Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year's Resolutions


I have a New Year’s Resolution! It’s the same one I had for the last ten years. Yep, the reason why it never changed is cause I can’t stick with it passed March, but because I am not easily discouraged, I keep on trying.
Were I able to ask Davie and Will about theirs, I’d bet my liver-stuffed Kong they could come up with a couple more things needing to be changed, and my guess is that it would involve more meat and less veggies in their dinners, and more quality time with their human servants. Those, as you probably noticed, are resolutions for hubby Mike and me, not themselves. That is not because our “girls” are narcissists complete with a huge mental blind spot, but because it is not in the nature of dogs to see anything wrong with their own behaviors, so the concept to better themselves is foreign to them.

Dogs never act out of the blue. There is always a reason, although we humans don’t always get it. One is instinct: the stuff all dogs do without having to learn it, for example growling to warn someone and lowering their body to acknowledge superiority.
Instinct is the genetic makeup in all dogs.
Drives are what people selectively bred, and still breed for. They are not homogeneous, vary depending on breed of dog, but are inherent nonetheless. The border collie giving eye, a retriever wanting to have something in his mouth, and the beagle following a scent relentlessly, are all behaviors people at one time wanted, and the driven pooch can’t help but to act them out, even if he lives in a pet home and annoys the owner.
Just because dogs come with a hardwired, species and breed specific program, doesn’t mean their actions are fixed ones. Nature is only one factor that determines behavior. Nurture is the other one. Nurture includes imprinting, training, setting rules and teaching dogs all the things we prefer them to do. And it includes managing dog and her environment in a way that allows her to succeed; not fail and behave badly – or dangerously. It is channeling what nature bestowed on them into people-acceptable conduct. There is a lot a person can do to guide even a strongly driven and instinct-ridden pooch into behaviors people approve of; to help her to be a successful dog in a predominantly human society.
The onus lies entirely with the human. Little-reasoning-brain dogs have no way to do it on their own. They are not cognitively equipped to read up on human by-laws and proper societal etiquette and toe the line thereafter, especially if those expectations are against their nature.
If a dog behaves “badly”, she does so as a result of not being taught alternate behaviors, because the social group she lived or lives in is not meeting her needs, or because her people misjudge her limitations and fail to manage her and the environment to keep her out of trouble - or all of the above.
I don’t want to simplify dog behavior. In reality, the lives of companion canines can be almost as complex as that of their persons, and their actions intricate, but it doesn’t change the fact that dogs act according to their nature and the quality of nurture they received, and therefore are never to blame for the way they behave. And because they don’t purposely misbehave, they wouldn’t understand, even if they intellectually could, why they need a self-improvement resolution.
Davie and Will are perfect the way they are, and I am not, and so I need one – or ideally several.

May 2010 treat you and your canine companions kindly - and may you have the strength of character to stick to your resolutions longer than I, based on past behavior, probably will.


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