People are crazy about their dogs, and I know why: Dogs look after their humans. It is the opposite of what most people think. Most people think that humans “own” dogs and “care for” dogs, and dogs hang around naked, don’t work, and expect free handouts. That is just the kind of stupid human perspective that would never occur to a dog. Dogs don’t see the world in that way.
Since humans were first around, dogs have been hanging around them, and from a dog’s point of view, it hasn’t been easy. Dogs are exceedingly flexible, and as the saying goes, are loyal and true. They really are. While in this culture when we live in major cities, there is little dog opportunity to show it, but it is true none the less. And they like to work and would do so if given half a chance.
I love reading stories about dogs. I once read a story about this village in which the people are starving and naturally, the dogs are more so. When a villager comes across a dog eating anything at all, they assume the dog has stolen it and beat it viciously. Nevertheless, these dogs still hang around and alert the villagers to the approach of lions. That pretty much sums up a dog’s basic nature. A human’s basic nature, too, I suppose.
Another story I like is one about a woman who credits her dog for saving her life when she was about to commit suicide. She had lost her handsome, talented son to a tragic accident, and after weeks of laying in bed in severe depression had decided to overdose on pills. That day, her dog started to act strangely. For weeks, he had laid beside her quietly on the floor, expecting very little. This day, however, he knocked over the table that had the pills on it, brought her shoes to her, then his leash, and whined and moaned until she could stand it no more, and in a state of utter annoyance got up, got dressed, and walked him. He had a destination in mind, and he literally dragged her there. The rest of the story is a bit of a blur, but I believe her son was a runner, and he took her to his running track, and she saw the image of her dead son, blah, blah, blah, and decided to live. My point is this: a non-dog owner would see this as a dog that had enough of lying around and wanted a walk, and a woman who gave it great meaning. A dog owner, however (or the more politically correct term “dog companion” or “dog guardian”) would understand the woman’s conviction that the dog saved her life. Dogs, from the very start of their relationship with humans have learned to read them emotionally very well. And this incredible dog empathy is the reason why humans invest literally millions of dollars a year in the world on dog toys, dog treats and the like.
I have three dogs that I have the good fortune of living with most of the time, because I work out of my home. I have a large lot of land, and have invested a lot of money running an invisible fence around several acres of it, to give the dogs a lot of open space. I consider it a dog’s paradise, but of course, I could make it even more appealing if I were less ‘human focused.’
Dogs see things from a dog’s perspective, and while people have written volumes on it, all of the writings are usually from a person’s point of view, even if they try to write from a dog’s perspective. We can’t help it. A lot of it talks about the dominance relationships of dogs and how we humans have to establish our dominance with the dogs we live with. That’s because we humans are obsessed with our place in the pack, and that’s what we focus on in our dogs. There are even books that give you the “inside tips” on how to establish your dominance by doing things like eating first and never letting a dog on your bed because the higher the sleeper the greater the dominance. People sometimes make me sick.
First of all, a dog isn’t stupid. They know who fills their bowls every day, and who has access to the food, and who picks the timing of the feedings. However, while a dog isn’t stupid, the same can’t be said for a lot of people who live with dogs. They do a lot of crazy behavior that confuse the dogs: they act very capriciously, and as a result they end up with “bad dogs,” and need so-called ‘dog experts’ to help them out. Like that show I saw once about the British Nanny who comes out and straightens out a family in a week, it is the parents that need straightening out so the kids can behave. It is the same thing with dogs.
Dogs each have unique personalities, likes, and habits, although they can be very flexible and forgiving if their human(s) take the time to understand. First off, I believe all dogs like to have a job and they like to be appreciated and loved for doing their job well. If you want a bad dog, give it nothing to do, and then hate it when it thinks up its own job to do that you don’t like. People want to own these highly intelligent dogs and then leave them all day, unattended, and wandering around the house looking for something to do. Then, when the dog does find something, like chewing the leg of a chair, or a shoe, or creating a large hole in the ground, they are yelled at or worse. The dog has been waiting all day to see his or her human, and keeping itself busy, and then, the moment when the human they’ve been waiting all day to see comes home....WHAM! No warm greeting. No “I missed you so much” which of course is what the dog says the minute they see the human. No, they get yelled at, or worse.
Then, the dumb human says “My dog is a pain in the ass.” Still, even when the dog should really ignore or hate the owner for this incredibly insensitive behavior, they don’t. The dog just tries to forget about it, and let by-gones be by-gones.
