Some time ago I came across an article by Alicia Bayer called What should a 4 year old know?. It’s a very interesting article and really got me thinking about the ways in which it also applies to our dogs.
What should a dog know? 1. He should know that he is and always will be loved completely and unconditionally. 2. He should know that he is allowed to feel safe, at home and in public, when there are people around and in every situation he will have to face. He should be allowed to express his preferences about people and that he won’t be forced to accept any kind of contact, including physical contact, with people he doesn’t like. He should know that his human companion is there to support him and that he can feel safe to seek comfort in his presence at any time. 3. He should know the feeling of grass under his feet. He should know the smell of animals in the woods. He should be allowed to roll in mud and then run around in pure joy. 4. He should be supported to find out what his interests are, because, you know, dogs do have their own interests, not just those we choose for them. Should he be required to 'learn a job', his human companion should know that he will learn, sooner or later, with lots of patience. Meanwhile he should be allowed to express his individuality without inhibitions. 5. He should know that the world is not a dangerous place, that there are not only bad people around, that there are not only hands that beat, leashes that jerk, collars that choke and voices that yell. He should know that the world is a beautiful place, full of loving people, without any physical or verbal constriction and with many choices to make on his own. He should know that 'being a dog' is much more important than 'being trained'. What should we know? 1. That every dog learns at his own pace and in his own time. This will not affect the dog’s ability to perform whatever he is required to do, nor his ability to adapt to certain situations or overcome his problems and his difficulties. 2. That the most trained dog, the one who knows more commands and tricks, the one who can do everything a dog could possibly do, is not necessarily the happiest dog. We are so focused on showing the world how good we are in training our dogs that we start showing off our puppies at such an early age: 'Look! He’s just three months old and he already knows how to sit, lay down, stay, fetch, bring, give paw, bark on command'. But we forget that a puppy is not a miniature adult, he is just a puppy! Dogs don’t like stress - they should be allowed to experience a carefree and happy puppyhood. There is plenty of time to learn new things.
3. That our dogs deserve to be surrounded by their natural element, nature. And they have the right to explore it. Many of us could reduce the so-called activities we perform with our dogs by 90% and replace them with healthy exploring and walks in nature, and you know what? This would probably greatly improve your relationship with your dog and make him and you happier and less stressed. Just give him a chance to be a dog, getting properly dirty and rolling around in smelly things. You can wash the dirt off and he will eventually stop stinking...or maybe you will get used to it! Give him a chance to dig a hole just for the sake of digging.
4. That our dogs really need us more in their lives. We are so full of ourselves that we actually believe that 'owning' a dog is a right. Well, it’s not - it’s a privilege! A dog is a social animal. He needs his family. He needs someone to take care of him, to take care of things. He needs quality time every day, not only during weekends. He has the right not to be left alone for twelve hours at a time and then again in the evening, because you’re going out for drinks. A dog has the right to be allowed to pee more than twice a day. He has the right to eat quality food, he has the right to sleep safe and sound, not isolated from the rest of the family, in a room or in a backyard.
5. That our dogs have the right to be respected according to their age. Don’t jerk him around as a puppy because he won’t walk fast enough or because he stops to smell something. Don’t drag him behind you when he is old and his back is sore and his legs give way, and he is no longer in the mood for long walks. A dog has the right not to be afraid of being abandoned, because a puppy should never, ever be left home alone. He has the right not to die alone, abandoned at the vet’s, because 'I can’t bear to watch this'. Be with him when he goes. You owe it to him.
Your dog is an individual, even before belonging to this breed or being a cross between this and that, and you should know this and he should, too. Federica Iacozzilli is a dog trainer and behaviourist working in Italy. www.canietulipani.it