Owning and living with a dog is one of the best things that life has to offer and I know when my dogs aren’t around, the house feels empty. But dog ownership and relationship with our dogs has changed. We live in a culture of fast lives which brought with it fast food and convenience stores and lost time to ‘just be’. As part of this change in lifestyle and culture, the dog, whether it wanted to or not, has had to change also…
I recently received an email that was doing the rounds a few years ago, I don’t know if you’ve received it or not but it’s titled “How old is Grandma?”
It’s a very clever email and lists all the things that have changed in Grandma’s lifetime; from the invention of television and penicillin to frozen food and the contraceptive pill. It then talks about sayings or rather how the English language has evolved and words have changed…. “grass was mowed, coke was a cold drink and pot was something your mother cooked in” – you get the idea don’t you?
I can remember moving to Australia in 1990 and as a nation they were just starting to introduce phone cards; the mobile phone wasn’t even on the horizon… neither was the laptop, in fact the personal computer hadn’t long been introduced into only the most modern of offices and hadn’t made itself known as the pc we have in our homes… as for the internet phenomenon, well that came much, much later. To get a decent international line to the UK you still had to get the operator to connect you.
It’s hard to believe that at 49, well almost 50, I remember seeing my first music CD (and thinking “wow, shiny” and “please don’t break!”) as well as the demise of the LP, my first VHS video rather than Betamax, seeing a pedigree dog for the first time that wasn’t on the telly… time to get off this I think before I start feeling really old!
We’ve changed so much in the last 35 or so years that I can see from a technological point of view; with change in technology came change in the work life and ultimately our home life.
Looking to the past
My first dog came from my sister whose young dog had been ‘caught’ by the local stud whilst my sister was at work. This was quite the norm back then and pedigree dogs, certainly in the North East in the early 70’s, were unheard of. Anyway, my first dog used to walk with me to the corner of my school whereupon she would head back home and pick her mate up (who lived a couple of doors down) and go gallivanting around the streets. She was back at the corner at lunchtime to carry my school bag home and the routine was repeated in the afternoon.
Not only did I have the joy of being walked to school by my best friend but my dog got to ‘escort’ a member of her pack to a dropping off place and have a ball with the local pack that she was a part of. A contented dog? Yes. A tired dog? Most definitely. A dog up to mischief? No, she was too tired after being out all day with her mates.
Her diet consisted of canned dog food and scraps / leftovers from the family meals as well as bones and scraps from our local butcher…. and yes, a couple of times a week she produced white dog poo (which really is a thing of the past).
She wasn’t allowed on the settee as to replace it would have cost an arm and a leg and so smelly dog stayed on the floor. Also, because central heating really was a luxury rather than the norm, she had to wait by the door to be allowed in and out of a room rather than having free access… she was however, allowed in my bedroom (the one and only dog that has been).
Owning and living with a dog is one of the best things that life has to offer and I know when my dogs aren’t around, the house feels empty. But dog ownership and relationship with our dogs has changed.
It’s now more usual for both partners to work and for mum to go back to work after having children. Although money seems to be as tight as ever in the current economy we do have more disposable income than for example our parents would have had. We live in a culture of fast lives which brought with it fast food and convenience stores and lost time to ‘just be’. As part of this change in lifestyle and culture, the dog, whether it wanted to or not, has had to change also.
Traditional family life has changed and rather than waiting until the first child is born and mum giving up work, more couples are getting a dog first; whether that’s as a dry run prior to having children, instead of having children or because they want to have children later. Unless you’ve had a dog in your own place, or had a child, you have no idea what a commitment or just how time consuming that is – and don’t get me on to the first time you realise just how much hair your dog sheds each day.
Central heating, I believe, has played a big part in changing the balance of the relationship at home as no longer is the dog asking permission to leave the room or waiting for you to get up so it can get what it wants, rather it can come and go as it chooses as doors are left open around the home.
With the advent of disposable goods and soft furnishings being cheaper than ever, the dog will have its place on the sofa and possibly the bed…. not the end of the world in itself, but for a dog that has no balance between discipline and reward, is under-walked, under-stimulated and has privileges aplenty then it can be an explosive mix at adolescence if not before.
As a species, man or rather man of the western world, has become a materialistic ‘got to have and got to have now’ creature, looking out for the latest craze and getting it; unfortunately that culture has extended itself into the world of dog ownership – the last few years have seen an rise in ownership of ‘teacup’ dogs, thanks to the many fashion magazines showing dogs in designer handbags and celebrities cuddling their ‘babies’ and never letting them walk anywhere.
There’s also been a surge of the designer dog, the labradoodle, the sprocker, the cockapoo and so on…. unlike the old Heinz 57 mutt or ‘bitsa’ dogs of old, which were generally healthier and hardier, these new mutts are mixes of breeds that have genetic problems or behaviour issues and from what I’ve seen (bearing in mind I don’t get called to someone’s home to ‘sort out’ their well-mannered, well behaved dog) these dogs tend to have the worst of both breeds.
Time is tight, spare time virtually non-existent; we no longer have time (or the energy) to take our dog to training classes or to put in the hours needed to teach our dogs to be well mannered on the lead.
As we’ve got busier we’ve stopped talking to each other and the sense of community and community parenting is waning; political correctness is taking over and people are scared of chastising their children let alone someone else’s.
We’re being more indulgent of our children, whether out of guilt, tiredness or trying to keep everyone happy I don’t know, but it’s becoming commonplace that if a child wants something then the child will get it; whether that is the latest gadget or piece of technology or to open sweeties as yet unpaid for.
Unfortunately the same is happening with our dogs and dogs are being allowed to mob other dogs on walks and jump all over strangers; when asking owners to control their dogs or why they’re letting their dog do it, the normal response is that their dog wants to.
In the same way that some children are ruling the home so too, it appears, are some dogs.
Time to change
And so with the technological change, the change that was supposed to bring us more time to do things we wish to, we have to work harder and work longer hours, giving us less time to enjoy the simple things in life. Our dogs have been remarkably hardy and pliable; for the most part going along with the flow in the changes in lifestyle, from being given bones in the garden following on from a long walk whilst owner potters around indoors, to having dried food chucked in a bowl after a quick walk as the owner rushes off to work.
But then without this adaptability the dog wouldn’t have been as successful as he is.
Some of the changes however have been detrimental to our relationship with our pet dog… all we need to do is look at the amount of dogs that are in rescue centres or being destroyed to realise it’s time to change our relationship again. Dogs like every other animal on the planet are governed by the law of survival, have no ethics, morals or principles and will quite literally go with the flow or rise to a challenge…. we have to take the lead in changing the relationship so that the rescue centres aren’t being overloaded and our dogs can relax and enjoy being dogs again; whether that means putting off when to get a dog or employing a dog walker to tire your dog out or putting your dog in doggy day care whilst you’re at work.
It’s time to introduce balance and bring back some common sense in our relationship with our favourite companion.
Oh, I almost forgot… Grandma, surprisingly, would only have been 65…
Lez Graham MA, FCFBA, MGoDT (MT), KCAI (WGA)
Trained for Life