After watching Grizzly Man, about a man who decided to live with Alaskan brown bears, I am reminded how many people treat animals as if they were people.
This confused young man wanted to swim with the bears, pat the bears and actually be a bear. Some say he interacted with bears as if they were people in bear costumes. In the end, it got him killed, because bears are not people. We are competitors at the top of the food chain and we do not have a symbiotic relationship.
In the same vein, I think many dog owners think their dogs are little people in dog outfits. They hate to reprimand them. How many times have you seen someone apologize to their dog when they don’t give the dog what he/she wants? Or when they reprimand the dog? They share food off their plate, share their beds, move out of the dogs’ way, step around the dogs rather than make the dogs move out of the way … and then wonder why their dogs are getting aggressive. Dogs who bark at us, demand we share our food with them, and don’t move out of the way when we pass are exhibiting dominant behavior. And why shouldn’t they? Every time we give way to them, we’re telling them that we’re inferior to them in the pack hierarchy.
We do animals a disservice by anthromorphizing them. Don’t get me wrong; they’ll take every inch we give them. It’s survival to do so, and therefore stupid (and dangerous) not to, from the dog’s point of view. But dogs are animals living in a human world. Dogs who do not understand that we come first — even babies — soon find that they do not fit in a human’s world. This is a major reason why dogs are surrendered to animal shelters.
So sad. And needless. Let’s view dogs for what they are; mid-level predators who have recently (in the grand scheme of things) sided with the winners on this planet, and cozied up to us for their own survival. Sure, they amuse us, offering companionship and endless joy to our lives. But they’re not people, nor will they ever be. They need rules and hierarchy, and it’s our obligation — for their own safey — to give it to them.
So how do we do that? We eat first, and we don’t share. They move out of the way when we need to walk past. They go out, come in and eat when we say. This is not cruelty. It’s kindness. It keeps the relationship appropriate, no matter how many dresses we put on them, or spas we take them to. Dogs CAN live in our world. They just have to live here as dogs. Because it’s bad for them to make them think we’re peers.