I took a walk today in the grasslands with a few of my dogs. Cody tried to excavate some small animal from a hole; ate some especially icky cow shit, and found a crunchy dead bird to carry and chew on; Brisco bounced off Cody, grabbed a piece of dead bird and carried it for a bit, and helped with some excavations; Matilda, as far as I could tell was chasing imaginary animals through the grass.
All this got me to thinking about our relationship with our dogs. We dog trainers like to talk about relationship a lot. A recall, for example is about relationship; trust and that we'll trade fairly, are all a part of our relationship.
But I think there's another piece, a powerful piece of the relationship that often gets overlooked: respect. Not unilateral respect (is that even a thing? Can we resoect someone who does not respect us?). I mean respect for our dog's fundamental dogness.
Do I like hearing Cody crunching dead bird bones? Do I enjoy watching my dogs gobble gross cow splats? Ack!! No! Ewwww...
But do I respect that they love these things? Absolutely! Do I allow them to nosh down a whole cow pie while I wait? No. But do I permit them a quick snack as they go by? Absolutely!
Did I let Brisco carry his gross dead bird prize as long as he wished? Sure, why not?
Too many people want to stop every part of a dog that makes them dogs. For these dogs, their lives become a prison of rules and Nos. What a shitty way to live.
We can permit our dog's fundamental dogness by recognizing that our dogs do things because they fulfill needs and bring the dog joy. Regardless of how you feel about a behavior, start there. Next, examine a few questions: is the behavior dangerous? If it is, it cannot occur. Picking up a dead bird in the wild is different than a dead rodent where people frequently poison them.
Will the behavior destroy something I don't want destroyed. Digging in the desert? Go for it! In my flower garden, nope. Chewing a piece of firewood? Enjoy! My wisteria? Nope.
We can direct our dogs towards equally fulfilling behaviors that work with our lives and theirs.
A dog that never rolls in anything gross, never digs a hole, never eats something disgusting, or chews something strange is not a dog living it's fullest life, nor is it an animal whose nature is respected. Without respect, the relationship is broken, and both ends of the leash suffer