Thursday, November 5, 2009

Morons.... owners take turn

One of my peeves regarding some dog/cat owners is their penchant for anthropomorphizing.
[Definition: Anthropomorphism is ascribing human characteristics to non-humans, including animals, plants, ideas, phenomena, material states, objects, or abstract concepts].

Oh, I know we all love James Herriot’s wonderful stories of animals, especially dogs and cats. But here I am talking about the serious responsibilities of dog ownership, not entertainment. Indeed, any dog can bite, but our dogs, Pit Bulls, are, at this time, under extreme scrutiny and we have no choice. Assumption of responsible ownership, for us, is not optional. It is a requirement.

Albeit reluctantly, I will label people who take on Pit Bulls as if they were just like any other dog, well…. morons.

What prompts this, my latest, diatribe, is a post on one of the most respected Pit Bull Forums on the Internet.

I will quote from the person’s post and comment on each statement individually. I will also use “he” as the generic for either a dog or a bitch.

Here we go….

“he seems to want to be in charge”

Seems, want, in charge… these are not within the “vocabulary” of dogs. These are not part of their behavioral repertoire. These are human behaviors, endeavors and feelings. A dog has no idea what something “seems.” Dog sense the world in a binary code. It is either “yes” or “no.” “Good” or “bad,” “warm” or “cold,” etc. Dogs don’t want. Wanting is a human emotion. Dogs NEED or don’t need.

Dogs are not in charge or not not in charge. Dogs are either an alpha or not. In a human environment, anybody who allows a dog to be the alpha is asking for trouble. What that person will have is an insecure, unprotected, anxious, and unpredictable animal. If you love your dog, I mean really love him, you owe it to him to be the alpha. An absolute alpha, all the time, without hesitation, with total commitment, with all your energy, with all your intelligence, with all your skills and without hesitation. I guess I used "without hesitation" twice... I must mean it.

“when he's tired will he let [sic!] the other dog play with something”

Dogs don’t let. We, the humans let. Dogs take or not take. But dogs are not allowed to “make decisions.” They can’t. They have no concept of past, present, and future. They live in the present. They have no foreboding “feelings” or judgment of consequences. If you are a good trainer you can condition a dog to do what YOU want or decide. Dogs who are allowed to make choices will be totally befuddled because they will have no reference points. A dog without leadership will be like a boat without a rudder… aimless, purposeless, anxious, afraid, “neurotic” (by our standards).

“she is not the push over she was at first”

Here is another example of endowing a dog with human characteristics. So, the dog was a pushover, now she is not. What happened? Did the dog take some assertiveness classes? Maybe she took an EST seminar…

[Definition: EST = Erhard Seminars Training, an organization founded by Werner H. Erhard, offered a two-weekend (60-hour) course known officially as 'The est Standard Training.' The purpose of est was to allow participants to achieve, in a very brief time, a sense of personal transformation and enhanced power. The est course was offered from late 1971 to late 1984.]

Puleeze… what the dogs did, is work it out. They worked out who is where in the pecking order. Since the owner is clearly not “in charge” we don’t know whether the once-pushover dog has become an alpha or just acting out her insecurity. Which one would you prefer? That was a sneaky catch question, because the answer, of course, is neither.

“she has started to snap at him when she's on the couch”

Excuse me? Started? From the content of the post we can surmise that snapping is an ongoing behavior. Snapping is either allowed or not allowed by the alpha, which should be the owner. It it’s allowed, then don’t bitch (with due respect to all the fine female dogs out there). If it’s not allowed, then it didn’t start, because it was finished as soon as it was exhibited. Besides, a secure, calm, and assertive dog (to use Cesar Millan’s terminology) does NOT snap. Do you know why? Because 1) she doesn’t have to; and 2) is not allowed.

“she used to not do this and has just recently started acting jealous”

Let’s forget for a second that dogs do not have emotions, certainly not complex ones. So, appealing to the common psychologist in all of us, what type of person is jealous? What type of person is possessive or controlling? Simple: a person who is insecure, a person who wants to control because he has none. The parallel “translation” to a dog’s world is obvious.

“we would just put him in his crate if he got too aggressive”
“we have started putting her in her crate when she does it now” (My note: “it” being something bad – like snapping at the other dog)

I see. So now we take the crate, which is supposed to be the dog’s “home,” his secure place, and we made it a punishing place. Way to go! That dog sure will love going “home.” Not!

“leads to a scene since she will just lay (sic!) down and roll over and refuse to get up”

How’s that? Scene? Refuse? Since when do dogs make decisions? You mean that obedience is voluntary? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

“it sounds like I have a lot of problems with them and I guess I do but its not constantly”
“we really do enjoy each other most of the time”

In operant conditioning, a variable ratio reinforcement schedule is one of the hardest to extinguish… Obviously, the owner tells us not only that “[we] enjoy each other most of the time,” but that some of the time they don’t. As the variable ratio of positive and negative reinforcement goes on, eventually, and I guarantee this, at some point they will NOT enjoy each other MOST of the time. Just like a child, if a dog “gets away” with an undesirable behavior some of the time, he will try for ever, because at any one given time he MAY get away with it. Casino owners know this, hence those 5,000-room hotel/casinos.

To sum it all up, the dog owner who posted the stuff I quoted is a… you guessed it…a moron.
That the person has a dog is already bad enough, but to have TWO and especially Pit Bulls, is awful. Awful for the dogs, for this oblivious person, and for the breed overall. This is the kind of situation that is likely to end up in the headlines and provide further fodder to the gristmill of sensation seeking media morons. I apologize for the mixed metaphor.

I like what Linda R. Blakely, the Director of Raccoon Valley Animal Sanctuary & Rescue has to say:

"The most valuable lesson for me personally is that we should never forget to keep our minds open to what an animal can teach us, not only about their own behavior, but about our own!"

Next up, when I get the time, is the “nothing in life is free” concept of dog handling/training.