The evolution of dogs in its simplest form looks like this: scary predator, scary outlying scavenger, semi-trusted camper, working livestock, pet, and finally, companion. In the last 30,000 years, a great transformation has happened…dogs have gone from lethal wolf to harmless pocket puppies. While the first 29,980 years were relatively slow the last 20 years have seen huge changes in the world of dogs and their relationships with the humans that love them. As it was in the beginning, the humans made the choice to give a little more and the dogs were all too happy to receive. As a professional dog trainer, I have had a front row view of the behaviors that have shaped the New World Dog and the trends that made them.
The biggest single trend I’ve seen is the birth of the doggie daycare phenomenon. When DogBoy’s opened in 1995 there were no/zero/zilch/nada dog daycares in Austin, Central Texas, or maybe even the rest of the country. A simple decision one winter morning to flip the gates and run the boarding dogs together on the property was the Genesis of the Great Change. “WHATTTTT?! This canNOT be done!” the skeptics said. Why not let friendly dogs co-mingle, run, sniff, play and explore in compatible groups of similar size and temperament? I’m not saying we invented the idea, we just made it cool and accessible to the already cool Austinites. Since then thousands of doggy daycares have opened across the country.
Another huge trend that the owners have followed was the adoption of the “smart toy” or the improvement on old toys and the proliferation of new kinds of toys. One of the best new ideas in this area is the invention of food puzzle toys. For most of the dog’s history and change from wolf to companion they had to WORK for their food both mentally and physically. Nothing was given for free and great effort had to be expended to just survive. Around 50 years ago dogs began to move indoors and have a set meal time with a set amount of food in, literally, a set bowl. Gone was the mental and physical energy spent to earn the most basic of the primary drives of survival, and with that a huge amount of control and stimulation was lost. Food puzzles are a great and smart idea.
Let’s talk about training your dog, shall we? When I grew up the choke chain was the only collar except for, of course, the ‘No Collar’ collar. When I first started training an experienced “professional” trainer showed me how and then demanded that I perform a correct “correction” for poor or lacking behavior. This meant…get low, straight across my 40 lb. lab mix’s back and with a rapid, hard (“semi-violent”, her words) snap of the leash….”so she leaves her feet” (her words again) and firmly yelling “NO!”. I am in tears writing this. She also taught me the “Alpha Roll” and when my dog cried out and snapped she told me to choke my dog, and I did…and it ruined my dog for her whole life and it still makes me cry in sadness and regret. This was condoned, encouraged abuse and it was the norm in the dog world for decades, if not centuries. The advent of no compulsion and positive reinforcement training has been a blessing and a revolution in dogs. Sadly, some people still use pain to teach, and I weep.
The final major trend is both good and bad. I call it the “humanification” of the dog. Another word for it is anthopromorphism. It involves treating the dog like a little human by putting them in dresses, buying them jewelry, painting their nails, getting them married to each other, throwing elaborate parties and carrying them around in specialized purses. The major problem is the dogs often never learn to cope in the dog world and when they cannot be with their owners 24/7 the dog can have severe displacement behaviors. The good thing is the dogs do look pretty cute. Can you imagine if we would have told the Big Bad Wolf, “We want to schedule a play date Friday with your friends so you all can play with your new bouncy cube before nap time and after that do a little work on your inside manners and then, if you are behaved, we will all go for ice cream and buy an new dress to go with your new ruby crusted pink collar!!!” We would have been killed…and eaten.
If your little fur baby is acting like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, we have a team of trainers that can help!