How society's attitudes have tarnished how we see and treat dogs.
In the 18 years that I have been training dogs I have seen many things that have put a smile on my face which sadly over time has proven to be a rarity. More often than not what I have experienced in the dog world is sadness introduced by people to the very animals that see us as true companions.
These posts are meant to be informative and educational however today, I feel a particular need to vent what I am seeing as a continued trend that is cruel, ignorant and just unwarranted.
Society for centuries has shown a disdain for its less fortunate. Those people in society with disorders be it physical or mental have to one degree or another been ostracised, neglected or left to rot with blind disregard. This attitude has not only been propagated by the average person, but overwhelmingly by Governments be it State and Federal. The responsibility has been moved away from Government based solutions, to home or family assistance based ones.
Sadly and I mean very sadly, this attitude is reflected deeply in how dogs are treated by the vast majority. Training centres are less and less likely to take on dogs with any form of behavioural issues regardless of their severity, and those of us that actually try to deal with these issues are stretched in meeting the needs. Trainers typically across society are looking for fast solutions that are politically correct, as they don't want to lose clients. The training profession is gearing itself to meet the needs of the easily satisfied many, while ignoring the needs of those with genuine issues. Those that do try to resolve issues are restricted by having certain training techniques or methodologies classed as illegal, thus rendering their efforts as futile. The only option for these brave few is to disregard these limitations at their own peril.
You only need to watch TV to see that "cute" sells. Shows like dancing with dogs, dog events like those we see in many exhibition areas promote the doggie equivalent to "fashion" parades, while dogs with needs go mostly unassisted. The up-coming event at the Exhibition Buildings is a great example of this. Programmes like the Dog Whisperer (Caesar Milan) is one of the rare proponents of Public Behaviour Modification, and for his efforts is negatively hounded and denigrated by dog trainers with a different ethos or approach to dog training. They do this despite not being able to assist in resolving the problems he encounters in dogs. I don't agree with some of his methods, but so what.......it works for him and he gets results so great. At the end of the day the dog wins, so we all win.
Shelters are overflowing with dogs that nobody wants, or at worst have had some bad experience with society and have been judged as unsuitable, with a grim at best outcome. Those special people that seek to work, rescue, foster or just assist in shelters are the unsung heros in society and should be loudly applauded, but sadly they are few in comparison to those that want the cute or the easy option.
Legislation is a big concern regarding attitudes that society retains. Fuel people's fears and then provide a perceived solution to that fear and you have made your own popular platform. While I don't want to delve into BSL yet again, it is a clear example of this very situation. Interest groups in society which at best are poorly equipped with behavioural knowledge along with legislative bodies that are lobbied by these groups and society as a mass, are the main reason why dogs with issues are in such dire straights.
I understand that there is limited time, I appreciate that there are limited funds, I respect that not everyone is able to work in resolving issues that affect the many dogs that have issues, but surely as "dog" trainers we have a greater responsibility to our four legged friends than just teaching them to stand for examination, go over agility or insultingly dress them in human clothing and teach them to dance.
Dogs are amazing animals that can do limitless activities when they are happy, balanced and safe. Take these elements away from a dog and it has nothing, not even hope. Go for a walk in any shelter where dogs are on death row and you see this in their eyes.
Shelters are limited in how they can assist. Under the current regulations carrying out behavioural modification work on dogs is unacceptable given the possible "risk" should the dog display any of the undesirable behaviours once re-homed. The duty on Temperament Assessment in shelters is not an even playing platform, as there is not one proven, consistent and genuinely effective set of criteria for all shelters to use. The more fortunate shelters have access to certified behaviourists that assist or carry out these assessments, but the burden is stacked against them regardless.
Dogs in society need our help. Responsible dog ownership starts with understanding that all dogs have issues, not just the ones that society has ear marked as being "ugly".
Dog training should be much more than just teaching the fun stuff. It should be aimed at creating dogs that are resilient and tolerant in as many situations as possible. I am not opposed to having fun with dogs, in fact I'm quite the opposite. Where I do draw the line is having fun with some at the expense of others.
If you have any comments on this, I would love to read them.