I repeat: Dogs need a job, and if they are left alone all day, they need, at least as puppies, to be given a crate, water, and a few toys or bones to while away the time. Dogs can be exceedingly good at waiting.
My first husband believed that that was a dog’s job, to wait, but I don’t think so. I believe your average dog has two jobs that intertwine: to protect the property and to look after their human or humans. Some dogs really like to focus on just one human, and are called “one man dogs” or some such thing. They don’t make good family dogs, because they can’t keep the idea of all those people being their responsibility in their heads. They aren’t “family dogs” and shouldn’t live in families.
Other dogs see the whole world as their “families” and make lousy watch dogs, except when they bark excitedly at the prospects of seeing anyone new, including the burglar. Don’t get a dog like that if you want to be exceedingly special to just one dog. They will love you as much as the next guy.
Dogs have personalities, and my three are no exception. I have two German Shepherd Dogs, one from the “German” line, and one from the “American” line. The Germans take their dogs very seriously, and expect any good dog they breed to be a “working” dog. This means that they can do the things that a working dog does, like track, follow orders, and protect. And, by the way, the name of the breed IS German Shepherd Dog, to distinguish them from the guys with the sheep, apparently. They are one of the few breeds that have the word “dog” in the title. Maybe the only one, I don’t know.
German Shepherd dogs are on a list of dogs the insurance companies have to exclude you from getting insurance, because they are considered ‘dangerous.’ They are dangerous to the insurance companies, because when other people are bitten by the German Shepherd dog, the companies have to pay for the law suits. This makes sense if you are an insurance company. If you are a German Shepherd dog, however, which is a “family” type dog, you have to know who is in your family, and this can be very tough, especially in the city. Ok, maybe you introduce the dog to your mail carrier and repair guy and housekeeper, and the dog knows these humans are okay. But what if there is a substitute mail carrier that walks through the fence? What’s a dog to do? And while most Shepherds are excellent with children, what about that bratty 12 year old who sneaks over the fence with a stick, and tries to hit the dog? Should the dog just ignore the territorial encroachment and belligerent aggression?
If you are owner of one of these “barred breeds,” don’t expect any help from the law. Dogs are treated like, well, dogs, according to the laws in most states. Bears and other wildlife have more rights than dogs do. Birds can sing as loudly and as long as they want, but even in the country, if a dog barks more than twenty minutes it can be “arrested.” Dogs aren’t allowed to wander and visit friends in the neighborhood without getting arrested either, even if they are doing no harm.
One of my dogs, Malaka, was arrested recently, for visiting his girlfriend down the street. We didn’t know Malaka had a girlfriend, and we were surprised he had broken his “invisible fence.” The neighbors, on the other hand, knew all about the illegal tryst. They found the love affair harmless and cute, as Malaka is the largest Shepherd I’ve ever seen, and his paramour was a small black and white mongrel. They enjoyed strolling down the lane together and doing other things that dogs do when in love. Nevertheless, we never knew of this secret life, as Malaka always came when called, and we assumed he was just in another part of our rather large yard.
We learned differently when he didn’t come. He didn’t come because he was in Doggie Prison, as a convicted Dog Roamer. That was his crime: Roaming. And, because he never leaves the yard, or so we thought, he didn’t have his address on his collar, so the dog officer didn’t know who to call. It finally got all straightened out, and he came back, and we updated his invisible fence battery, but my point is the same: deer and bear can roam freely, and even steal your food and eat your shrubs, but they get no jail time. Shoot them for doing it, however, and you will. You can’t shoot wildlife without a license, but you can shoot a dog for being “menacing” on your property, and you can have him put to sleep if you believe he is “menacing” to you repeatedly, even if he is on a leash and never bites you. Kill a chicken, and a dog is dead meat. Literally. One bite of fresh chicken meat and the dog gets a lethal injection.
As I said before, dogs have personalities and some like other dogs, some don’t. Some prefer the company of other dogs to humans, and I don’t blame them. Most dogs prefer to be around other dogs because dogs act sensibly and frankly, humans don’t. My other Shepherd, Greta, never liked other dogs very much, until she met Jack. She loves Jack, and it is a very unlikely pairing. Jack is an 11 pound Coton de Tulear, while Greta is 75 when she slims down. While she hated Malaka when she first met him, and tolerates him to this day (only his towering size saves him from utter annihilation), she took to Jack almost immediately.
