Treating Dogs: A Journey Through Time and Why We Need to Backtrack

By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT-FLE

Teckel puppy resting in the grass with his owner standing.

In the past, the relationship between humans and dogs was governed by a mutual understanding and respect that seems to have waned over time. Parents raised their children to be safe around dogs, teaching them the importance of not approaching unfamiliar dogs without permission and always asking before petting. Dogs were treated as dogs, not as furry extensions of human desires or social media props. People respected other people’s dogs, understanding the boundaries that should exist between a pet and a stranger. Today, it is crucial that we revisit these principles and restore the balance that once characterized our interactions with our canine companions.

The Way It Was: Safety and Respect

Decades ago, dog ownership and interaction were marked by clear, unspoken rules. Parents would instill in their children a sense of caution and respect when it came to dogs. Children learned early on that dogs, while often friendly, were animals with their own instincts and boundaries. The cardinal rule was to never approach an unfamiliar dog without the owner's permission. This practice not only protected children from potential harm but also respected the dog's space and comfort.

Asking before petting was another fundamental lesson. This ensured that the dog was comfortable with the interaction and allowed the owner to communicate any concerns about their pet's temperament or health. These practices fostered a respectful and safe environment for both dogs and humans.

Dogs as Dogs: Recognizing Their True Nature

In those days, dogs were treated as dogs. They were valued for their companionship, loyalty, and unique characteristics. People understood that dogs had their own needs, instincts, and behaviours that differed from human expectations. Training and care were focused on enhancing the dog's natural abilities and ensuring their well-being, rather than moulding them into human-like companions.

Dogs had roles and purposes that were respected. Working dogs were trained for specific tasks, family pets were integrated into the household in ways that acknowledged their nature, and all dogs were given the space to exhibit typical canine behaviours. This approach nurtured well-adjusted, happy dogs that thrived within the boundaries set by their owners.

Respecting Boundaries: An Essential Practice

Respecting other people’s dogs was a given. Strangers understood that a dog on a leash or in a yard was not an open invitation for interaction. They recognized that forcing themselves on a dog, no matter how friendly their intentions, could lead to stress and potential aggression. Owners were seen as the gatekeepers of their dogs' comfort and safety, and their boundaries were respected.

The Shift: Where We Are Today

Over time, this respectful dynamic has shifted. Today, dogs are often treated more like accessories or extensions of their owners' identities. The rise of social media has exacerbated this trend, with dogs frequently being dressed up, posed, and paraded for likes and shares. The emphasis has moved away from understanding and respecting a dog's nature to meeting human desires and expectations.

Many people no longer teach their children the fundamental rules of interacting with dogs. It's not uncommon to see children and adults alike approaching unfamiliar dogs without asking, assuming all dogs are friendly and open to interaction. This lack of education and respect can lead to dangerous situations and stress for both dogs and their owners.

Backtracking: Why It Matters

It's time to backtrack to the principles that once governed our interactions with dogs. Educating children on how to safely approach and interact with dogs is crucial. They need to learn to ask before petting, understand canine body language, and respect a dog's space. This education will lead to safer interactions and a deeper understanding of dogs as sentient beings with their own needs and boundaries.

Treating dogs as dogs, and recognizing and respecting their nature, will lead to happier, healthier pets, reduced bites, and euthanasia. Understanding that dogs are not human and do not share all human desires and behaviours is key to providing them with appropriate care and training.

Respecting other people’s dogs by not forcing interactions will reduce stress and potential conflicts. Acknowledging that a dog on a leash or in a yard is under its owner's protection and control is essential for maintaining safe and respectful environments for everyone.

Embracing Respect and Understanding

Reverting back to the respectful and mindful ways of interacting with dogs is not about rejecting modern advancements but about embracing the timeless principles that foster harmony between humans and their canine companions. By teaching children safety, treating dogs as they are, and respecting other people’s pets, we can ensure a future where dogs and humans live together in mutual respect and understanding. This approach will lead to a more balanced, fulfilling relationship with our beloved four-legged friends, honouring their nature and our responsibility as their caretakers.

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