Doing What Comes Naturally

cartoon of shrugging dog with questionsWe live with animals and it’s easy to lose sight of the fact. When it comes to dogs we are living with animals who are designed with varying degrees of proficiency or intensity to; hunt, chase, catch, kill, chew, shred, mark and bark. They also breed and poop, and often at times and places we’d rather they didn’t. We’ve brought these animals into our homes and begin the process of trying to get them behave less like animals. Of all the animals on the planet, dogs seem to excel at accommodating us (much of the time). To be fair, many of us are willing and able to accommodate them when they continue to behave like the animals they are.

Often the easiest thing to do, and something we have a long and rich history of doing with all kinds of animals, including humans, is to use force and punishment to get what we need from them. We find no end to the reasons to justify our actions. Societies enact laws to help guide its citizens in making more just, and humane choices to achieve goals, given our tendency to resort to threats of and actual violence.

Behavior is lawful. When we understand those laws we can make humane, and effective choices to modify it. We start with humane management. This means creating an environment in which the animal can live safely without needing or being inclined to perform the behaviors we decide need to change. We ensure this environment provides them with good reasons to live; things to do, positive outcomes to attain. We consider the needs and normal behaviors of the animal when choosing or creating environments for them to live in. Bringing working dogs (and any other category of healthy dogs) into our homes and providing a minimum of enrichment and exercise is as unreasonable as bringing a goldfish home and tossing it on the sofa and expecting it will live a long and healthy life, and thank us for it.

Given that the practice of bringing or placing dogs into homes without full consideration of what their care will require is not likely to end soon, our best chance at success, and their best shot at a decent life, will be achieved by using our big brains to come up with solutions. There are professionals- vets, vet behaviorists and trainers who have studied the sciences of health and behavior who are able to formulate plans for addressing the challenges we are facing with our dogs.

Should we find ourselves routinely resorting to force, fear, intimidation, punishment and restraint to manage our dogs we should consider the possibility that we have failed in one or both of two ways. Either we lack the skills to efficiently modify behavior without them, or we have not adequately assessed the ability of an animal to be successful given the conditions they will be required to live in. If we are going to punish dogs to end our own suffering and inconvenience we can at least be insightful enough to admit it.

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1 comment so far

  1. Vincent Egan on

    Good point Debbie. Trying to get Ellie to NOT go all strong eye when she see cows, sheep or horses is not possible. I can now tell her “wait” but the anticipation of “bring ’em in” is almost more than she can bear. I wonder how many people look at the instinct of their dog then create an environment to play off or into that strength. Ellie and Hank need to herd; cats, us, each other. I could no more stop that than I could turn them into concert pianists. To paraphrase please please me oh yeah and I’ll please you!! The biggest thing these lazy, good for nothin dogs do is keep me movin and of course bring a smile to my face. Fearful Ellie is now affection competitive Ellie. You’d think one would ask themselves;”What worked on me?” It’s plain it wasn’t fear or pain. Well okay sometimes. Sometimes they can’t do what I want. They want to but just can’t so ya gotta let that one grow. To a BC just a disdainful look from me is crushing. After all isn’t the pure delight watching the pure delight?

    Vince Egan 970.402.2005 Vincehimself@icloud.com

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