Dogs in towns, marketplaces and at events, how happy are they?
There are lots of dogs walking around towns, shops, markets and busy places looking much like they would rather be anywhere else in the world. Their tails are dropped or drooping. Their ears pulled back and their body language low. At best these dogs are fed-up and at worst they are quite distressed. The only thing a dog can do when they are taken somewhere they can’t cope with is tell us that they can’t cope. It’s the only option they have.
When they do that though, it can be assumed – either with or without the input of misled dog trainers (on or off TV) that the dog is making a choice to be difficult and needs to learn to behave better.
Can you imagine if you were taken somewhere that you found intimidating, scary, worrying or threatening, and you were tied to someone but told you were supposed to show no emotions at all. You were told to put up and shut up. That’s cruel isn’t it? Your fight or flight reaction would be bypassing your brain and telling your limbs to move, to run. How would you feel?
Often these dogs protest initially and try so hard to communicate, that their human decides, not as they should that the dog needs their help, but that they need to get more control over their dog so buy a headcollar, or even a prong collar. (It’s not always a choice they make alone – there are is a lot of bad dog training advice out there).
Can you imagine being taken somewhere that you believed put you at serious risk of being hurt but having your face strapped up and/or spikes pushed into your delicate throat area every time you tried to behave in the best possible way to stay safe. How long would it take you to just give up? When dogs have the choice between showing their feelings or being hurt, that’s not really a choice at all – that leads to learned helplessness, and that’s one of the cruellest and saddest things to instil into any vulnerable animal.
The dogs who we see in the cities with a variety of low to high threat walking attire on, looking depressed and worried, probably are depressed and worried. The ones who are loose and wagging, happy and smiling – they are enjoying themselves. There does seem to be few in the happy and relaxed dogs though and plenty who look depressed. Interestingly the dogs who look happy are being heartily interacted with by their people whilst the sad ones are usually being ignored.
How did we get to the point where we think it’s OK to strap a living creature up and expect them to walk around like a robot, through unnatural crowds and scary smells, sounds and visual stress triggers? How did we get to the point where we think it’s OK to squash any signs of distress back down into their precious bodies?
I do believe that most of these dogs are truly loved. They are cared for and look well looked after. I think it’s just a gap in communication and understanding. The gap is fuelled by ridiculous ideas such as naughtiness, dominance and that a dog is choosing to be awkward. They are not, they are always simply trying to communicate something important to them.