dog peaking through a darkened barn door

Leading a Life of Quiet Desperation

Leading a Life of Quiet Desperation
© 2019 Pamela S. Dennison

Lately I’ve been thinking how the average pet dog lives their life. In my classes, I talk quite a bit about dog body language and how important it is that we learn it to the best of our flawed human ability. After all, we expect them to learn our language and I feel that it is only fair to learn their’s.

So many people who own dogs have no idea that dog’s even have a language beyond tail wagging, (which is more often than not mis-read) so here are our dogs, trying everything in their power to communicate with us and we’re not paying attention. Can you imagine how that must feel to them? To try and try and try to let you know they’re uncomfortable, scared, nervous, anxious and no one is listening? Or getting punished when they try to explain in the only way they know how, and living in an environment that doesn’t respect whatsoever their needs.

I firmly believe that most of the behavior problems we see are a result of that lack of understanding of canine body language or worse, the misinterpretation of it. With all of the verbs I teach people to train, I consider learning their body language is 90% of what it takes to train a dog properly and humanely.

We bring this completely different species into our homes, who have completely different behavior and social patterns, and yet we don’t take the time to learn how to truly care for them. We have a preconceived notion of what and who dogs are – the Lassie syndrome if you will. We are blinded by our ignorance and our dog’s suffer the consequences. So now we have even more complex problems – our dogs don’t know what is expected of them and here comes “Tom, Dick or Harry Dog Trainer” inflicting all sorts of bizarre and harmful punishment on our dogs…and we let them because “Tom, Dick and Harry” insist that helicoptering, alpha rolling, kicking, shocking and other tools of torture is how one is supposed to “train” dogs. And yet again, the dog pays the penalty for our ignorance. We continually put them into situations they can’t handle and punish them for being afraid. They try to tell us they are afraid and we punish them even more.

Before you get upset, I know first hand that “we don’t know what we don’t know,” or as my mom always said, “You’re not born knowing how to balance your check book,” however, there is a thing called “critical thinking,” which means:

noun: critical thinking
the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.
2. Critical thinking means making reasoned judgments that are logical and well-thought out. It is a way of thinking in which you don’t simply accept all arguments and conclusions you are exposed to but rather have an attitude involving questioning such arguments and conclusions.

Without such critical thinking skills and the understanding of body language and how dogs learn (and it ain’t from punishment from humans), those are the dogs that live in quiet desperation. Or not so quiet if the punishment doled out creates an aggressive or reactive dog.

We punish our dogs for being dogs. The dogs with whom we share our lives today, have been essentially “manufactured” by us. WE made them bark, WE made them scavenge, WE made them resource guard, WE made them reliant on us, and WE don’t actually like any of it.

We view training and social interactions as bonuses to be given if and when we have the time. No one places the same importance on those as they do providing food, water and shelter.

In spite of our blunders, our dogs do try so hard to make sense of the life we gave them, and as Henry David Thoreau said, ““The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

From Psychology Today, an excerpt from Iddo Landau, Ph.D., “The line of thought seems to go more or less like this: “the mass of people who lead lives of quiet desperation probably do so because they are afraid to be who they are.”

And so our dogs can also be afraid to be who they are and no one should live such a life. Educate yourself! There are plenty of wonderful resources out there. If you aren’t sure if a source is valid, please feel free to contact me to show you how to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Posted in Blog.