It’s a “Tale of Two Cities” when it comes to our dogs. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. On one hand, they are revered and put on a pedestal. Go into any pet store and you’ll find exotic, $200 bags of dog food and luxurious beds fit for royalty, as well as a myriad of toys: from simple rubber balls to intricate food puzzles to plush squeaky animals that would make any child jealous.
We send them to day care centers for them with big screen televisions, private rooms with heat lamps and spa experiences, clothing that rival any emperor’s wardrobe… I even have a friend who arranges private, one on one play dates where each dog is picked up by a limousine with a fully stocked treat bar.
We admire their heroics in law enforcement, military and other forms of service. We rely on our dogs to be our alarm systems, hunting partners, baby sitters, confidants. We idolize dogs on the big screen and in the stories we read… They have been written about and exalted by everyone from Lord Byron to Chaucer to John Steinbeck to Elizabeth Taylor. Our culture has a love obsession with our dogs – they are so integrated into our culture that a world without them is unfathomable.
In spite of this love affair with our dogs, at this very minute a dog is being killed – or as a representative from a well known SPCA once told me, “not killed, only gently euthanized”.
When I worked for the Pennsylvania SPCA, I witnessed first hand the rampant abuse, neglect and abandonment of our supposed “best friends” on a daily basis. Animal shelters are full – approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. For each one adopted there are so many more who are killed, or spend their lives on dark, cold, cement floor prisons – with their only crime that they were no longer wanted.
Yet we breed, breed, and breed. Every year we hear of new fashion breeds, and there’s always someone ready to capitalize on the latest trends and set up a new puppy mill where trauma is rampant and enduring. There are dogs who are subject to unimaginable cruelty in the laboratories and product testing facilities. We sentence them to a life of hard labor at the racetracks, in the fighting pits and on sled teams.
So is treating them like royalty the answer? Is treating them like children a good way to go? When we impose our own values and beliefs on our dogs, concepts such as “sharing”, or “must get along with everybody”, or even so-called “good manners” – we take away their authenticity and their autonomy. We dress them up, make them pose constantly for photos to be posted on social media, and live vicariously through them when we use them as status symbols. There’s a term in psychology for this – BIRG, Basking In Reflective Glory. Does spoiling them justify taking away their dignity? Dogs are not children, dogs are dogs. Many would much rather play in the mud than have a $200 pedicure.
So, is more training and more control the answer? Would that end the cruelty and neglect?There has never been a point in history where we have so much easy access to information – especially about training and controlling our dogs. There are television gurus, social media, podcasts, you tube, countless books and videos – the number of professional dog trainers has experienced an incredible surge in the past 20 years – and yet these problems still persist. Dogs are still suffering, dying, being abused, neglected, abandoned. So, I’m skeptical that more control or better training is the answer.
What our dogs need is more healing, and less heeling. Our goal for our dogs should be the same goal they have for themselves: To feel safe, secure and whole. This requires us to step down off our hierarchical podium and be on an equal level with our dogs.
Here is where the Platinum Rule needs to be applied. This is very different than the ubiquitous Golden Rule. The Platinum Rule says, “Do unto others as they would have done unto them.” In other words, understand what they want from their perspective, not ours.
A monkey saw a fish splashing about in the stream. He quickly scooped him up and put him “safely” up a tree to save him from drowning.
That is an example of the Golden Rule, which assumes everyone wants what we want. The Platinum Rule is how we need to relate with our dogs. Do they want to be dressed up like children? Do they want to be forced to perform tricks? Do they want to be bred over and over and over? Probably not, as these are things that make us happy, not them.
Our goal, as our dog’s caregivers, should be to help them feel safe, secure and whole. This means that we appreciate them on their level so we can understand their wants and needs, give them freedom and autonomy so they can be their dignified, authentic selves, and attune to and resonate with them in order to deepen our connection together.
Our dogs don’t need more control, they need more connection and compassion. This is the difference between healing and heeling. By doing what is best for our dogs, not just for ourselves, maybe we can reduce or possibly end the suffering that many of the unfortunate victims of our own desires endure on a daily basis. Our dogs are always here for us, it’s time we are here for them.