatial safety for our dogs who are often forced into interaction with those children. We then wish that we could have prevented the horrific bite to little Billy’s face when the dog has had enough intrusiveness.
For the sake of the dogs that we really do love, but do not understand as well as we need to, I plead with you to please start seeing these amazing creatures for who they are. Dogs want to be treated like family members with likes and dislikes respected just like other valuable family members. Dogs don’t want to be accessories whose needs are ignored and misunderstood. Dogs are perfect as they are. They need us as humans to respect who they are and guide them to a better version of themselves, just as so many of them guide us to a better version of who we are.
Dogs are messy, they shed, they like to dig, they like to get dirty, they may like to chase critters, they like to sniff a lot they like to run around, they like to have humans be nice to them, they like us to be predictable, they like us to understand that they need to exercise their minds and bodies too.
They need us to allow them to sniff on walks, not expect them to walk like robots next to us, so that we can show our neighbors how “well behaved” they are. Let’s instead consider showing our neighbors how much we care about the mental health of the dogs whose lives we are privileged to share, by providing the very important enrichment sniffing they love. Of course, we should also train them to walk nicely on a leash but said training simply should involve not pulling us down onto the ground and agreeing to move along or closer when needed. It should not involve caring about who is walking in front of whom. Quite frankly, they don’t care as long as they get to sniff a lot. Life is a journey, not a destination and sniffing is indeed part of that journey for dogs. Read more here.
- Dogs also want us to understand that they have emotions and feel pain, just like us humans. They want us to understand that they are perfectly willing to learn the basic rules of living with humans when we take time to use our brains to teach them instead of using pain inflicting devices to force them to make choices they truly don’t understand in order to emotionally survive. All dogs can learn without pain. Old or young, large or small, mix or purebred, “tough” or “soft” breeds, don’t believe otherwise. The truth is here.
- Dogs want us to know that chances are you will need a professional trainer’s assistance at some point in your dog parenting life. Dogs want us to know that choosing a well qualified modern methodology trainer is a gift to them. Dogs don’t want us to complain that it costs too much, while we spend a considerable amount of money on our own needs and desires. Dogs want us to realize that they also deserve our best efforts.
- Dogs want us to understand that if we aren’t willing to give us the time that we need whether for walking or playing or training or mental enrichment, then they would prefer to not join our life. They want us to choose them for the life we have, not the life we want. They want us to understand that puppies and adolescents need a human who can offer the commitment of time. They want us to understand that choosing an active giant breed dog when you have a physical limitation and cannot safely handle such a dog is incredibly selfish. Mold your life for the dog or don’t get the dog.
- Dogs want us to stop taking them places that they are not comfortable with. Dogs often do not enjoy many public places that we humans enjoy. They may not enjoy sitting on that busy restaurant patio while the humans eat their meal and chat with their friends. They rarely enjoy going to the festival or the parade with so many people far too close and hands reaching for them attached to people they don’t know. They generally don’t like the loud sounds and strange sights they have never seen before. The busy hustle and the bustle often scares them. Read more about that here.
- Dogs want us to understand that their bodies belong to them. Respect them just as you would expect someone to respect your body. Most dogs would like to form some sort of a relationship before being touched, just like us humans. Every living being deserves to have consent over their own body. Read more about that here.
- Dogs want us to understand that if you teach them that they will never go hungry with you as their person, that you are a giver, not a taker and that you will never take their own property away from them just because you can, they will repay you with the utmost trust of such a gift.
- Dogs want us to know that if they like to kill small critters, then please don’t expect them to live happily with your cat or chickens or other small creatures. Plenty of dogs love all creatures, great and small (and not as meals!) so choose a dog who fits your needs instead of expecting to makeover a dog into what you want. Those makeovers never go well with human significant others, don’t expect it of a dog. I promise you that you cannot change who someone is at base. It’s not nice to try. That isn’t respect. That’s control.
- Dogs want us to know that some of them may never be trustworthy off leash so punishing them with a device that someone tells you is “stimulating” rather than the actual shocking pain it does cause, is not training. Not by a long shot. Dogs want us to know that there are lots and lots of dogs who can be trained successfully with rewards based methods so that they can be off leash in appropriate and LEGAL areas. Read more about that here. But those areas do not include typical city streets in a heel position. That will never be legal or appropriate. So stop it. Really.
- Dogs want us to know that leaving them outside in an unfenced yard and expecting them to stay there without supervision or training is unrealistic and inappropriate. Dogs also want us to know that most of them really enjoy when their humans are outside with them. That’s why they want to come in when the humans think that they should enjoy being outside “because it’s nice”. It’s nice when they are with you. Dogs want you to know that they get bored in fenced in yards too. Mental enrichment is important everywhere. Dogs also want us to know that they like walks even if they have a fenced in yard to run around in. That’s the mental enrichment that we keep talking about.
- Dogs want us to know that many of them really do prefer the company of other humans to other dogs. They also want us to know that only a small portion of adult dogs really enjoy meeting new dog friends. They want us to know that when we take them to the dog park and they sniff around the edges or stick by you or object when another dog is intrusive or even friendly or shy away from either of the previous, they really don’t want to be there. They want us to know that many of them are really scared at doggy daycare and that they would just like to go home and sleep and wait for you to come home and interact with them. They want you to understand doggy body language so that you will get what they desperately wish to tell you but don’t know how. They want you to know that they would be so relieved to be understood.
Dogs want us to do for them as we would want done for us. It’s that simple. The world would be a better place for everyone if that sentiment was practiced by all. Try it. I promise you will see a difference. Dogs wants us to get them.