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— February 14, 2012 —

Tuesday’s Tail. The Affection Issue.

In light of the recent public dog bite on national TV, when a Denver news anchor went in to smooch a stressed, scared Dogo on the air and consequentially was bitten in the face, this Tuesday’s Tail will discuss dog contentment, behavior and how it is affected by the human projection of affection. Humans are an expressive and affectionate species that crave intimacy with fellow people and, of course, pets. That’s why we have them right? Well…the answer is really more complex than obvious.

There is something to be said about the way some dog owners project their desire to derive and provide affection in regards to their pets and all of the not-so-obvious negative implications that result because of it. Dogs are pack animals, we’ve heard this time and time again, but to really understand what that means we have to look into instinct, rationale, pack mentality, and the human infliction of emotion, affection and comfort unto a dog, and the unfortunate consequences.

What does this all mean? Can’t we just love our dogs? They�re family after all…

“Dog society” operates on a constant drive for power. In the ‘pack’, whether it be amongst humans, other dogs or intermixed, dogs instinctively test the authority above them in the pecking order of the pack. Meanwhile, they are being tested by the member of the pack behind them in the chain of command. The instinctual ‘pack mentality’ driven power struggle serves to ensure the strength and survival of the pack. Don’t forget that dogs are animals, and even though we may not realize it, their life priorities are based on life, death and survival… even if they’re sleeping on plush beds and chew on the most expensive antlers on the market.

What does this mean for the average dog owner? Our dogs test us, with their behavior, to ensure our ability to lead the others (the family and household), and if they find that we�re not in fact strong enough, then the whole pack’s safety is compromised and the second in order of succession should take over as leader- which is when problems with your dog’s behavior may arise.

When the pack leader, which should be the dog owner, isn’t providing their dog with the rules, orders and limits the dog craves, an undesirable imbalance occurs and the dog becomes confused and troubled in understanding who the boss is and what he/she expects of them. Once we notice these issues, we further emphasize and inflame the insecurities of our dogs in these tricky imbalanced situations by doing what we do best- trying to fix the problem with our ultra-soothing human ways of providing support.

How did we get here?

So many dog owners give their dogs excessive love and affection it creates further disproportion and confusion in the dog’s psyche. This is especially true of a dog whose behavior is erratic and out of control. People need to understand that affection is a human desired trait, not canine. Dogs desire fulfilling their instincts- that makes them ‘happy’- not the human implication or understanding of affection. This doesn’t mean you should be harsh or unaffectionate towards your dog, but it does mean that affection should be given at the right times and that it’s important to effectively balance expressing love, from a human perspective, with also giving dogs work, rules and order (the way dogs understand love) so the devotion to your dog is not counterproductive.

It’s almost second nature for humans to console others and especially our dogs in time of distress, illness or when we just plain feel like it. They’re our babies right? Providing solace to our dog at a time we, as humans, would most want to be comforted, can be the single most detrimental behavior in dog ownership. We think showing kindness, understanding and support is a way to alleviate the stress of someone that’s grieving, troubled, or in pain. Dogs, on the other hand, see the human expression of comfort as weakness. You know the saying ‘you’re my rock during hard times’? Think about what that phrase is really a testament to. When your dog is sick, injured or scared, comforting them in a human sense, is showing them ‘hey, I�m weak with you, too’; that’s not going to help your dog feel better, less scared or bounce back from a traumatic experience. You need to be your dog’s ‘rock’ when they’re insecure, as any natural leader should. Don’t make your dog worry about who is going to carry on the strength for the pack when they’re too weak and you’re weak along with them. You need to assure your dog that you’ve got it all under control with another positive effect being that your strength is going to also ‘snap’ the dog out of the current negative state of mind and help them overcome their troubles.

Going back, quickly, to the news anchor that absolutely felt the need to handle the Dogo’s head with both of her hands and guide his terrified, stiff face into hers so she could kiss him hello on the mouth. Her human desire to show affection towards a dog that she had never met was a perfect recipe for disaster. The dog was, understandably, completely petrified on the news set with lights, tons of cameras, crew and his owner (who was also probably nervous about discussing a rather uncomfortable incident involving his dog on national television), all setting the tone for his dog’s dismal state of mind and ultimate reaction. Although she meant well, the anchor’s human terms of endearment towards the Dogo set him off and he reacted instinctively. How would you feel if a complete stranger went into kiss you on the mouth in public? In all seriousness, this was a perfect example of human affection- and the reality that dogs do not process emotions with the human rationale, but instead, feed their actions from their primal instincts and understanding.

The most important mistake dog owners can collectively avoiding making is turning their pets into ‘dog babies’ or ‘little dog humans’ that they coddle and dote after constantly. No matter how deep the level of communication you feel you have with your dog is, it’s important to remember that dogs do not possess the same level of reasoning and rationality as humans. If we really want to do right by them, we need to understand that dogs live in the moment and are driven by instinct. They don’t plan ahead, or reflect on the past in either a positive or negative way. They are simple creatures that only ask us, as dog owners, to allow them to balance their drive and instincts while being under our lead as a member of the household. Express your love in a way that will satisfy your personal needs for affection but, at the same time, won’t be detrimental to your dog. Being realistic with yourself and your expectations of what you can derive from dog ownership can really strengthen the bond and understanding you have with your dog, and further solidifying that thing we call LOVE in a way our dogs can understand!