It’s Just a Dog?

Since 2000 I have been working with dogs professionally. I am sometimes given the answer or solution to a troublesome canine scenario with the following statement “It’s just a dog”. Meaning it is not worthy of any further consideration.

This mindset of a dog as lesser than or unequal to humans is sad. In my own experience nothing that I have ever been involved with has brought as much joy to others as my dog Mojo, notice I said to others, not just myself. The smiles and the joy Mojo conjures up in people is quite a site to see. He is one of only millions of dogs who bring untold happiness to millions of people, other than their owners, simply by existing.

This “it’s just a dog” mindset comes up in discussions about the use of pain or force when training and maintaining dogs. The dog; who some so callously toss aside like dead leaves during yard work has the ability through nothing more than existing, to cause joy.

If mistreated and abused this same dog may become a menace, however when you look closely at the numbers, some 300 million Americans and some 85 million registered dogs – now add up the yearly adversarial fatalities you get less than 20 deaths a year from dogs and less than 200 fatal attacks on humans. Those are big years by the way, it is usually less. It looks that despite all the various factors, dogs and humans are a good match.

All living creatures in our world deserve equality. Dogs are the only animal that has willingly made an alliance towards a better existence with humans. All other animals were and are subjugated to some extent.

I could go on an on about the countless stories that dot the history books about how the dog human dynamic it is not only good for both dogs and humans but it is necessary for both.

In 2007 the world saw the horrendous acts of animal cruelty played out on TV through the Michael Vick case.

One of those dogs is Leo and now creating joy is his game. He works as a therapy dog, causing joy by simply existing.

There is perhaps no other aspect of life that can erase political and social differences like dogs. Of course dogs are also the subject, not the cause mind you of intense political and social differences. Being the subject of debate and being the cause of debate are two very different things. People have caused the debate over dogs. Dogs are stuck in the middle with no say at all. Just those glaringly positive numbers they produce each year.

If it is just a dog as some put it, why the worry and the concern over 20 yearly deaths, and that is a bad year by the way. Why the cause for concern over less than 200 fatalities a year?

When I interviewed Jean Donaldson (director of the Academy For Dog Trainers at the SF SPCA) for my documentary film Judging the Innocent she said “when it comes to animals with pointy teeth, it hits something primitive in us, and we do not think about it rationally, she then went on to say “the only way out of this (the troubles we face with dogs) is to think our way out of it rationally”.

Logic and rational are what we need when it comes to dogs and humans. We already get along well with dogs, though we can do better.

In a recent phone conversation with Marthina McClay founder of OUR PACK Inc. (who is now Leo’s owner) she said that she reminds her dog training students that-

“It is the responsible dog trainers and owners who are the executives of the decisions that are made on behalf of dogs”. She went on to say “don’t let those who do not know about dogs make executive decisions about dogs.”

I am sure there are people out there that “work” with dogs who are not all that fond of them. There are dogs right now in a home with someone or perhaps a number of people in the home do not really like the dog, and the dog is caught up in the human condition.

It all boils down to how each person at all times in the dog’s life treat and interact with that dog. This means ALL people at ALL times. If done correctly and humanly it ensures the dog will make as many positive associations as possible to people and the world around it. This is a tall order.

There will always be a segment of society that does not like dogs or that even down right hates dogs. What these people need to keep in mind more so than the millions of dog lovers, is that dogs are innocent. They are not able to morally construct past, present and future events and conspire and transgress against humans.

Dogs either feel safe or unsafe, it is not always about what we want from our dogs, sometimes the dynamic of humans and dogs requires that the humans simply help the dog, and not judge. This is done best by understanding how they actually learn and what their limited range of expressions may mean. Dogs learn through association & consequence, that’s all folks. There is no other known form of learning that we have scientifically documented for dogs or animals in general.

When we toss dogs aside and do not respect them for who they truly are it is a reflection of our worst human qualities of selfishness, greed and ego.

It says more about the people who blame and hate dogs, than it does about the dogs who get blamed for being dogs.

In order to have a major shift towards treating dogs better in the USA, we need a shift in consciousness. We need the people who actually know and understand dog behavior to put aside petty differences and get education in abundance to the public through the infrastructure of ACC, SPCA’s, Humane Societies and Rescues. In addition these pockets of society will in turn be educated as well.

There are some 85 million registered dogs in the USA, there is no reason why those of us who scientifically know about dogs and their behavior, how to best maintain dogs in our society, cannot put forth a concise educational mailer via email or snail mail to the millions of registered dog owners, which would explain how dogs learn and what the side effects of aversive training or harsh interactions may bring about behaviorally in dogs. We have the infrastructure of government in place, and their job is to get information to people. Let’s use our existing resources.

This is one way to have fewer people saying it’s just a dog, and perhaps have more people saying, “That is a dog, and it needs to be treated with respect”. When people know the truth about dogs and their intrinsic natural qualities, they can make better decisions about their dogs. Especially the people who are afraid of them.

People will catch on if given the proper information.  Dogs can either cause joy or misery, simply by existing. It is up to humans to decide which side of the equation dogs will be on. Furthermore which side of the equation will the humans be on? Are we going to keep thinking that “we know dogs” even when we don’t?  Or are we going to educate and elevate the consciousness?

Thomas Kuhn famously observed that paradigm shifts happen not when the investors in the old paradigm change their minds, but when they die.

Let’s not wait.

The Guide to Getting a Dog – Free on Dunbar Academy