Let’s Treat Our Dogs Like Children
According to the results of a study published last year in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, the breed most prone to aggression is (drum roll please) the dachshund. Yup, you read that correctly. The Dachshund. The Chihuahua and Jack Russell Terrier fill out the positions two and three on this study’s list of dog breeds most prone to aggression.
The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania who surveyed 6,000 purebred dog owners. Researchers found that one in five dachshunds have bitten (or tried to bite) strangers, a similar percentage have attacked other dogs, and one in 12 have snapped at their owners.
Previous studies on canine aggression have largely focused primarily on dog bite statistics. That data often indicated that large breed dogs posed the greatest danger. The authors of the new study believe that earlier studies did not tell the whole story, as most dog bites (especially those committed by smaller dogs) go unreported and therefore were not included in those studies.
Most of the dogs I see for aggression problems are, indeed, small dogs like Dachshunds and Jack Russells. Do these tiny terrors pose a real threat to pet owners around the world? Instead of banning Pitbulls and Rottweilers, should we be outlawing all dogs that weigh less than fifteen pounds?
Here’s the real news people: IT’S NOT THE DOGS
I see the pattern over and over. A person gets an adorably cute little dog and they start to see it as their cute, darling little “baby”. The “baby” is coddled, gets minimal training and its aggressive behavior is either allowed – or in many cases – encouraged because its owner simply doesn’t recognize it as a dog.
Add a lifetime of this kind of malign neglect to the tendency of many small breeds to be highly reactive and you have a perfect recipe for a nasty case of aggression. A case entirely rooted in human – not breed specific - behavior.
Why do so many people pamper and coddle dogs like small children – and why does it never occur to these people to take the time to teach, guide and instruct their dog as they would a small child? I mean seriously – would they let a 2-year-old toddler loose in their house without a diaper on, then be shocked that the baby had an accident on the floor? Would they turn a 6-year-old child out to roam the streets alone just because ‘he likes the freedom’? Do they expect their children to spontaneously acquire manners and learn the alphabet?
From the New York Times:
Marketers have a new name for the age-old tendency to view animals as furry versions of ourselves: “humanization,” a trend that is fueling the explosive growth of the pet industry and the rise of modern pet pharma. Americans forked over $49 billion for pet products and services last year, up $11.5 billion from 2003; other than consumer electronics, pet products are the fastest-growing retail segment.
Most consumer spending is still on traditional pet medications like antiparasitics, but Ipsos, a marketing research firm, estimates that at least $15 million was spent on behavior-modification drugs in the United States in 2005. “As people are seeing more complex and sophisticated drugs for themselves, they want that same quality for their pets,” Dr. Melanie Berson, a veterinarian at the F.D.A.’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, has said. People’s willingness to employ behavior-modifying medications stems in part from a growing desire for more convenient, obedient household animals. “Our expectations are really going up,” Lummis says. “Owners want their pets to be more like little well-behaved children.” [bold mine]
I wishmore owners wanted their dogs to be like well-behaved little children. Unfortunately I think far too many of them instead have a bizarre desire for their pets behave like obnoxious, spoiled brats. To be held hostage by the temper tantrums Fifi throws when mommie leaves. To turn away guests because Rover doesn’t like (i.e. bites) strangers. To settle for living in a house destroyed by a tiny demon who shreds furniture and urinates indiscriminately.
When little Susie has trouble learning how to read, her mother might hire a tutor to help her, invest in a LeepFrog or send her to private school. Either way, she’ll make significant efforts to help her daughter master this skill because she understands how vitally important reading is. But when Fifi won’t sit - her “mother” makes a token effort, waves a higher value treat over her nose – and when this doesn’t work she just gives up. ‘Cause, you know – the dog’s untrainable.
Why don’t pet owners understand that basic obedience and social skills are as vital to a dog’s survival as reading skills are to a child’s? Lack of training is the main reason dogs get surrendered to shelters. A lack of training dooms many dogs to a lonely backyard existence. Or to endless hours crated alone. Still, many people either think training is unnecessary or can’t be bothered to make the effort.
Like a child a dog needs loving guidance to develop into a healthy being. We understand that it takes years of time, patience and attention to raise a child. How then – when we call dogs our ‘fur children’ – can we justify not giving them the patient, mindful ‘child care’ they need?