Title: Your Dog Is NOT a Primate
Author: Clea Saal
Born: July 22,2021
Genre: Dog care/Dog rescue
Page count: 124 pages
Price: $9.95 (paperback) $7.75 (Kindle eBook)
1. Your Dog Is NOT a Primate
Yes, I know, the statement ‘your dog is NOT a primate’ should probably be filed under ‘D’, not for ‘dog’ but rather for ‘duh!’ In other words, I do realize that I am stating the obvious here. You know what the problem with the obvious happens to be? That more often than not we take it for granted, that we dismiss it, and hardly ever stop to consider what it actually entails. But before we go any further, a bit of a disclaimer:
This is not a book on how to train your dog. In fact, if you knew my dogs, you would realize just how laughable the notion of me writing a book on dog training happens to be. Believe me, ‘obedient’ is not the first word that comes to mind when you meet them (nor is it the second, or the third), so what is this thing? It is a no non-sense attempt to help you understand your dog written by someone who loves dogs, but isn’t an expert. I have no studies on the field, and no degrees I can boast of.
And now that the obligatory disclaimer is safely out of the way, let’s go back to the subject at hand: what does the fact that your dog is not a primate actually entail? At first glance the question doesn’t seem to make much sense, and rereading it is unlikely to help much, but at the end of the day the fact that we are primates, and our dogs are not, means that there are some fundamental differences between us, differences we can’t really hope to escape.
Look at yourself in the mirror, and then have a good look at your dog. Notice any difference? Probably the fact that, as much as we may love each other, our anatomies are fundamentally different. We have two arms and two legs, our dogs have four legs. We have grasping hands and opposable thumbs, our dogs do not. Again stating the obvious here, now let’s move on, and leave the obvious behind. In fact let’s move to a seemingly unrelated question: how do we show affection, and when it comes to that one, hugs are likely to be near the top of the list.
It is an instinctive thing that long predates the appearance of our species as such. We cradle our infants to our breast in order to nurse them; they cling to us for safety, warmth, and transportation (or at least they did back when our ancestors actually had some fur for those infants to grasp); we take comfort in being held tightly by someone we love, and we hug others to offer reassurance. It is what we do. It is how we are wired. You know what you need in order to hug someone? You need arms and grasping hands, which are things your dog does not have. In other words, it is something that goes back to those basic anatomical differences I mentioned above. The end result? That while hugs are something that seems absolutely natural from our perspective, something we do without thinking, and certainly without questioning it, what we all too often fail to realize is that for our dogs being held is not something natural. It is not something they crave, not in their ‘natural’ state.
Sure, a dog that has been hugged throughout his or her life will not only learn to tolerate that kind of treatment, but will actually come to enjoy it (or maybe I should say that most of them will), but if you go back to what a hug means to your dog at an instinctive level, it is likely to be closer to being trapped by a predator than anything else. A hug is not something they used to get from mom, and that is where we can get into trouble, especially now that ‘adopt, don’t shop’ has become an ethical battlecry.
Don’t get me wrong, the last thing I want to do is discourage people who are in a position to give a dog a good home from adopting, but we have to be aware that oftentimes when we take in an older dog, we may be getting a dog that was not properly socialized as a puppy. This is not an insurmountable obstacle, nowhere near it, and these dogs can turn into absolute gems (even gems that do crave hugs), but it is important to keep in mind that they are not puppies. Their personalities are not as malleable, and some instinctive behaviors can be harder to curb, a situation that in turn can lead to trouble… serious trouble.
Let me give you a perfectly ordinary example: you just brought home your brand new rescue. He is absolutely wonderful, everything you could have hoped for, and you are utterly in love with him. He is a sweetheart. You also have a five-year-old child who is too young to understand that the fact that he or she wants to hug the dog doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog wants to be hugged by them. That is just not how kids’ brains are wired, and the child becomes insistent. Add to that the fact that at that age the chances that a child will have the ability to read the dog’s body language, and understand that the dog is becoming distraught, are basically nil, and what you have is a recipe for disaster. The parents see the child being affectionate, and they may even encourage the child’s behavior; the child gets bitten; and the dog gets blamed. He is a bad dog. He deserves to be punished. He can no longer be trusted, and he is either sent back to the shelter, or put down altogether.
It is a scenario that is unfortunately all too common… and it is also a scenario that results from our own inability to understand the fact that our dogs are not primates, that their bodies and instinctive behaviors differ from our own at a fundamental level… and it is also a scenario that is often brought about by the inexperienced pet parents unrealistic expectations that have been fueled by the media.
Yes, having a dog, and especially rescuing one, is one of the most rewarding experiences you can possibly have. To see the change in an adult dog’s demeanor, and to know that it is because of you that that dog actually got a second chance is definitely worth it, but it can also prove a major challenge.
It is not like flipping a switch, and that work? It is something we rarely talk about. It is something responsible pet owners take for granted, and irresponsible ones don’t particularly care about. The problem is that all too often we get inexperienced pet owners who have the potential to grow into great ones, but who also have some pretty unrealistic expectations; new pet parents who have read a few too many uplifting stories of the kind that are meant to restore our faith in humanity, and take an adult dog home expecting an instant bond, to say nothing of a fully trained, and properly socialized companion, not a couch chewing machine with serious impulse control issues, and those… those are the potential pet parents who can easily find themselves in way over their heads in spite of their best intentions. They are the ones who may need a reality check, to say nothing of some reassurances with regards to the fact that the difficulties they are encountering are normal, that it is not that they are doing ‘something wrong’, and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.