Friday, July 10, 2015

A Dog is For Life

I actually started writing this post several months ago, finished it, but never put it up on the blog. I was worried that it was too controversial but it wouldn’t have been honest had I changed anything about it. So I just held onto it. Until now. Aside from being a Pro-Pitbull (and all mislabeled dogs for that matter) household, we don’t typically stir the pot. But the time has come for me to get this post out there. It’s real and raw and comes from my heart and I’m not apologizing. Take it or leave it.

I have a feeling this post may offend some people. But I am not going to sugar coat anything or make this blog a water downed version of who I really am. There are things I have firm opinions on and if they upset anyone I’m sorry that we don’t share the same sentiment on a particular subject. So that’s my disclaimer. 

I saw a t-shirt the other day that read, “A dog is for life”. If only that were true. I’m sure that the majority of people bring a new pet into their home with the full intention of keeping it for the duration of its life. But so many times that does not end up being the case. I’m going to focus on dogs here because they seem to be the pets that most often are given away but I also am not downplaying the plight of other animals. 

Dogs are smart. But let’s not forget we domesticated them. All dogs regardless of breed are descendants of the wolf. There are built in instincts, social rules and cues and an entire non-verbal language that dogs begin to develop immediately after birth. Most dogs are raised by their mother for the first several weeks of life. Puppies learn very early on that canines follow a pack order hierarchy. All other dogs in the home defer to the pack leader. Puppies also develop an order within the litter. Through their social interactions they learn from each other appropriate forms of play and expressions of behavior.
And then us humans take them home to incorporate into our human world. Whether the dog is still a puppy or an adult, we cannot just expect them to understand our way of life that is so different from theirs. You wouldn’t bring a baby home from the hospital and expect he or she to know when it’s dinner time, how to feed himself or not to pull your hair. So why do we expect dogs to know the rules without us ever teaching them?
It’s important for people who choose to have a dog to gain an understanding of dog behavior and learn the personality of their dog very well. Just like humans, dogs can have different responses to situations, people and stimuli. If you know your dog gets nervous in a crowd, either work with her so that she is able to be comfortable in that setting or avoid putting her in it. Forcing a dog into a situation he is unsure of can be a set up for failure. Just because a birthday party with balloons and streamers seems harmless to you doesn’t mean your dog won’t perceive these things as threats or be fearful of something she isn’t used to. 

Don’t assume anything about your dog in a new environment. You might have the most happy go lucky, nothing fazes him kind of dog. He goes running with you, plays with the neighbors’ dogs and happily greets the kids getting off the bus. But you bring home a new baby and suddenly it seems as if someone stole your dog and left one who looks identical but acts completely different in his place. Just as you prepare yourself, your home and other children you have for the arrival of a little one, you have to do the same with your dog. Babies bring new smells, noises and movements and throw the schedule your dog has become quite accustomed to right out the window. A drastic change like that without warning can confuse and upset a dog if you’ve done nothing to prepare her. 

Dogs are not unpredictable. Countless studies on dog behavior have been done and it’s pretty clear that they aren’t the unpredictable species between us. A dog will let you know what he is feeling but you have to pay attention and know what to look for. There are many signals a dog will give if she is nervous, anxious or fearful. If you ignore them or do not realize this is what she is telling you then eventually she will either shut down or the fight or flight response will be triggered to counter the uncomfortable situation. The same goes for a dog who is protecting himself, his property or his people from a perceived threat. As a responsible owner, it’s important to be educated on the behavioral cues your dog may be giving to alert you to her feelings and state of mind. That way you can take notice that there is a problem and respond to it before it escalates. This goes for every member of the household including children old even to understand. 

It’s pretty amazing that a creature who is not at all related to us can integrate into our lives and understand our language and customs. We know dogs are smart but we still have to teach them. Let me just put this in to perspective. You have 2 young children. They both want to play with the same toy at the same time. One kid is holding the toy (Kid A) and will not give it to the other kid (Kid B). Kid B gets upset and pushes Kid A. Kid A falls down the steps and is injured. Oh no, Kid B is unpredictable and aggressive. You better drop him off at the shelter before he does it again. Wait, that’s what we do with dogs, not kids. A normal parent would make it clear that what Kid B did was wrong and explain why it was wrong and probably give an appropriate punishment. The process might be a little different for a dog but the concept is the same. You have to teach a dog what is proper behavior and what is not. If she disobeys there are consequences. Dogs catch onto this pretty quickly if you take the time to work with them. Generally speaking they want to please us but we have to teach they how. 

When I think about all the dog attack stories in the news and that I’ve heard from word of mouth, my mind immediately wonders how much of the story has been left out. I’m not saying people are always dishonest in their account of a dog attack, I’m saying they probably left things out because they either didn’t think they were important details or they didn’t even know they were leaving anything out because they didn’t notice. A dog, unless it has a chemical brain imbalance, which is unlikely, gives several warning signs before attacking. That is not to say they can’t be in rapid succession, but if you know what to look for you will certainly spot them. An attack almost never “just comes out of nowhere”, it just seems that way because people don’t know how to read the signs. 

My point is, step up people. Don’t just a get dog, expect him to fit seamlessly into your life without any instruction, or bother to learn about his species and then send him packing when he does something you don’t like. It’s incredibly unfair and honestly, it’s irresponsible. Yes, I said it. When you adopt a pet it should be for the rest of either your life or the pet’s life. I’m not talking about extenuating circumstances here, because those always exist. But as a general rule, remember that your dog is very intelligent and has the capability to be a wonderful family member. You just have to teach her how and learn from her as well. Dogs take a lot of time, effort and energy and if you don’t think that’s something you can handle down the road, don’t give into that cute little face at the adoption event now. These are living, breathing creatures we are talking about that need love and care and companionship just like us. I personally think we are lucky they continue to stick around after all our kind does to them. 

A dog is for life. Think long and hard about this before bringing one into your home. His love is unconditional and you owe him that in return.
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