Tony Knight Dog Listener

5 Bad Habits (in People - not Dogs)

· 751 words · about 4 minutes

In the next few blogs, I will be pointing out the most common mistakes that people make with dogs. Let's jump right in with one of the biggest bad habits that people have when they think about their 4-legged companions, and it's a cracker...

At least it beats walking...

1. Humanising Dogs

The first of the 5 bad habits was summed up well when I was in a restaurant recently and noticed a photo of a cocker spaniel taking pride of place behind the counter. I had a gorgeous cocker called Sandy when I was a youngster, so it is a breed with which I have fond memories. I commented on how cute the photo was, at which the manageress replied, “Yes, she’s my baby.” I smiled and said I knew what she meant, but obviously the dog wasn’t actually her baby. She looked at me with a frown and insisted that it was her baby…

It is incredible that such a bizarre statement can be said with sincerity and no trace of irony. Yet how many people out there will say this sort of thing – as well as other strange ones (“My dog understands every word I say” being another favourite of mine) - without batting an eye? I read a report about a university in Budapest that had "proven" that dogs understand every word that we say. I decided to test the theory right away; I called out to Kobe and Gypsy, "Whoever gets here first gets a big piece of cheese" (they loooooove cheese). I looked around to see that not one muscle was moved by either dog. Maybe I should have said it in Hungarian...

One of the biggest obstacles to people and dogs living in a much better relationship is the insistence that dogs think just like people. This belief can result in dogs dressed up in specially made clothes (I admit that when I was young, my dog Sandy may have worn my school tie and a pair of mirrored sunglasses at one point but I would never have thought of buying her outfits of her own), to wearing dog perfumes (Tommy Holedigger actually exists!), complete with manicured and painted nails.

You better not try to touch our bones...

I remember well going to help a woman with her two little dogs for TV in Britain several years ago. She was proud to show me photos of her two little darlings in very special outfits, as they were to be her bridesmaids at her forthcoming wedding. Her actual problems, however, included getting bitten by her fluff balls when she tried to take their bones from them while they were still eating.

The biggest problem with this false belief is that people will actually put themselves at risk of injury – such as the aforementioned bride-to-be – by ignoring the fact that dogs are not people.

Let’s just look at part of that sentence again:

DOGS ARE NOT PEOPLE.

It’s pretty obvious, right? However, there was a BBC documentary a few years ago, all about the origins of dog breeds. It was very informative, and would have been an excellent program, if not for the last minute, when they stated in a matter-of-fact manner that the modern dog was a cross between the wolves and people. What kind of weird breeding program went on there?

Weird, right?

As you look around, you will see how this myth is everywhere, and most misleading when it comes to translating dog behaviour. A dog that jumps up at you when you come in is not “pleased” to see you. Relieved would be a better word. A dog that is wagging its tail is not necessarily in a good mood (a dog can bite you and still wag its tail!). Similarly, a dog that seems to smile can actually be nervous or unsure. This reflex can also take the form of a curling of the lip which is far from an aggressive reaction.

Realising the obvious truth that dogs are not people is a basic but vital part of changing our own bad habits. Look out for the next installment soon - the second mistake is one that goes from one extreme to the other...

P.S. Click on this film (apologies for the music – I didn’t choose it). On watching the film, I wondered if it is pugs that are singled out for particular treatment, or is it that one owner has too much time and money? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBoLGQw0gGI