A dog is a dog

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially if it’s lack results in a dead dog. This is true when it comes to our dog’s health, but not only. For in reality the disease that kills more dogs in XXI century’s civilized urban world isn’t cancer or hearth failure. It’s lack of education.

The list of reasons why a dog is abandoned or dumped in a shelter is long, but there’s almost always a common denominator, a thread that blends those various reasons into one — the dog exibits unpleasant behaviours, is out of control, doesn’t obey, his presence has turned into a nuisance — he is ill-mannered. He tears clothes in the middle of play, throws the kids to the ground, countersurfs, growls when we want him off the couch, scatters the garbage on the kitchen floor, chews our new shoes, pees on the carpet, eats filthy stuff from the ground, nibbles arms and ankles, pulls on the leash and never, ever comes when called… the dog isn’t fun anymore and no one wants to put up with him. The dog is rude.

And it’s true. Many dogs are really rude. Impossible to cope with. But nobody would think that the huge tantrum a 3 year old kid is throwing at the supermarket queue is his fault. No one expects a child to come out of the womb able to act nice, calm and polite in every circumstance. And a child belongs to our species. How come there’s so many people that seem to believe dogs, who are a diferente species, must be born knowing how to behave in our world?

Dogs aren´t people. They don’t watch soap operas, they smell each other’s butts. They don’t write novels, they bury bones in the backyard. They don’t run for office, they guard their territory. They don’t read the newspaper, they eat other animals poop. They don’t spend their salary on trendy clothes. They don’t have a salary. Or clothes. They chase squirrels and rabbits and seagulls. Dogs are dogs, and they’re great at it. They’re the best. There’s no other animal that’s better at being a dog than dogs. Dogs are absolutely exceptional at being dogs. But what a dog is not and never will be, is a human.

In his world, it’s normal to chew shoes, pee against the cactus vase, eat Tommy’s sandwich and the cat’s poop, and bite granny when she dares take his bone away. He’s a dog.

The main cause of death of modern day dogs is lack of education. But not theirs. Their owners, who don’t realize a dog is a dog is a dog, and is born without the faintest idea of how he’s suposed to behave in a human world.

Imagine that when you woke up today, you where, magically, in XIX century Japan. Not only you don’t speak the language, but the acceptable behaviours and traditions are very distant from your reality. But there’s this japanese gentleman, who seems to be in charge, that insists on talking to you. He says something, then he kind of waits a bit, and suddenly he’s yelling, and you think he looks like he wants something, and you’re actually quite willing to do it, if only you understood what the hell it is…

The major cause of death in dogs, nowadays, is avoidable. The vaccine is free, and is given at home, by the owner. It’s called education, and it only needs calmness, patience and consistency.

Calmness, because dogs aren’t deaf, and their learning skills aren’t directly proportional to their owner’s voice volume. When a dog makes a mistake, he’s not doing it on purpose. He’s not even wrong, in his universe. He’s being a dog. Without calmness, the dog gets excited, nervous, anxious, intimidated. It’ll be harder for him to learn. Calmness leads to joy, it’s lack leads to fear.

Patience, because if learning new intra-species com unication is quite hard (like learning Japanese, when both you and the japanese are human beings), imagine how hard it is learning inter-species communication. And it’s not exactly Einstein we’re talking about, it’s a dog, who has to first learn how to understand a human being, and second how to decode and internalise all the rules and behaviours we require from him.

It takes a six years old child a whole year to learn how to read and write simple sentences and solve basic aritmetic operations. A dog, even a genius dog, has quite less learning ability. He needs both time and practice to learn how to behave in ways that go against his most basic instincts.

Finally, consistency, because each time we decide that today it’s okay for the dog to jump out of the car the second we open the door — after all there’s no traffic nearby — we are ruining all the hard work we had teaching him to wait for our invitation to come out.

Educating a dog isn’t even that hard. We just have to think, the moment the young pup comes home, how we want him to behave when he’s grown up. And step by step, with calmness, patience and consistency, we will explain how we would like him to behave in any given situation. We will teach him to go lay down on his bed while we dine. That an open door doesn’t mean he can just run out to the street. That he can control his impulses and adapt to our world.

And we will ourselves make an effort to understand his world. A dog is a dog is a dog. He deserves our respect. He deserves our understanding that he’s not happier watching the soap opera from the couch, he’s happier doing dog stuff. By our side, throughout his life, because his presence is a pleasure and enriches ours.

Teresa Sacadura