BEHAVIOUR/TEMPERAMENT: Friendly, loving and devoted to his owners. Might be reserved towards strangers, but required is a confident, fearless, easily tractable, docile companion and family dog with high resistance to provocation and without aggression.
· Aggressive or overly shy dogs.
· Any dog clearly showing physical or behavioural abnormalities shall be disqualified.
· Fear-biting, easily provoked. (FCI breed standard)
As we know and previously mentioned in the blog, in rural communities, working dogs that harm children or livestock are not tolerated. That has always been an effective way to maintain good trustworthy temperament.
If a dog was incapable of differentiating between enemies, prey and sheep, or other domestic species sharing the household, it would be unfit and useless as a working dog.
The dog that panics in a normal domestic situation is not “domesticated”. The dog that chooses to attack a child is not a trustworthy companion. The dog that attacks livestock is unfit as a working dog.
So let’s stop making excuses. It’s not the dogs’ fault; it’s not nature’s fault; it’s not God’s will; it’s our failure.
Since our symbiotic relationship began, humans who shared their lives with dogs, relied on dogs and trusted dogs in the common struggle for survival, didn’t have time for animals that were unfit for cohabitation.
You shouldn’t have time for them either.
S T O P breeding them.
No matter how pretty they might be…
Dogs that turn against their own social group don’t do so unpredictably. There is always an underlying, preexisting reason* – and the reason in the domestic dog’s case is most likely human error – and that error is not merely error of rearing & socialization, but primarily error of selection: breeding dogs with defective mental equilibrium and drives. Reproducing dogs with weak nerves, prone to panic and unable to cope with normal day to day stress and stimuli – because we made them too soft, in order to manage them; or because we made them too (pathologically) aggressive to be social – with their own species, ours or other domestic animals living in the same household. [*with the exception of sudden injury / illness / trauma]
Changes in species that evolve by natural selection and adaptation don’t come about overnight, and changes caused by random mutations in individuals are rejected if they cause problems in the competition for survival: mentally unfit / dysfunctional animals and any progeny they may get, that inherit the same deleterious traits, die out. In social species groups, those who display behaviors harmful to the group are weeded out one way or another.
We, instead, we took these changes, including many harmful disorders, and made them a success factor, overriding the natural process of selection, which favors proliferation of the fittest, those who are endowed with the best adaptations for survival; we replaced this process with our own, often biased and partial criteria; as artificial selection does not include the benefit of a gradual and very long-term evaluation mechanism, like natural selection does, our version is too quick, too superficial, too hit-and-miss; it lacks the benefits of the rigorous, non-sentimental and ruthless, in-depth efficiency testing and performance evaluation that is practically exercised by nature. We get to play Creator – what an empowering sensation, to play god. In the long term our seemingly benevolent choices might prove harmful to our beloved creatures, but the “creators” will be long gone by then to care or be held accountable; most of the damage will be suffered by the “creation”, the occasional human victim and society in general.
That’s exactly what happened with domestic dogs in recent history, especially in urban, western, pet dog situations, devoid of any organic, holistic process of testing dogs in real working conditions, or any truly natural conditions, in many cases. Pathologically nervous, unstable, uninhibited dogs are being bred by greeders, because they’re “pretty” or “cute” neotenous human-baby substitutes, or because they are highly strung, fine-tuned tools for this or that competition, hobby, pastime – often mere simulations of real work – that humans enjoy. The whole is ignored for the sake of a part. The result is intentionally, even if not deliberately, unbalanced.
And I will qualify that by saying that, even with the best intentions, artificial selection that is not performance-based, as is the case with most hobby breeders, or show breeders, or even sporting-dog breeders (those who pursue simulated “working dog” sports), can’t be successful, without a carefully thought out, proven and tested system based on Estimated Breeding Values; even if they are not consciously aware of the fact, the very desire to breed dogs motivated just by sentimentality, aesthetics, or to compete in the various activities of what is colloquially known as the “dog fancy” is in itself a very misguided, irresponsible (and frankly, self-centered) intention if it’s not founded upon a sufficiently well-informed and systematic selection plan, utilizing scientifically measurable and testable results, instead of an inflated belief in oneself’s innate ‘talent’, sprinkled with hopes and promises, served with good wishes & prayers.
It doesn’t have to be guesswork – artificial selection can be very efficient and successful. Livestock breeding has a paved the path breeders can and should follow.
