By Saro Boghozian, Expert Family Dog Trainer
For this article, I need to clear a few things in order to make sense.
There are wild animals such as tigers, lions and porcupines. There are wild dogs like African wild dogs, Canids or Australian wild dogs and Dingos. Pet dogs are the regular Jack Russell, Golden retriever dogs.
Wolves are distant cousins of pet dogs. Pet dogs, on the other hand, are man-made. Pet dogs have been made by humans by breeding them over centuries to look and behave a certain way. Did you know that most dog breeds did not even exist until a hundred years ago?
In my opinion, it is not fair and logical to compare our domesticated pet dogs to wild dogs or wolves which are wild animals. Untamed, wild animals and wild dogs live in the wild and are meant to live that way and have always lived that way. They live based on experience, instinct and survival skills which are a completely different form of living than humans and dogs.
When it comes to dog’s behaviour and their diet, people and some professionals argue that a dog has to be treated like a wild animal and some other times needs to be treated like a domesticated animal. We need to acknowledge the fact that pet dogs are not wild animals. They are somewhat different. They are domesticated animals which we call them pets and they have been invited to live with humans in the past century. We have to be able to establish a connection that balances the relationship between dogs and humans which is the challenging part.
Urban dogs or dogs in general:
First, let me affirm a few facts that we all need to acknowledge. Dogs were bred from wolves in the beginning, but today dogs are results of breeding among many types of dog breeds throughout hundreds of years.
The other fact that I need to emphasize is that today’s dogs were not bred for urban living originally. This fact alone changes the rules for a dog to live in an (urban) setting which has not been originally bred for, “the city”. Dogs were bred ideally to live in a non-urban setting like a farm setting.
The dogs today don’t even have the same physical appearances as they had 50 years ago. They have been customized to look a certain way and be a certain size. The breeding system has either stayed the same or even got worse in some cases where the purpose of the breeding has stayed the same but the outcome of the breeding has changed. A dog that was bred for hunting is now sitting at home and doing nothing but showered with affection and hugs and kisses all day long by an owner that fell in love with the appearance of the dog. The dog is literally “unemployed” and is retired at a very young age.
The dog that is sitting on your lap right at this moment is not a wild dog. It is a domesticated designer pet dog. There is a big difference between a wild dog and a pet dog. Dogs are not wild animals and should not be treated as such, but also dogs are not four-legged human babies either. They are a somewhat special form of animals. We, humans, should be aware of that and make that difficult choice of understanding and finding ways to create a balanced life for them while they live with us.
Today, the dog that was bred for farm living or whatever originally was intended for, is forced to live in a city that is limited and befalls with a different set of rules and boundaries. The boundaries and size of the farm have been reduced to apartment size. The activities of a farm dog have been reduced to city dwellings. It has become an unusual form of living for a dog that was designed for something completely different. It is like driving a Porsche on the city streets under 60KPH every day. The car is not performing what it was built for and the driver is not using the car for what the car was designed and built for although, it is still OK and manageable to drive it. Fortunately, dogs adapt easily.
Here is what you need to exploit. Dogs need to respect people and treat them as humans while people need to respect dogs and treat them like dogs. By understanding this and accepting it, I feel we can make ours and their lives much better.
We need to teach dogs human rules and ask them to follow those rules so they can be accepted as family members in our human communities (society). This is not to humanize the dogs but to teach them to feel comfortable to live among humans. They should be considered as pets living among humans as one of the family members.
Farm dogs, working/ police dogs:
Dogs were bred to live in farm settings. That was how humans lived a long time ago. The reason humans needed to breed dogs and develop all different kinds of breeds were basically the same. Humans needed dogs to help them. For instance, there was a need in the farms to help with the herding the flock of sheep so they bred the herding dogs like Border collies and sheepdogs. The jeweller needed to find a way to protect its investment but yet wanted to have a family oriented dog so bred the Doberman breed.
Simply, the breeding and designing the breeds were done in a form of customizing for the need in human society. No one thought about having the dogs designed to live in the city of the future. Dogs were meant to live outside of the homes that they worked; they got fed and looked after. Slowly, dogs were invited to come inside the house to live and sleep by humans. Domestication of the dogs took a giant leap. Now, dogs are living among humans watching and observing them twenty-four hours a day.
That is how and when dogs became indoor dogs. Slowly some of the dog’s duties changed and so did the needs, therefore the designing and breeding of the dogs also changed.
One thing is for sure if a dog was to live in a suburban farm home (regardless of the breed) rules change. The dog will need to be taught new rules like how to protect the land from coyotes, how to heard the farm animals, how to make sure strangers are not to be trespassing and etc. It becomes a completely different style of life but yet the dog is not treated like a wild animal. A dog is treated and cared for like a domesticated animal, just like the cows and goats.
There is one argument if dogs are happier livings in a farm or in the city. That is a different article.
The working dogs like police dogs have a different lifestyle too. They don’t really work as humans do. They don’t punch in cards. All they do is play, but for them, it feels like work. For instance, the sniffing dog at the airport which most of the times happens to be Beagles checks the luggage of passengers who arrive. They are looking for fruits and foods which passengers may be bringing to the country. As soon as the dog senses it, it gets rewarded with a toy, game or even food sometimes. Police dogs are the same. They are taught to be aggressive on command to apprehend a criminal. These dogs go through vigorous training. They live with the family members and protect them and will be aggressive and reactive towards most stranger and dogs. They have to be. These dogs are happy to live that way. These breed of dogs and these form of mentality is not suitable in an urban living if not fully trained.
When you treat a dog (a domesticated animal) as a wild animal, a dog will backfire with some unusual behaviour. A dog has been bred to live with humans and if you treat it to live like a wild animal, the dog gets confused and stressed. Most dogs that have aggression or similar issues, it is not because they have gone astray; it is because the dog has been mistreated and neglected in most cases. These dogs have forgotten to be a pet dog. Just because their ancestor was the wolf, we can’t assume they should be treated like wolves. Would it be fair to treat a human like a chimpanzee? Or even Neanderthal because that’s how humans used to live? Humans have evolved. Dogs and breeds have evolved too.
Because wolves are the far ancestors of dogs, there are some similarities. It is in a dog’s instinct that the similarities become visible mostly. Instinct is what is programmed in their genes and is carried over generations. Some of the behaviours that occur in current domesticated urban pet dogs are due to their instinct. Humans need to control the instinct of dogs and not allow the dogs to use their instinct to deal with human-related situations. When you allow a dog to use its instincts, it takes over their mental state of mind which translates to bad behaviour in human society. This happens when the human does not do its part and follow through its responsibilities which are to educate the dog “the human society rules” and take good care of the dog mentally, emotionally and physically. The problems start when the human starts treating the dog like human rather than teaching the dog the human rules. It will be a decent, logical decision for a dog if it was living in the wild to use its instinct, but not in human society. A pet dog is capable of getting wild if situations occur, but they won’t thrive.
So, instead of treating dogs like wild animals, we need to consider the fact that dogs are different and have been bred to live with humans and follow human rules and lifestyle. Let’s not make them what they are not. Which is “ Wild animals”.