On Facts and Lessons

By Lynn –

Because of my sudden relocation (due to happen towards the end of May), I needed to quit working at the pet store. Commuting will obviously be impossible due to time and gas prices, so in looking for another job in my new area, I was introduced to the only pet store in the back towns in the northern part of my state. Long story short, I was accepted there and will be selling puppies and supplies. Now, I know everyone, including myself, is not the biggest fan of stores that actually sell puppies, but I have to say that this particular one stands out from the rest in terms of quality: the fact that it sells Natura products speaks volumes, and the owner is very picky about her puppies, as I would be too. Anyway, that’s all I’ll say about that. I really wanted to talk about things from the pet supply store where many of my other stories originated.

It’s a fact that dogs are, well, dogs. And dogs are animals. Out of this fact comes my first lesson: a good majority of people out there simply do not believe their dogs are nonhuman animals. Granted, I had the occasional customer who actually knew what s/he was talking about and I let these people know that there needed to be more thinkers like them, etc etc…but for the good majority, there were few true “pack leaders.”

Yes, I might reference Cesar Milan and his teachings a bit in this. In fact, I’ll do it right here: In coming into the store with a pet, about 99% of people would do exactly the wrong thing. When a dog goes somewhere, it is not allowed to get what it wants until it is in a calm-submissive state, relaxed&yes, it can be excited, but it must also be able to control that excitement when asked. With these people, it was like watching them shoo their children into Chuck-e-Cheese! I only saw one person try to make their dog sit before going into the store, and while they had the right idea, I could go on a tangent about how they were going about it completely wrong. So for a lot of people, the first thing they do when they get into the store is try to control their dog; and while a happy, bouncing, pulling-on-the-leash dog is outwardly a happy sight, I don’t see how this contributes to a well-balanced pet (or a well-behaved on at that).

Something else I learned is something that’s been in the back of my mind for a long time, but recently came to light when visiting to announce my new job: Rescues. Not just breed-rescues, but all shelters and humane societies. It’s no lie that rescuing saves a life and gives breeders a small poke in the eye, but here I guess I’m referring to the Rescuers. It’s a good feeling to save a dog from a needle or a life of foster homes or small cages, but it’s a terrible feeling to realize that some of these rescues cannot be saved from the very families that take them home.

But, you might ask, are these people not giving the dog a better home, a forever home?

And to that I say “Yes” [knock on wood], but some of these true abuse and neglect cases, while going to a home with food, water, shelter, vet care, stimulation and attention, also go to homes that do not mentally and emotionally move them forward. Sure, they provide toys and playtime, but then they listen to (or read) the dog’s past and suddenly, they must cater to everything. “He was abused and he’s afraid of men, the poor thing.” “He was horribly neglected and just has a lot of love, it’s no wonder he jumps on everyone!” “Everyone was allergic to him and he was probably shut away all day, so I’m letting him have freedom to know that everyone loves him.” It’s commonly called Making Excuses For The Dog’s Behavior. My favorite is “My dog has a behavior problem, and I’ll try anything short of those evil spiked collars…he was abused and I don’t want to make him any more afraid, since he trusts me so much now!”

I’m not saying that if your dog was horribly beaten and starved by Chinese men who smoked and wore red shirts and baseball caps with the Yankees logo on them, throw him into a pen with such people. But for goodness sakes, don’t isolate him from then the rest of his life simply because he shows fear of any little thing related to those men. Come on, if your dog really WAS a child, you have to admit that you’d have that kid in therapy in an attempt to get him to move on! So why do we try to help children move on from their abusive pasts, but coddle to those of dogs and horses and such?

I’m also not saying that if your dog was horribly neglected, kicked around and chained to a tree for most of his life, then give him a velvet cushion to lie on and let him do whatever he wants because, well, he’s never felt freedom in his life. Like feeding a porterhouse to a starving person, it is counterproductive and leads to worse conditions: instead, freedom needs to be given as a light broth in small amounts to the abused dog.

This was recently driven home when I went to visit and announce my new job to my co-workers. A mother and daughter were holding a large mastiff mix they’d had for 2 weeks. Apparently he was part of a horrible abuse case, recently neutered (poor guy, it was done late and it wasn’t the best job), and still a bit skinny. But, they said, he was too strong for them when he walked; it took both of them to hold him back when he decided to go his own way. Not only that, but he was nipping them around a bit when they wanted to leave. And even though he knew how to sit, he ignored them and even resisted all the more when they pushed on his rump. (Not only was he ignoring them, but they gave up, saying “He doesn’t want to.” I don’t care if he wants to or not, come hell or high water, that dog’s butt needed to be on the ground…and to their detriment, it wasn’t.)

And then I started noticing things: they coddled him, not wanting to use any force on him at all or at least as little as possible; they considered him a child who could only recover from his past with enough love. And when they were trying out a harness, I noticed how this dog stepped over the daughter (who was sitting on the ground) and not stood, but STOOD over her. I considered it too quick of a judgment to call these ladies pacifists, but in the end, I wonder if it isn’t right: after an unsuccessful try with the harness (the large size was too large and the medium was too small), I caught the daughter and told her that I could tell her how to fix the problem if she was willing to try a training collar. I explained it to her and even then, she said “We’re not using those spiked collars on him at all.”

I come full circle with my rescue discussion with this: a dog that has been abused and neglected is most certainly an insecure animal. He doesn’t know how to lead properly, and all the leadership he’s ever known from humans is that of pain, tension, bad energy, and noise. The last thing he needs is an opportunity to gain control, and this is the most common problem I saw with rescues who came into the store, whether or not they’d been mistreated (and THAT is another discussion in and of itself): people adopt insecure dogs and refuse to give them boundaries for whatever many and various reasons. When this happens, it doesn’t take the dog long to realize that the new pack members are sods and not willing to lay down the law when the law demands. However, up until now, the dog has never had a chance to be a leader or learn proper leader skills, so it takes control the best way it knows: a growl here, a lip-curl there, maybe a good tug on the leash, taking ownership of furniture…and by the time most novice rescue owners realize they have a problem, the dog has escalated to the point where many trainers (at least those who tend towards the positive-only spectrum and thus appeal to the masses) will either recommend the dog be A) put down, B) put through a hilariously laughable “boot camp” in which ambiguous, uncertain and none-too-guaranteed results are not seen for months, if at all, or C) returned to the shelter as a “bad match” for the family.

Going back to the concept of children at Chuck-e-Cheese’s, I’ve differentiated the “pet” owners from the “Dog” owners. I’m definitely sure I’m not the first person do to this, but man, it’s a liberating experience! The “pet” owners let their child run with abandon, marking corners and stealing the occasional biscuit, and, when noticing another dog, urge the child in that direction and say “Look ____! A friend!”

Pffffft. If I treated my friends the way their dogs treat their ‘friends,’ you bet I’d be off to therapy quicker than you can say “Werewolf.” (And I’m even a dominant personality!)

Then again, it’d be wasted space, since there seriously are children who treat their friends like that and deserve therapy far more than I.

To be continued…