Jack is her kind of dog. He is absolutely fearless as only a puppy can be, but it is more than that. Coton’s were once wild on the Island of Madagascar, and therefore had to live by their wits, while the American line of German Shepherds were bred for their beauty. In other words, Malaka is too dim for my girl, while Jack is quick and spry. Jack outfoxes her, and she admires him for it. They play endlessly, while Malaka pines away in the corner. Greta will attack Malaka if he dares come near Jack, so he just avoids him, even letting Jack eat his food if I don’t intervene. Malaka is a broken man.
I have seen Jack take flying leaps off our bed and onto Greta’s back, all with no harmful effects. He runs after her, biting her stomach and knee caps until I pity her. Still, she patiently plays tug of war with him, even giving up a few steps in his direction to keep him hopeful and involved, before claiming her ultimate victory. She likes the game, and will “play tug” for a long time, pretending she is into it sincerely. Jack, on the other hand, could care less about winning, and cares more about playing. When she does claim the toy, Jack just bites her muzzle, her legs, her chest, her ears, as she’s walking away. It is usually enough to re-involve her in the game. It isn’t that he’s completely disinterested in winning, however. He’s just crafty. He’ll grab it back the minute she isn’t looking. He knows his own toys, too, and loses his mind if she steals them and won’t give them back. I’ve seen him pee on her bed to get even: a dog equivalent of graffiti. Or swearing, I suppose.
Out of doors, Greta has the advantage of speed, while Jack is smaller and therefore more agile. He does this weave and dodge through the bushes, and in one spot, a barrier to keep water out of the basement prevents Greta from proceeding in the chase, but not Jack. She has had to figure out from which bush he’ll reappear again, and continue the chase. It is endlessly amusing, as only a good dog game can be.
In Frisbee play, Jack knows he can’t outrun her for it, so he hides in the tall grass, in her likely return direction, and pops out as she passes to try for a sneak grab. Malaka has long since learned not to grab for the Frisbee, even if he’s able to, because he’ll get a terrible beating by her. But Malaka resents this condition, so as she runs for it, he’ll often hip chuck her on her return trip to us. Hip chucks were bad enough. Now, Greta has to contend with a “Jack Attack” as well, poor girl.
One thing humans fail to understand about dominance is that dog dominance is a constant and exhausting process for the head dog. Like the worried Chief Executive, the dog in charge has to not only keep things running, but also reminding the others who is in charge. It isn’t just size and strength that gives one the title. It is the intense desire, and that is what Greta has: The desire to lead, but unfortunately, it takes its toll. As the dog kingdom has expanded, so has her responsibilities. Now she has two dog bowls to steal from, instead of one. Now a whole new set of toys to covet. Now a new boy who vies for the affection of her preferred human. A little guy, too, who can sit on laps and sleep on beds.
This week, she has a new challenge, and I think she’s handling it gracefully: My friend Jassy, has come to stay on vacation, and brought her dog, Ziggy, a Shit-zu/Maltese mix. She’s keeping up her job of trying to steal Ziggy’s gated food, and snarling when the puppy tries to steal her Frisbee, but frankly I don’t think her heart is in it. She has Jassy to contend with, who is naturally nervous about a 75 pound dog snarling at her 9 pound snuggly. Also, Greta’s natural exuberance is a danger to Jassy, whose legs are wobbly from pain. Jassy calls Greta “a vexation to the spirit.” Greta would call Jassy “that woman who yells at me” if she spoke at all. Greta tried to get on Jassy’s good side, by running up to her, rubbing against her, etc, but it is a set of unfortunate efforts. The more Greta approaches, the more she gets yelled at. To make matters worse, from a dog’s perspective, Jack has taken to Jassy, and the feelings are mutual. Jack will enthusiastically jump onto Jassy’s lap, licking her face, snuggling into her, and Jassy speaks warmly and reciprocates. Greta looks on from a distance, with a worried look. While she recognizes that “you can’t win the heart of every human,” it lowers her status as Jack take another homosapien out of the running, by claiming it for his own.
The only thing that evens the score just a bit is that Ziggy is also displaced when Jassy shows Jack affection. For Malaka’s part, he has decided that his only way to win back some self-respect is in the desperate attempt to dominate Ziggy. This has lead to his further isolation, as his attempts are met by extreme displeasure by all the humans. While still cold consolation, he continues to be fed before the little ones, and continues to run faster than the little ones, as well. Still, I know in the world of dogs, he’s on the bottom, so I give him as much love and affection as possible. And, on a brighter note, Jassy does find his slow moving, gentler approach more endearing, and will give him affection on occasion, when he isn’t being mean to Ziggy.
How dogs ever manage to live with humans and remain in such good spirits is beyond me. The politics are incredible.