Observation From Africa

I'm in South Africa right now, where the landscape is stunning and the animals are captivating. I don't know about you, but when I think of Africa I think of exotic beasts, lions, zebra, buffalo, crocodile, antelope and the like. I don't really think of dogs, but of course they are here. Domestic dogs and their people are what brought use to South Africa after all – Ian & I just completed a lecture series in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

While here we've been fortunate enough to have a few awesome days in the bush between seminars. It was absolutely breathtaking, everything I imagined it would be and more! It was my first time seeing such large, wild animals in their natural habitat; animals that while in close range to humans, are not dependent on them for survival and do not come into direct contact to them for the most part. Let me tell you, suddenly discovering you are surrounded by a herd of elephant that are virtually undetectable (even though they're less than 50-feet away) because of the cover of a pitch black African night will really get the adrenaline going, regardless of their loveliness and seemingly placid behavior.

The animals in the bush are treated with a healthy respect, people accept them for what they are and behave accordingly. No liberties are taken I assure you, because one misstep out there can easily be the difference between life and death (most likely for the human!). Occasionally there are encounters that are too close, or something goes awry and there are tragedies, yet the people still admire their indigenous wildlife regardless. The people of South Africa understand that animals are animals, with both hardwired and learned behavior patterns that shape what they are and how they behave – and it is never taken for granted.

This respect for, and understanding of, another species seems to transfer over to the relationship most people I've met here have with dogs. These people love their dogs, and yet, don't tend to project or anthropomorphize to the extent that we-who-do-not-also-live-among-lions, hippos, crocs, and monkeys do. Their expectations seem to be more realistic and they have a firm grasp on the doggy-ness of dogs and allow for appropriate out-letting of natural dog behaviors. It also seems more people take the time to train their dogs here. Of course this is a generalization and I am sure there are exceptions, they do have their share of problem behaviors in pet dogs, but overall the attitude towards pet dogs is pretty healthy. Everyone wins, the people get to live with, admire, and enjoy one of the most fascinating and successful species of mammal on our planet and the dogs get to be dogs in all their glory!

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