Posts tagged ‘courtesy’

There But for the Grace of Dog…

Schadenfreude is a complex thing. It’s that scrumptiously malicious sense of pleasure we feel when we see bad things happen to people we don’t like.  The sense of having escaped the danger heightens our feelings of comfort and happiness. Seeing someone we disagree with get the come-uppance we think they deserve feeds our sense of justice.  And while we may recognize that Schadenfreude is a guilty pleasure –  the added bonus of feeling smug because we weren’t the ones responsible for causing our enemy’s pain lends an added frisson of satisfaction.

Why do dog-related crimes whet our Schadenfreude so deeply?

Is it the enormous amount of divisiveness in the many worlds of dog?  Conformation exhibitors who feel superior to obedience competitors.  Show breeders who vilify performance breeders. Purely positive trainers who denounce balanced trainers. Competitors who feel superior to average pet owners.  Toss in a few heaping helpings of envy and the widespread idea that “you’re with us or against us” — and it’s no surprise that the world of dogs is sometimes as combative as the Middle East.  That divisiveness feeds our Schadenfreude and makes it awfully easy to turn us against each other.

Witness the big, ugly can-o-worms I opened last week when I posted about the story of the Murder Hollow Bassets. Is Wendy Willard an arrogant animal hoarder who taunted law enforcement or is she the innocent victim of over-zealous grundyism?  I don’t care, because the thing is – her rights should be protected either way.

In too many cases today basic violations of noise laws, limit laws and sanitation laws are being confused with demonstrable animal cruelty.  When we read stories of animal busts – especially when the perp is someone we don’t agree with (and in the world of dogs, we are bound to disagree with him in some way) – we assume that, of course, that horrid animal abuser must be guilty.  In the rush to judge we forget that we are all innocent until proven guilty.

As society oozes deeper into political correctness, increasing numbers of Grundy laws are being passed and enforced at all levels of government. Laws that make it easier for a neighbor that doesn’t like the way you look or an animal rights group that doesn’t like the way you live – to find a law they can use to harass you.

We don’t need these laws. We’ve already got enough dog-related laws on the books. Think about it. Is it the number of dogs kept on a property, their breed or even their sexual status that creates problems or – is it just a single, lazy, clueless, disrespectful or irresponsible owner?  An owner who will be a problem even if he’s only allowed to have a single, loud, dirty, neglected obnoxious or abused dog in his care?  If existing cruelty, sanitation, noise and related laws are enforced in a timely and lawful manner – and if we treat our neighbors with mutual respect – dogs aren’t a problem.

YesBiscuit wrote an excellent post last week illustrating how we all need to pay careful attention to the context of the reasons given for animal seizures.  Be sure to read the comments – these make it stunningly clear that there but for the grace of doG walks every single one of us.  Sure, you may be able to avoid things like limit laws by moving to a rural area – but Mrs. Grundy seems to live everywhere now and unless laws regarding the seizure of animals change – the Mrs. Grundys of the world will eventually be able to hold all pet owners hostage.


Now, even though I’ve been accused by some of being a black-helicopters nut job – I really do agree that we need laws.  And I believe that the laws should be enforced.  But I also believe that there is such a thing as too many laws – and that enforcement can be conducted too vigorously.

If were up to me, when should animals be seized?

  • When their life or health is in immediate danger.  Minor cases of parasite infestation, out of date vaccinations, temporarily unsanitary conditions and minor lapses of grooming do not constitute an immediate threat to the life or health of an animal.
  • When an owner has been given written notice of an animal-related offense and not come into compliance within a reasonable, specified time period (such as 30 days).  This warning must be given in person by an officer of the court or by registered letter.
  • When an owner is arrested and there is no one else available to care for them.
  • When they have been abandoned.
  • When an owner voluntarily relinquishes them – after he has been read his rights and allowed to consult with legal counsel.
  • In addition to the above, except under circumstances where their immediate health and safety can be proven to be at risk, pets must only be seized by, or under the direct supervision of, officers of the law.

How should seized animals be handled?

