Dog’s Best Friend?

Dogs are the most domesticated species on the planet, and the most genetically diverse. Centuries of selective breeding has led to individuals as different as the Chihuahua and the Great Dane. There’s no doubt that, after about 14,000 years of sharing our lives, dogs and humans are inextricably linked. But do we (the human race) expect too much from them?

  • We frequently keep them in a social isolation which they aren’t designed to cope with (>2 million dogs in the UK are left alone all day), but intermittently expose them to episodes of multiple stresses. If they can’t cope, we call them badly behaved.
  • We often expect them to stay sane with far less exercise than they need, and we let them get so fat their life is shortened and worsened. 1 in 3 dogs are clinically obese.
  • We base our expectations of dogs on beliefs in ‘loyalty’ and ‘eagerness to please’ despite a complete absence of any evidence that dogs have a theory of mind (i.e. can consider someone else’s thoughts). Then we punish them for thinking like dogs.
  • We continuously misinterpret their behaviour and ascribe motives to them which they evidentially cannot have. Canine behaviour problems are the number one reason to give up a dog, a huge source of suffering and break down of the human-animal bond. They often result in death for the dog, and yet most are entirely preventable. Many of these problems are because our expectations of dogs don’t match reality. Sometimes dogs become genuinely mentally ill, but either way, we rarely get them expert help- we’d rather hear about a quick fix from the internet or an unqualified celebrity.
  • We overproduce dogs in such numbers that the surplus (more than 10,000 healthy dogs per year) have to be killed, bagged up and incinerated.

    That’s not including an unknown number of greyhounds before and after racing, and all the dogs destroyed who do not fall under council pound statistics. Yet people still keep on funding criminals by buying puppies from puppy farms “to rescue them”. Read about the overpopulation crisis here.

  • Those that are not killed but go to re-homing shelters suffer the long term stress of kennelling and changes of environment. Around 100,000 strays are picked up annually.

Although thousands of healthy dogs have to be killed, we buy puppies with anatomical deformities by the thousands and then get sad and upset when they suffer significant illness because of it. Breathing difficulties in the fashionable brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds, like the French Bulldog, are viewed by many as ‘normal’. Chondrodystrophic (short-legged) breeds (e.g. the Dachshund) are considered acceptable despite the pain and risk of paralysis which comes with an inability to grow legs appropriate to body size.

  • We underestimate the cost of keeping a dog, in particular health care. 98% of owners think their dog will cost significantly less to look after than it does. Two-thirds are unaware of their legal obligations to provide care under the 2006 Animal Welfare Act. Read about an example of irresponsible ownership, and the stakeholders affected here.