What dogs enjoy and what’s good for them should matter, too, for the relationship to work.
Because what affects them ultimately affects us too. Understanding this, minding the harmonious interconnection that facilitates life as we know it, is social intelligence – as small-scale as just the behavior of a single family or as universal as the behavior of the whole ecosystem – whether the consciousness that inhabits it is aware of that fact or not.
Social intelligence as a result of selection against fear and aggression makes sense. The opposite doesn’t. Tolerance of unprovoked aggression and abnormal fear in a domestic species is undoing the very process – and the very reason – that this bond between species evolved in the first place, the reason why domestication happens: undoing the intelligence that bonds us with others. Undoing the benefits for both, that the success of this survival strategy depends upon.
The ultimate responsibility lies with the producers and they too should face consequences if a tragedy occurs.
Maybe then people would take breeding and rearing dogs a bit more seriously.
Veterinarians report many nervous, unstable temperaments and syndromes: Fear biters, mostly. Neurotic, unstable, unpredictable animals who are inherently unable to adjust and adapt or impossible to rehabilitate even. Social misfits. Because they are bred for looks or for money and no real temperament testing is required prior to breeding. Not even a basic “Canine Good Citizen Test”. And because they are poorly schooled and treated although they are the product of human planning and (supposed) care. So what’s going to stop unscrupulous people from reproducing such unsuitable pets?
Kennel Clubs enabling this, Breed Clubs facilitating it, are equally failing their duties to dogs and to society. We know now that not only genetics but also epigenetics play a part in our dogs’ health, well-being and breed-worthiness. Dogs living in barrels, chained dogs and permanently kenneled dogs are issued with ‘papers’ and their keepers with licenses to breed and inflict more misery to dogs and humans alike.
People choose dogs on looks, or availability, or chance: that’s how fine-tuned working animals with innate drives and reflexes that make them unsuitable for the “average pet dog owner”, like Border Collies or Siberian Huskies (hugely popular in places but widely misunderstood by the public, therefore ideally suited victims for exploitation by greeders, back yard breeders and competition-driven professional exploiters), end up in the wrong hands and develop anti-social behaviors. These dogs are not anti-social. It’s our society, our unrealistic expectations of them and our educational deficits that are wrong. It’s the irresponsibility of producers, or shelters, to let such “workaholics” of dogdom go to the wrong human families, that is to blame.
This is monumental mismanagement.
Societies and organisations tolerate these abusive / exploitative / irresponsible dog producers and keepers and even endow them with a cloak of respectability and impunity at their peril; states and interest groups have not evolved enough, it seems, to grasp the simple fact that dog ownership and management is a very serious responsibility, it involves public liability and is a skill that requires suitability testing. And training. And education – and passing tests and exams.
It’s impossible to make a dog that was born with a sound temperament, suddenly nervous, vicious or unstable (again, with the exception of accidental trauma resulting in brain injury and neurological damage).
We can change the animal’s behavior but we can’t alter its nature. So a dog doesn’t all of a sudden become unpredictable or fear-aggressive. It either always was or it wasn’t.
So, again, stop breeding from iffy temperaments – NO MATTER HOW PRETTY THE DOG MAY BE. Because personality disorders are genetic.
It’s not honest to give such unfortunate dogs to unsuspecting people.
It’s wrong to trust such dogs to well-intended but incapable persons.
It’s criminally irresponsible.
And those who do should face the consequences.
Children are children and family dogs are family dogs. They are supposed to be able to play with each other and trust one another. And they have been doing exactly that for millennia. Even in societies where children and dogs were not as mollycoddled as they are now in the “developed” world. Yes, it should be needless to say they should be supervised by responsible adults at all times. Children need good rearing and education, just like their pets. Be responsible adults. Needless to say if you aren’t you shouldn’t have children (or dogs) in your care.
But this growing hysteria of blaming children and circumstances, this illogical wave of excusing the inexcusable is just a symptom of an unhealthy situation developing in our relationship with our oldest partner on Earth. It’s a symptom of a pathology.