  • If they are seized because their life or health is in immediate danger – they must be put under the care of a veterinarian.
  • If they are seized as evidence in a case (such as limit laws, breed specific legislation, nuisance laws, etc.) they must be kept in such a way as to maintain chain-of-evidence requirements.  I do not think that, in most cases, releasing them to foster care meets these requirements.  Killing them, selling them or adopting them out most certainly does not meet these requirements.
  • Intact animals must be kept their original reproductive state and even aggressive animals must be kept alive whenever possible until they are either released by their owner or he is found guilty.
  • Puppies must be kept with their dam until at least the age of seven weeks unless there is a health-related reason to separate them from her.

I’m deeply concerned by the growing trend to grant police powers to private citizens who are then given the authority to enforce humane laws.  Humane officers aren’t police officers yet they are granted the power to search and seize our property. Our living property.  In some municipalities they even are even granted the power to charge us with felonies.

Humane officers are accountable to their supervisors and local boards of directors – not the public.  In most areas there’s no internal affairs department or grievance board to file a complaint with that provides an external, civilian review of their actions – so short of filing expensive, time-consuming lawsuits (and risking the loss of our beloved pets while we wait to settle them) – we have little or no recourse when non-police humane officers step beyond the boundaries of their positions.

The issue here isn’t the Murder Hollow Bassets or the PSCPA per se.  It’s the disturbing increasing trend for states and municipalities to farm out enforcement duties to private citizens.  Citizens who, in some cases (not all!) are more interested in advancing a personal agenda than enforcing the law.  The issue isn’t Wendy Willard’s guilt or innocence – it’s the need to recognize that animals need to be treated as living  property.  That animals need to be treated humanely – but so do their owners.

And if believing this makes me an ignorant, lying, right-wing loon searching for black helicopters – I’m okay with that.

August 10, 2009 at 9:14 pm 7 comments

Canine Chivalry

From today’s edition of Discovery News:

It may not be such a dog-eat-dog world after all, at least among our canine friends. A new study has found that young male dogs playing with female pups will often let the females win, even if the males have a physical advantage.

Male dogs sometimes place themselves in potentially disadvantageous positions that could make them more vulnerable to attack, and researchers suspect the opportunity to play may be more important to them than winning.

Such self-handicapping has been documented before in red-necked wallabies, squirrel monkeys, hamadryas baboons and even humans, all of which frequently take on defensive positions when playing with youngsters, in particular.

Chivalry may have largely disappeared from our human world, but it seems our dogs still adhere to a system of virtue and courtly love.  I’ve seen it here.  When Zip was a tiny (less than 10-pound) puppy Zorro liked to let her win at tug of war games.  Zorro was an enormous (120-pound), strong-willed beast.  Before we fixed the problem, he loved to fight with other male dogs.  But he was a complete and utter pushover for little Zippy.  He and Loki (who out-weighed Zorro by 20 pounds) would lie down to entice her to play with them.  They’d let her jump on them, nip at them, and tug on their ears.  They always let her win.

Now it’s Audie’s turn.  Audie’s an intact, teenage goon and he’s twice Zip’s size.  It took him a while to figure it out, but he’s learned that if he lies on his back and stays generally horizontal, Zip will wrestle and play tug with him.  If he gets rough with her or takes the toy away, she ends the play and stomps off in a snit.

There’s a lot of disagreement in the scientific community about the functions of play.  Obvious benefits include skills practice and the development of affiliative bonds.  An interesting question regarding the bond-forming functions of play are the extent to which it is “fair.” Some researchers argue that for play to continue over time, winning and losing roles must be generally equal.  Others argue that both animals will “play to win,” especially during play-fighting.  This new research indicates that, as is the case for most interesting questions, the real answer to the question of how fair play needs to be, is “it depends.”

Dynamic systems theory views social relationships as complex, emergent systems that change over time. Behavior can sometimes be more clearly understood through bidirectional causation, feedback loops and emergent patterns instead of simple reaction chains.  What are emergent patterns?  According to Wikipedia: “Emergent phenomena occur due to the pattern of interactions between the elements of a system over time. Emergent phenomena are often unexpected, nontrivial results of relatively simple interactions of relatively simple components.”  In other words, emergence arises when the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. 

