(repost from March 2010)
I usually don't intentionally let dogs I walk go up to too many people but this Lab's just come up from Ohio and has been locked up in a cage for who knows how long and has had a cruddy life and was this close to being euth'd so I make an exception for him. He's untrained and hyper-enthusiastic. He butt wiggles at and tries to meet everyone who passes by. I let him approach a few of the friendlier people, at least the ones who aren't wearing super nice clothing. Everyone's good with that, even delighted to meet the dog, except for one father and son who I don't see, who walk up from behind and try to pass but the Lab runs two steps at them before the leash goes taut and he doesn't reach them but the dad's aghast and the six year old looks like he might cry and the dad tucks the kid beneath his arm and hurries off, giving me a dirty look.
"You're going to have to learn to stop rushing people," I say to the Lab who looks at me with his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. "And also stop looking ridiculous."
I take the Lab upstairs and along the way he greets every staffer like each one is his closest and dearest friend who he hasn't seen in ages and everyone greets him back like he's the overgrown puppy nutbar he really is.
There's a couple sitting upstairs and as I walk by them the woman asks, "Is he your dog or are you adopting him?"
"I'm just walking him. We just came back from his walk," I say.
"You're a dog walker here?" she asks.
"I'm a volunteer. Sometimes I walk the dogs, sometimes I ..."
"Is he up for adoption?" the man asks.
"Yes, he's a ..."
"He's too big," the woman says.
The Lab knows we're talking about him or maybe he doesn't but regardless he wants to meet the new people. He starts to pull towards them.
"Hold on," I say to him - as if my words could actually make it through the dizzy happy fog that is this Lab's permanent condition.
"Oh it's okay," she says and both she and her husband lean forward in their chairs to get ready for his greeting.
I advance slowly with the Lab who's drooling with anticipation at the thought of making more human friends. The Lab reaches them and they start to pet him. The Lab starts to paw and to generally get over-excited at the stimulation.
"He's dirty. He doesn't know his manners," says the woman.
"He's not well trained," says the man.
"No, he just got here," I say.
"You should train him better," says the woman. "It's easier to adopt out animals if you train them first. You should train him to sit."
"Training dogs to sit is easy," says the man.
"We trained our last dog to sit in 10 minutes," says the woman.
Then, as if to teach by example, the man goes, "Chuh."
And the woman goes, "Chu."
And the man goes, "Chuh, chuh."
And the woman goes, "Chu."
And the man goes, "CHUH! CHUH!"
And the woman goes, "Chuchuchu!"
Regardless of what people might think of Cesar Millan and his methods, he's got a way of dealing with dogs that works for him. Some of his critics will accuse his show of being one big editing scam where hours of work are condensed into a few minutes but I don't think this is the case. I think, in his own way, Millan is a genius. This isn't an ethical judgment. His alpha dominance methods may be an outdated, moral outrage to some but that doesn't mean he's not a master at what he does and what he does, as far as I can tell, is exude his presence over the dogs, his air of being in charge. I'm pretty sure his method isn't just about his trademark vocalizations.
Maybe I've had a long day and I'm slow to react or maybe I'm just an asshole. I should pull the Lab off them but both the man and woman are now chuing almost in unison and I want to see how this is going to turn out. The Lab is getting more excited by all this chuing and he's now up on his hind legs trying to clamber onto the man's lap.
"CHUH! CHUH! CHUH! CHUH!" the man says.
"CHU! CHU! CHU! CHU!" the woman says.
The Lab's high up enough on the man's lap to start licking his face. His wife, seeing this assault on her husband, reaches out and give the Lab a bit of a shove with her fingertips and then leans forward and goes, "Chu. Off. Chu."
I've been perusing (I don't have time to actually read whole books anymore) Temple Grandin's Animals Make Us Human. In the chapter on dogs, she discusses whether the relationship between dogs and their owners should be based on alpha dominance or one more akin to parent and child. She brings up an interesting point about how it's a myth that wolves in the wild live in packs. Wild wolves actually live as families. Usually, a group of wolves consists of the two parents and their kids - the ones who are still hanging around. The parents are "dominant" in the way most parents are dominant over their kids and the kids generally stay in line even after they've grown up - just like with most humans (someone can become CEO of a big company but when he goes home, he still defers to mother and father).
But Grandin isn't sure about the artificial environment created when people take dogs into their homes. Do the dogs view the humans as parents or alpha pack leaders? It may be subtle but the difference would inform the proper balance between guidance vs. dominance. Grandin thinks that in Millan's case, where he has a pack of thirty or more unrelated dogs living peacefully together, it's dominance at work. Millan is the alpha dominant leader of the pack and the dogs realize there's no point for them to fight over the top boss position. In a typical family setting, though, with only one or two dogs, Grandin thinks the dogs will view the humans as parents because it's a more natural and comfortable social hierarchy for them, just as it would be for human children or wolves in the wild.
In either case, Grandin makes no mention of the chuh sound.
The Lab, oblivious to the noise coming from the couple and now happily invading the (very) personal space of his two new best friends, has won the competition of wills.
"Alright," I say to the Lab and I pull him towards me. "Hey, stop that," I say and I turn the squirrely dog around to face me and try to calm him down.
"He's much too big," the woman says.
The man is brushing off his pants and wiping off his face while the Lab's attention gets diverted elsewhere: the cats, the floor, the adoption office, the elevator, the columns, the stairs. After a quiet moment of observing the slight to non-existent attention span of the Lab, the woman says:
"Our dog died a few months ago. He was sixteen."
"We're looking for a poodle. Do you have any poodles?" the man asks.
"I don't know about poodles but there are some other smaller dogs here," I say. "You can go into the adoption room and have a look. One of them is pretty timid, though, so please take it easy on him."
I take the Lab into one of the back rooms. He's not ready for adoption yet - still needs to be health checked and neutered. I walk him into his kennel and just as he realizes I'm going to leave him behind and he's about to freak out, I take out a biscuit and present it to him.
"Sit," I say and after a moment of consideration, the Lab sits. I may not have Millan's amazing power over dogs but I do have access to good snacks.
(repost from March 2010)
The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again.
Pound Dogs sometimes discusses the sad histories some of the dogs have suffered. For the most part, though, it tries to present the dogs not as victims but as great potential family members. The goal is to raise the profiles of animals in adoption centers so that a potential pet owner sees them as the best choice, not just as the charity choice.
So, here's the favour I'm asking. Whenever you see a dog picture on these pages you think is decent enough, I'd like you to consider sharing it on Facebook or any other social media sites you're using (I know many of you do this already and thank you for that). And when you share it, please mention that the dog in the photo is a shelter dog like so many other shelter dogs waiting for a home. If we can get even five percent of the pet buying public to see shelter dogs differently, to see how beautiful they are and how wonderful they are, and to consider shelter dogs as their first choice for a new family member, we can end the suffering of homeless pets in this country.
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