Let Dogs Be Dogs for Dog’s Sake

Humans are weird. Since our only references for life are our own cultures, experiences, and thought processes, we tend to project that onto everything else around us.

Dogs are a good example. We anthropomorphize them, assume their thoughts and motivations mirror our own, or that they should behave in ways we deem appropriate.

I often see people become embarrassed and shoo their dog away when it begins a thorough sniff of another dog’s genitals. Dogs are punished and told off for humping one another. Why? Yes, in human society it would be remarkably rude to sniff a stranger’s nether regions or hump them. But that’s all a totally normal part of dog culture and we need to get over it.

Dog noses are incredibly powerful and can distinguish a crazy amount of smells. Just by sniffing another dog’s junk they can learn a lot about them. It’s the normal canine way of getting to know each other. It’s the same as our “Hey how ya doin’? Where ya from? What do ya do for a living?” etc. Just let it happen. And humping? For dogs, humping serves more purpose than just reproducing. It can be a normal part of play or a displacement behavior when they’re anxious. Puppies learn a lot of life skills during play, and humping just happens to be one that becomes a normal part of their repertoire along with the rest of it. As long as the humpee doesn’t mind the humping, don’t worry about it. If the humpee tells the humper to knock it off and the humper doesn’t listen, though, then it’s time to intervene.

This suppression and punishment of normal canine behaviors can be, at best, terribly frustrating for our four-legged friends. Sometimes our selfish desire to get a dog to behave the way we want can have some unfortunate fallout. For instance, people who walk dogs off-leash to show off their “impressive” training skills. I’m not talking about the folks who let their dogs romp freely and gleefully in the woods. I’m talking about the assholes who walk their dogs on busy sidewalks or other potentially dangerous areas, for the sole purpose of showing off how well they can make their dog obey even in the most distracting or “real world” environments.

They use electronic collars to force their dog to stay glued to their side. If the dog goes more than a couple of feet or even takes a step toward another dog or person, they get a correction from the collar. This has the very real potential to teach that dog to fear other dogs or people. They’re often not connecting the correction with their behavior of walking towards something, they’re connecting it with whatever has their focus at the time – the dog or person. If you got an uncomfortable or downright painful sensation every time you went toward something, wouldn’t you start to become anxious and want to avoid that something? Or even become outright threatening as a way to scare it off?

This need to boost one’s ego by showing how well they can control another living thing is pretty gross. Yes, solid training is a good idea and can be life-saving in an emergency. But in the meantime just put a damn leash on your dog and stop punishing it for being a normal dog. Many of these dogs show blatant signs of learned helplessness. I assure you anyone who can recognize it is not impressed by your “training.”

Set boundaries, provide guidance. But for dog’s sake, be understanding and just let dogs be dogs, yo.

Edit: Before anyone jumps on me with #NOTALLDOGS I do want to add that not every dog trained to be off-leash using a shock collar is going to develop terrible fears/aggression and learned helplessness. There are ways to do it “better” if a disproportionate amount of time/effort is spent rewarding the behaviors you do want from your dog (and I mean with more than praise and a pat on the head). But any sort of physical correction has to be used very, very, very carefully to avoid potential behavioral fallout or damaging their trust in you. The above example is an example of using one poorly. I don’t advocate their use and find them unnecessary at best, but I’m not naive enough to think all dogs respond to them the same way or that it’s impossible to get a well-trained dog using a shock collar. But it’s a risk I don’t recommend taking.

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