Complex behavior tends to have emergent properties.  This is why it is, to a large degree, so unpredictable.  So, while playing to win may be a smart strategy when one is play-fighting with someone who may be a competitor, it can be a bad idea when one is playing with a potential mate or ally.  According to Discovery News young male dogs will let females win in play because:

They might lose the game in the short run, but they could win at love in the future.

“We know that in feral dog populations, female mate choice plays a role in male mating success,” said Ward. “Perhaps males use self-handicapping with females in order to learn more about them and to form close relationships with them — relationships that might later help males to secure future mating opportunities.”

And it’s not just romance that matters.  It appears that many types of social conventions are involved during the role reversals that occur in play.  Role reversals occurred frequently during chasing and tackling games, but very rarely during mounting or muzzle biting.  This may indicate that mounting and muzzle biting are more important indicators of established dominance roles. The use of signals, like play bows, was linked strongly to self-handicapping behavior (i.e. letting the weaker dog win) but not to chase behavior, possibly indicating that chasing is a very basic form of play behavior that needs no formal introduction.

Rowan - a young, dane mix boy - entices Zip to play. He employs a deep play bow because he wants to wrestle.

October 11, 2008 at 1:02 am 6 comments

And They Weren’t Even Drunk…

When we took a recent trip with the dogs to Texas to attend a seminar, we stayed in an Austin area hotel for five days.  While we were there, I was shocked to see that the rudest, dirtiest, most obnoxious guests there were adult men and women travelling with their children.  Some of the children seemed embarrassed by their parents behavior – I don’t blame them.  During our visit, several high school baseball teams were also staying at the hotel.  The players were, without exception, quiet and considerate neighbors.

I was surprised by this.  I grew up in a small, rural, Midwestern town in the 1960’s.  Manners were drilled into me.  Though I’ve moved around a lot, I’ve spent most of my life living in the upper Midwest where common courtesy is an integral part of culture.  I expect adult people to behave well.

So much for expectations.

I received a post on an on-line dog email list the other day that described nightmarish problems at a hotel that hosted a large agility trial.  The names of the club, the hotel and other identifying information have been removed to protect the club as it pursues the offenders. Since they are seeking to deal with this on their own, I’ll not tarnish their name publicly.

I wish I did have the names, postal addresses, home phone numbers and email addresses of the morons who did this offending parties.  I’d be more than happy to post those for public ridicule. 

Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

After a fantastic 4 day trial that the club felt was an absolute success, we received notification late last week that, due to the actions of some of our competitors over the trial weekend, the *hotel* in *city*
will no longer accept dogs during our club’s agility trials. The incomprehensible actions of some of the competitors staying there, as cited by the hotel, include:

1. Dogs swimming in the pool even after the owners were asked to remove all dogs from the pool. This resulted in the hotel having to close to pool for re-treatment and cleaning at considerable cost.

2. Dogs being allowed in the breakfast area even after owners were asked to please remove all dogs.

3. The carpeting in several rooms being ruined and having to be professionally cleaned after finding puddles of dog urine and feces after our competitors left, again at considerable cost.

There were other complaints cited by the hotel as well, but the club realizes it cannot answer for individual guest rudeness to hotel employees.

As a trial secretary, this repulses me. But, more over, as a competitor and frequent traveler myself, this angers me. With hotel prices continually on the rise and $100 non-refundable dog deposits becoming more and more frequent, I find it quite objectionable that anyone in conjunction with an agility event should behave in this manner. This is an extremely poor reflection on a sport that we all love and sets every single competitor and trial-giving club in a bad light. It’s embarrassing and those who committed these acts are the types of competitor that this sport does not need.

This situation is beyond embarrassing.  It is criminal.  Literally.  Also from the letter:

Other clubs in the past have let these infractions drop. *Club* is not willing to do so. The club will work closely with the AKC, the *hotel* their team of legal experts and, if necessary, local authorities to insure those responsible for the infractions are punished to the full extent available to us. We will take any measures necessary to identify the individuals responsible. You should all be aware that the hotel industry holds the person who signed for the room responsible for any damage to the room. We will soon be receiving information from the *hotel* detailing which rooms had to be professionally cleaned and the names of the individuals under whose name the room was booked. It should also be noted that very well placed video cameras may give some indication and identification of those persons involved in the swimming pool and breakfast area incidents.