A child should, still, even in our urbanized western politically correct unnatural societies, be expected, allowed, to behave like a child: experiment, horse around and squeal and laugh and play with his/her dog without his/her dog turning on him – and this has always been the case. Dogs that crossed that line did not live long enough to re-offend or reproduce. Have you seen the way kids in rural traditional communities interact? Have you witnessed the tolerance real working dogs show towards babies and toddlers? Have you seen the gentleness big powerful Livestock Guarding Dogs display towards the newborn lambs and the human young? Well, pity if you haven’t. Normal dogs are genetically programmed to not harm puppies. Normal dogs are not stupid. Balanced dogs know very well that a toddler is not life-threatening. Dogs are cleverer than even their dumbed-down humans. But pet-oriented, urbanized, unnaturally-living western societies are reversing and disrupting this ancient harmony of co-existence and trust.
I’m not talking about accidents – I am talking about deliberate actions. I’m referring to behavioral abnormalities.
Human error is responsible adult error. We can’t blame children as we can’t blame dogs. But not blaming the victim does not mean that we should tolerate such unacceptable, dangerous situations either. We have to question ourselves – the responsible adults in control of children and pets – if we have been efficient in our duty of care. The situation wouldn’t have arisen if we applied common sense in dog breeding and keeping. Breeding and choosing dogs for their looks rather than their behavior is not at all clever. A dog that is not submissive to sheep – including juveniles – is not fit to be a livestock guarding dog. A dog that is not submissive to children is not fit to be a family dog. End of.
Dogs are not tantrum-throwing, spoiled human toddlers, teenagers or marriage partners. They are not frustrated, overworked and underpaid employees who come home tired, have a row with the wife and lash out at the kids. Dogs shouldn’t need therapy and counselling, hypnosis, psychoanalysis and anti-depressants to deal with their issues. These “issues” are man-made.
If you need aromatherapy or Xanax to keep your dog under control, if you need to shake a tin filled with pebbles to stop your companion attacking you (as I was told by the neurotic “mom” of a neurotic Bull Terrier who had decorated her arms with bruises and cuts from hand to elbow – and as soon as I opened the kennel door to let it out the next morning at the boarding kennel I was managing at the time, it flung at me, closed its jaws around my arm and hang there, squeezing tighter and tighter and pulling, as if I was an exercise rope), if your dog needs a shrink or a calming coat, if it’s a shrinking violet, there’s something very wrong there; there’s something very wrong with the way we’re breeding dogs, if such dogs are produced and reproduced and, especially, allowed to co-exist with children. If a dog behaves like a baby-faced homicidal maniac, a nervous wreck, an anxiety sufferer, who made him that way ?
Yes I am aware that many non-pedigree dogs are also suffering from behavioral (and physical) abnormalities. But your average Heinz 57 street mix or shelter dog in the west is also a product of human intervention and artificial, unnatural, whether you realize it or not. Its ancestors were some breed or other human product that ended up abandoned. (That’s not so much the case in the Third World, where many if not most of the dogs roaming the streets and the countryside are some form of primitive / aboriginal pariah dogs or local landraces. They are products of natural evolution and adaptation – not artificially selected to be domestic dogs).
Domestication happened because ancestral dogs did not pose a threat: they could be trusted around our babies and children, and subsequently around livestock; those who couldn’t, didn’t live long. That was one method of selection, back then. Today some people think that’s unfair, or even cruel. But unless we undo domestication, reverse-engineer the dog and banish it to wilderness, it just makes very good sense to not have to kill them after they caused irretrievable damage, but rather prevent these disasters – our failures – from happening.
Breeding that fails to preserve these very fitness traits – both mental and physical – that formed the basis of domestication in the first place, is an absurdity.
Humans form relationships of free choice, mutual trust and predictable behavior even with wild animals – wolves, bears, foxes, felines, cetaceans, primates, birds and many other intelligent, social (empathetic) creatures; inter-species friendships are genuine and occur between many different sentient beings.
But get a dog that has been bred & inbred to death for this or that or the other, primarily, with that ultimate priority, trustworthiness, neglected, soundness of body and mind balance forfeited in favour of coat or color or subjective beauty or aloofness or mistrust or who knows what single bias and extreme specialization at the expense of wholesomeness, a sound nervous system sacrificed to some anthropomorphic fixation that’s far less important, or indeed misguided, and then I’m not so sure. This elementary valuable trustworthiness becomes fragile and subjected to conditions that are too unpredictable or unstable to accept.
Houston, we have a problem.
We need to get back to basics.
A canine that isn’t characterized by this essential, fundamental, species-defining adaptability, social intelligence and trustworthy behavior, isn’t a domestic dog.
It’s not a canis familiaris.
and particularly isn’t, and doesn’t deserve to be called, a Great Dane.