The dogs we live with today are so far removed from the wolf species physically and behaviorally that there is very little in common between the two. Dogs began forming relationships with people many thousands of years ago, as they began to live closer to villages and settlements, and scavenge the garbage that humans discarded. The boldest dogs came closer to acquire food and once humans realized the benefits of the working dog the two began to cohabitate. They were a non domesticated type of dog that evolved closely with humans and, over many generations, changed physically,cognitively and emotionally alongside their human counterparts. They evolved synergistically with humans in order to ensure survival success. In fact we evolved so closely together that when we pet a dog the levels of the “feel good hormone” oxytocin increases in both our brain and the dogs brain.
But in recent times, as humans have created the “modern world”, dogs are now considered among the species “domesticated and living in captivity.”
Wait, Whaat!? Our dogs have a dream life!
Well, that’s not necessarily how they see it or the truth. In reality, we guess at their needs, demand obedience and micro-manage them. We don’t actually know the dog’s truth. It’s not that long ago that dogs ran freely in the neighborhood and returned home as they felt the need. This would not be recommended now but at one time, dogs had autonomy and had the freedom to choose and meet their own needs.
In addition to modernization and this reduction in freedom, an increase in specialized breeding and increases in de-sexing mixed breeds (shelter dogs) have caused drastic changes in the dog species. This genetic manipulation and general human influence is not only creating animals with some inherently unhealthy physical attributes that society has placed value on, but it is also playing a role in a dramatic and alarming rise in sensitivity issues.
We are now living in a modern world, designer breeds are highly sought after. Many dogs live in cities and high rise apartments without any outlets for their inherent, original working purpose. Guardian, SightHound, Gun Dog and Herding Dog are some popular breeds purchased to live in populated areas without any relief activities for what they have been genetically designed to do. Having a successful relationship under these circumstances is difficult especially when the dog’s needs are misunderstood and we implement training to control and change the behavior. As well,dogs have their own language that is oftentimes misunderstood by people because dogs communicate primarily through a unique body language which people are not typically taught to understand. The language barrier and lack of breed acknowledgement/understanding can cause miscommunications that often result in the “unwanted behaviors”. Frustration, fear, anxiety, reactivity and aggression- Are they behavior issues or sensory sensitivities? This phenomenon has become very stressful for people who are trying to resolve the issues. Over the past 5-10 yrs these behaviors have been on a sharp rise.
Dogs have become a multi-billion dollar industry and the “experts” have overloaded us with marketing that supports this industry. While many of us feel guilt, shame, or embarrassment when we need help with our dogs, we are offered quick fixes through marketing and/or cycle through trainers that modify an unwanted behavior only to have others crop up or flare up. We discover putting a bandaid on nuisance behaviors will solve the problem in the short term, but will most likely cause fallout and fracture the relationship we have with our dogs. If we suppress the natural behaviors that our dogs have been bred for and demand absolute obedience which in turn only suppresses the behaviors further, the bond will suffer, the dog will suffer and at some point we deal with the fallout of more serious behaviors.
At this point the solutions are complicated but you can draw some parallels to our dog crisis and climate crisis. When you interfere with nature for your own gain there will always be fallout. We need to take stock of the damage and make some decisions. Taking a different approach, understand what nature intended, consider how a dog learns, its environment, genetics and the dog as a unique individual. We can find different ways to help our dogs and give them autonomy in our modern world. We can change the trajectory of the human/dog relationship and understand one another better. It is worth it. We’ve all been victims to the billion dollar industry, fed misinformation/conflicting information. We’re all trying to help our dogs and give them what they need but we have to stop buying into the immediate fixes, step back and look at the bigger picture.