More joy than is humanly possible! (Photo by Michael Brian)
One of the biggest obstacles I face in working with dogs and their owners is the humanization of pets. I am as guilty as any in considering my dogs to be my children but I do not allow myself to humanize their behavior. To do so is to invite disaster and this can lead to tragedy on so many levels.
This past week two dear friends lost one of their older dogs. This is a pack that has been in turmoil for some time and sadly the bomb finally exploded. In working with the main caregiver over the past few months it was brought to my attention that discipline and setting boundaries for these dogs was viewed as being harsh. Exerting control over a pack of eight dogs was not being perceived from the dogs' perspective but rather from a purely human perspective. That misperception cost one dog its life.
In the past week a study was brought to my attention regarding the notion that domesticated dogs have lost most of the instincts present in their feral cousins the wolf. To some degree I consider that to be true but not completely. I work with too many dogs coming from unknown backgrounds to be effective without looking at dog behavior from the perspective of the dog itself. Dogs as a species still answer to a certain genetic code that is ingrained in their behavior from the time before they walked at the side of man. Again, I work with too many dogs without a known history to ignore this simple fact.
I teach the new trainers at Charleston to consider first how dogs behave because of instinct, then to evaluate learned behaviors. It is that black and white in the mind of a dog. They do not reason or make decisions based any shade of gray. They must have pack order and they must have rules. They are genetically predisposed to this simple principle. All learned behaviors come from the principles of cause and effect. If a dog does a certain thing, it either reaps a reward or a negative result. That is what makes training, even at the basic level, so absolutely necessary for a dog owner.
This lack of understanding a dog's nature is what is causing such chaos in the world of Pit Bulls. If you have any doubt of that, I can provide you with emails that prove far too many people professing to love this breed are blind to what Pit Bulls are capable of doing. I would be the first to defend this breed as being loyal, intelligent and loving but I do not try to fool myself into believing they are all rock solid, nor that they are any less a dog. That attitude of humanizing their behavior and ignoring their hard wired instincts is nothing but an open invitation to disaster, hence the headlines heralding yet another attack by a Pit Bull.
I have stepped away from active rescue but I will still cross post. In my cross posts I never endorse dogs I have not done a "hands on" evaluation of or that I would not be willing to bring into my own home. I also will not cross post for any group that knowingly tries to place even one dog known to possess human aggressive tendencies. We lose too many good dogs to waste resources on one that has the potential to hammer another nail into the coffin of the Pit Bull as a whole. I do not care how beautiful a dog is or how tragic its tale, if it is not in my opinion rock solid, my recommendation will be to put it down. This does not make me popular but I am not running for Ms. Congeniality. I am fighting to save the breed I love. It is sometimes heartbreaking, it is sometimes dirty work but the price this breed pays for the attitude of anyone ignoring a dog's nature, is not worth the genocide of this entire breed.
It is all well and good to do your very best for your canine companion. It is unrealistic to forget they are not people. It is irresponsible to ignore their need for structure because of feelings that training would be harsh if applied to a child. Even children must be taught appropriate behavior when living in our world, dogs are no different. The training of both must adhere to what is acceptable in our society. This simple concept is the only way we will save our dogs and preserve our families.