I urge anyone who stayed at the *hotel* who has knowledge of or who was involved in any of the above incidents to contact me immediately.  Full disclosure on the part of those involved, or who think they may have been involved, will bear considerable weight when deciding how to best handle those found to be in violation. All of those who were not involved and who come forward with any helpful information will remain anonymous. Should it be found that you were involved and did not step forward, I can assure you that the club will impose the maximum penalty allowed by both AKC and local authorities. Enough is enough. Just as we must play by the rules on the course, we must also adhere to the rules elsewhere during events.

Enough is indeed enough.  Not only do we have to deal with AR activists working tirelessly with media hacks and politicians to take away our rights as dog owners – irresponsible dog owners – out of greed, laziness, selfishness and lame ignorance feed the frenzy by flaunting their disrespect for society in a very public way.

It sounds like the commotion at the trial hotel was a lot like what you’d expect to see if a group of drunken frat boys or rugby players had stayed there – but these weren’t drunken kids, they were a group consisting mostly of sober, adult women with jobs and families.

I had recently begun to wonder if the emphasis of fun and frenzy over anything else in some agility circles would lead to problems in the sport.  This situation certainly points to a need for competitors to learn more than a few things about responsibility, ethics and plain old-fashioned manners.  If this kind of behavior becomes the norm – all breeds of dogs could eventually end up being banned.

Another thing I’d like to point out is that an out-of-control, barking, reactive dog who races around in a mindless frenzy is not a dog who is having a good time.  I mean seriously, would you watch an over-tired toddler amped up on Mountain Dew and Cakesters run amok through the mall and remark how sweet and happy he looks?  I think not.  Yet people often look at a dog behaving in a similar way and gush about what fun he’s having.

A barking, leaping dog dog amped up on adrenaline is a lot like a poorly-behaved toddler throwing a tantrum.  He doesn’t enjoy the behavior any more than the people around him do – he just hasn’t developed the self-control to deal with the situation he’s in yet – and he needs help from his human companion to learn it.  Think about it, do you see Olympic athletes amp themselves up into a frenzy before they compete?

Agility is fun.  It should be fun.  But fun should never trump responsibility.  I hope that the disrespectful people involved in this situation are caught and prosecuted and/or sued and that it serves as a warning to those who consider behaving this way in the future.

July 23, 2008 at 4:45 pm 3 comments

Love and Manners

Traveling rural roads near my home this morning I passed one of the many small churches that dot the Midwestern countryside.  The sign in front of it said “There is no Love without Courtesy.” 


Love isn’t expressed in our words or beliefs, but by our actions.  It’s the little things we do—not the big ones—that define who we really are.   

No, love can’t exist without courtesy, whether it’s expressed on four legs or two. 

According to Peggy Post in “Emily Post’s Etiquette”, there are three bedrock principles to etiquette: respect, consideration and honesty.  She goes on to say that courteous people are also observant, empathetic and flexible. 


These sound to me exactly like the qualities I want to encourage in the human-dog relationship. 

Unfortunately, as a trainer, what I all too often find are relationships that are not founded on mutual respect, consideration, observation, empathy and flexibility (in other words on common courtesy).   

Rudeness runs on four legs as well as it does on two. 

In today’s society many people incessantly give their dogs food, affection, toys and freedom without expecting anything in return.  These overfed, under exercised, and under stimulated dogs are bored and looking for something to do.  What they often discover is that rude behavior can fill the void by getting them attention.  Even if it’s not positive attention. 

Dogs are social creatures.  They have an innate sense of the importance of courtesy.  A large part of the communication and interaction we have with our dogs takes place within the rituals of our day to day life.  These shared routines; including feeding, walking, playing, resting, and greeting; form the basis of our relationship. 

And the only stable foundation for that relationship is – courtesy.  Without it we don’t love, we just co-exist.

March 13, 2008 at 3:21 am 1 comment

Because A Dog’s Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste


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