[lit-ideas] Re: Can't have a gun? Get a dog

  • From: David Ritchie <ritchierd@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 2 Jun 2006 21:25:44 -0700

Come, people, observe. Dogs come in a great variety of personalities and temperaments. You simply adapt the training to what you've got. What happens in the wild? A would-be alpha dog gets swatted, bounces up, gets swatted, learns where he or she fits. I write "swatted," not beaten up or thumped. The degree of violence is a matter of canine vocabulary, not human, and it's not about damage. Dogs in packs damage, kill, eat other dogs. As Lawrence says, he was lucky his dog didn't run into a pack of coyotes. In scuffles among themselves, dogs of a kind work out power struggles. Dogs include people among their kind.

Of course a dog that's attacked by a man will be dangerous; there was no conversation there, no readable vocabulary, merely violence. The swatting is part of a conversation about who gets to make the rules. All that I've read on training is mostly about how one translates human into canine and vice versa. It's a language problem.

But Lawrence is, I think generally right; dogs who want to lead the pack will challenge until they either win, or figure out who really ought to lead the pack. Less ambitious dogs have different understandings of the world and should be trained differently.

Maybe I have a skewed view of things; border collies are not ordinary dogs. But with the first dog I relied too much on gestures and persuasion. A wise old trainer said, before I got my second dog, "Knock him off his feet once, early on." I did. When the puppy pulled I quite literally bowled him over. Now we just talk. I say, "Don't pull." He looks at me. There's no cowering. The look says, "But we're going to the PARK. Can't you walk faster than that?"

David Ritchie,
Portland, Oregon

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