Updated: Feb 17, 2021
I am reading a lot lately about people posting on social media and struggling with their dogs. Many are desperate, expecting to receive the magic tip that will change their dog once for all. Posts are many and recurrent: "my dog reacts very aggressively to other dogs", "my dog reacts very aggressively guarding the fence", "my dog is very reactive when someone comes home", "my dog is resource-guarding his food, or the couch", "my dog is growling and snapping my kids "... you name it.
Of course, dozens of people give all kind of advice oriented to control and restrict the dog's movements: muzzles, crates, prong collars, e-collars… as well as many suggestions to "show the dog manners". All of a sudden trainers with such aversive methods (and others) will appear offering advice and claiming that they save lives because those dogs would be counting the days if it weren't for them. Some of them even live the show, appearing in tik-tok videos making the "bad dog" surrender. And the problem is that, even though there are also people recommending force-free methods that actually help the dogs, these people usually are not so vehement, so it does not become clear that they are the real saviours.
We all know that desperation and fear is a powerful drive. After reading that your dog will be on death row if you don't listen to these people, it may seem that some daily pain and discomfort for the dog to "learn manners" wouldn't look that bad after all. In all these cases, you would be doing the opposite: worsening the problem or creating new ones.
So what if we revisit our demands to dogs instead? What if we revisit our concept of "manners" in dogs? Why do we transfer our human standards to dog's lives without even thinking who they are, what they need and how they feel? Why do we assume that a "polite dog" has to walk heel or to be quiet? Why do we believe that they are aggressive if they bark or growl? Why don't we instead work on bidirectional communication? Why don't we understand what they are trying to tell us in their language? Why don't we respect and trust more our dogs?
Why do some people continue working against the dog and against common sense? Not so long ago, common sense still was dominating. Children were taught not to bother the dog while eating or resting. People were taught that dogs need to run free some times and be with other dogs. Of course, I understand that we shouldn't compromise the safety, but many dogs are condemned to be all their lives on a leash or muzzled because they started reacting out of frustration but with no intention to do any harm.
My grandfather lived in a tiny village in the countryside, where I still go during my summer vacations to be away from the city. Here you can witness what I am talking about. The local people have this calmness that nature brings to their lives. These people have several dogs, of all types, and they roam free almost all day long. You can see some of the locals going with their dogs to work in the fields or taking care of the cattle. These dogs don't wear a collar or a leash, and clearly, they don't have to walk heel, but they walk and run at their own pace. They are not afraid of other dogs and have a harmonious coexistence. When they are not roaming the street near the restaurant and the shop to see if they find any leftover, they are just sleeping on the sidewalk, frequently in groups. They go home to eat and sleep and occasionally check on their humans or follow them when they move around the village. But nobody gives them orders.
Interestingly, these dogs don't have the modern problems that our pet dogs have, like separation anxiety, reactivity, aggressiveness, resource-guarding, too high stress... And definitely, they are not afraid of strangers, but just cautious. Yes, they might not get a lot of money for veterinary care, but they seem emotionally fulfilled dogs in most cases.
I agree that everything is more complicated in the city, and life is hectic, but there are always ways and means of doing things easier for them less restrictive and more in tune with their natural needs. By merely putting effort into taking them into account and understand what they try to communicate to us, instead of obsessing with manners, commands and obedience, we would be taking a big burden off them... Because it is not just about offering our dog a life, but a life worth living.