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Please love your dog. March 10, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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This morning, a friend e-mailed our friend Ben a poster for a dog that had gone missing in our area over the weekend. The dog, a young male named Flynn, was a breed I’d never heard of, a Maremma sheepdog, fluffy and white with caramel-colored ears. He apparently got loose in his training collar. His owners had him microchipped (so vets can identify him) and have contacted all the appropriate authorities, and he’s only been gone two full days, so hopefully he’s already been reunited with them.

Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are dog lovers, so of course we’ll keep our eyes peeled for Flynn in case he’s wandering lost, thirsty, hungry, and sad. But I was appalled by the language used on the poster asking for his return. Flynn’s owners made the poor youngster sound like a monster: If you see him, do not approach him, chase him, make eye contact, try to grab him, or otherwise interact with him in any way. Just call our number (they did not reveal their names) and tell us where you saw him.

This makes poor Flynn, who is probably still an adolescent pup since he was in a training collar, sound like an attack dog. But their training program has a different goal: to alienate the poor dog from human companionship so that he identifies with and guards his flock of sheep. I have seen this with Great Pyrenees, the giant white dogs who also herd sheep, barking and snarling nonstop as they guard their flocks, completely unacclimated to humans, even those who’re just walking up the road, in Virginia. The dogs live outside with the flock and never experience the richness of human companionship. To me, this is the greatest disservice to an intelligent dog that there could be.

We own a sheepdog, a German shepherd. We don’t have sheep, but we appreciate our shepherd Shiloh’s keenly honed herding instincts as she tries to collect us, our cats, and her numerous toys all in the same room. She may not always succeed, but her herding instinct is very evident, and she’s never happier than when she can keep an eye on us (her flock) while reclining in our midst. In Scotland, the prized Border collies, perhaps the ultimate herding dogs, are allowed back in the house at the end of their workday, allowed to take their place among their human families. Like them, they deserve some R&R for a day’s work well done.

To isolate a dog from human contact so that it may serve a “purpose” seems to me to be a sin. The purpose of the dog-human bond is to work together, to rest together, to play together. Not to banish the dog to the outer reaches, away from human contact, even eye contact with strangers. Maybe Flynn realized that when he ran away.

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