What type of relationship do you want to have with your dog?
Some people expect their dog to be like a robot. The dog must follow all commands, no ifs, ands, or buts. There is also a myth that either a dog is a robot, or he is totally out of control.
Either the dog follows every command, or he follows no commands at all.
While these extremes are a good way to instigate arguments, they are not a good representation of reality. In reality, most dogs are somewhere in-between. Where exactly a dog ends up usually depends on our temperament and what type of relationship we desire.
Some few owners do want a totally controlled Stepford Dog, and the dog will have little choice but to comply.
My dog is my companion.
Personally, I do not desire a robotic Stepford Dog relationship. As a companion, my dog has the freedom to make up his own mind about a variety of things every day.
For example, he can decide to let me clean his teeth in order to get some chicken with melted cheese. If he does not want teeth brushing, that is his choice, but he also does not get any cheese chicken.
I suppose we can call it whatever we want, but bribery is a strange term to use here.
Everyone agrees, I think, that dogs need to be fed every day. Here, we are simply making the dog work for his food rather than giving it to him, for free, in a silver bowl.
- Why is giving a dog food for doing work, bribery, but giving a dog free food, somehow better?
- Why is jerking a dog around, poking him, pinning him down, somehow acceptable but giving him food is wrong?
This does not mean that I let my dogs run around loose in the neighborhood to do whatever they want.
All dogs must be managed to some extent for their own safety and the safety of others.
For example, my dog must put on a leash and collar before a walk. He can decide not to put on these things, but then, he does not get to go for his fun walk.
Is this bribery? Does it matter?
What matters to me is that my dog stays safe, as well as enjoys a good quality of life.
My dog has free rein in backyard, but he is not allowed to dig under the fence. If he decides to dig under the fence, then he does not get to stay in the backyard.
True, my dog is not going to be an obedience champion and win competitions, but I do not think he much cares about that. If he did, that would certainly be a fun thing that we could both do together.
In addition to robot and companion, there is a third kind of dog relationship that I term ‘soft-toy‘ dog. These dogs do not normally get discussed, but the majority of dogs in my neighborhood probably fall closest to this class.
A soft-toy dog is just an object, acquired to fulfill its owner’s needs.
The dog rarely gets walked, and only gets hugged and played with when the owner needs companionship. At other times, the dog lives in the backyard, with nothing to do, and nobody to interact with.
There are many such dogs in my neighborhood. They charge the fence and bark at shadows, because their whole lives are about fences and shadows.
Often, there is much discussion on whether a dog should be more of a robot or more of a companion, but really it is these soft-toy dogs that need the most attention. They are the ones who suffer most because they are just objects – with neglected needs, no rights, and no voice.
Dogs are great and rewarding to live with, but they are a lot of work and can be very expensive.
Do not get a dog unless everyone in the family wants to have one, and has the time to put into training, caring, interacting, and fulfilling the dog’s needs. Dogs need exercise every day, and as pack animals, they also need interaction with their family.
Dogs are neither backyard furniture, organic alarm systems, or soft-toys.
We cannot just get a dog to only fulfill our needs, while totally ignoring his needs.
The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven, not man’s.
~~[ Mark Twain, letter to W.D. Howells, 2 April 1899 ]