Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Speak Their Language

I cannot tell you how tired I am of reading about dog bites and attacks by dogs and dogs being put down because they are "vicious." These stories break my heart. The vast majority of these encounters are avoidable with just a little bit of attention.

We, as a human species, rely too much on verbal cues. We rarely read the body language of other humans, let alone dogs. Dogs don't have words. They have body language and they rely on it heavily. It isn't fair to expect them to communicate in the same way that we do and then punish them when they don't.

This weekend I was witness to the perfect example of this exact situation. I was at an outdoor market where, because Nashville is so dog-friendly, there were several dogs in attendance. Most of them were happy-go-lucky and enjoying their interactions with everyone around them. However, there was one dog who was clearly in distress and his owner was oblivious to how increasingly dangerous the situation was becoming.

He was a heeler, his owner was a woman. They were at a booth with dog products. On the surface, this is an acceptable and appropriate setting. But as I watched, the dog became increasingly anxious and his owner remained completely oblivious. The saleslady at the booth attempted to put a bandanna on the dog, with his owner's permission. In fact, his owner was trying to hold him still while this stranger came at his face attempting to place something around his neck. He didn't come close enough to bite her, but he did show his teeth and mimed biting her. He was clearly giving her a warning that he did not want her in his space. The saleslady was visibly alarmed and the owner, in frustration, said she better just do it herself. This should have been enough of a message that the dog was uncomfortable and agitated and that it was time to leave. They didn't leave. His owner held onto his collar and said stupid things like, "He's just protective of me." No, dumbshit, he has to be protective of his own personal space because you won't do it.

They stayed another several minutes. The dog barked and growled at people around him. His owner sat on the ground with him, pushing him down into a submissive position beside her, exclaiming again how unusual he was acting but it must be because he's trying to protect her. God, we are so self-absorbed, aren't we?

If a child throws a tantrum because she has missed her nap or she has a cold or she's just out of sorts, she is almost always removed from the situation and taken to a calmer place, like home. Or she should be. If I tell my friend I don't feel well or a situation is making me uncomfortable, she will leave with me. She doesn't force me to stay where I feel badly and she certainly doesn't pin me on the ground and tell me to stop having the bad feelings that I have.

Yet we do this to our dogs. They don't have the ability to say "Hey, I don't like you touching my face" or "It is really crowded in here and I need some space." So they try to give non-verbal cues. They lay their ears back. They growl. They show teeth. They pace. They whine. They avoid eye contact. And when we ignore these signs and continue forcing negative stimuli on them, they snap. Just like a person would. Only when they snap, someone usually gets hurt. A person, a child, another dog. And then they are labeled "vicious" and "dangerous" or an "undesirable breed."

I finally had to leave that booth that day because the tension was too much for me. Imagine how it felt for that dog, an animal who uses its senses a hundred times more than we do. How betrayed he must have felt by his owner to be punished and choked and pulled around by the person he trusted to take care of him.

Dogs don't have words. But I do. And I am telling you to listen to the little souls that depend on you. Pay attention when they are trying to talk to you. Don't put them in situations where they can get hurt and hurt others. It is your responsibility to keep them safe. Be their advocate.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Highway Clowns

D: When I'm famous I want to have rodeo clowns carry my stuff for me.
Me: Rodeo clowns??
D: Isn't that what you said?
Me: Roadies? I said roadies. (followed by uproarious laughter)
D: I thought you said clowns. Shut up.
Me: Why clowns? Who wants a bunch of clowns following them around?? It's roadies. As in R-O-A-D. Because they're on the road with you.
D: Okay, fine. Stop laughing. I get it.
Me: No, maybe you should have clowns. It makes more sense for you.
D: Stop it.

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