You’ve seen it.
The internet arguments. The hateful, judgement filled ripostes over obscure matters of philosophy, breeding ethics, training, dog food.
The in-person arguments, accusatory fingers pointing at prong collars, red faces, spittle flying, pausing just a breath before catfights and hair pulling.
The people dressing their dogs up in humiliating costumes (well, I’ll admit to that one), talking about their “furbabies” verus their “skinbabies” and that it’s “all in how they’re raised” and the ubiquitous pitbulls-in-tutus and squeaky juvenile voices. Don’t shop, adopt!
And the dogs. The money. The time. The extremely tacky dog-themed clothing and jewelry.
For some, it’s a calling, for some, it’s a passion – for some they’re just NUCKING FUTS.
Why? Why is dog “culture” so full of crazy people?
I have a few hypotheses. I figure that I weigh in about a 3/10 on the Scale of Crazy Dog People, for these reasons:
– I spend money on my dogs. Not a lot of money because I just don’t make that much. But if I made more, it would be more. (And yes, some of it is on tacky dog themed jewelry and accessories. I qualify.)
– I train dogs. This takes up a lot of time, in the order of 15 to 20 hours a week extra on top of working full time.
– However, I do not get into constant internet arguments with people over the validity of various training methods/ breeding practices/ feeding practices because frankly, I don’t really care what other people think.
– I don’t refer to my dogs as “furbabies” and myself as their “guardian” and I do not think that I “rescued” them.
– I don’t care if people buy dogs or rescue them, I’m simply enough of a libertarian that I want them off my ideological lawn about what I do with my own dogs.
But there are a lot of people who do care. A lot.
I’ve thought about why for a while, and I’ve come up with a few speculative reasons.
1) Tribalism. Everybody wants some self-identity. Are you a balanced trainer? You are part of one club. A force-free trainer? Part of another. Raw-feeding? Border collies? Herding? Agility? Rescues? Show breeders? These clubs can become more than clubs, but more like religions. Woe betide anybody from outside the religion who tries to question the tenants of that religion – prepare to be mobbed and burned at the stake as a heretic. This seems to be part of human nature that has been adapted towards dogs.
2) Munchausen’s by Proxy. This is a actually a mental disorder through which somebody diagnoses another person (usually a child) with a myriad of different diseases and disorders, drags them around to different specialists and doctors, essentially to get pity and attention from other people. Sound familiar? This problem seems to occur most in training circles (Oh, poopsie is DANGEROUSLY aggressive! But I don’t actually want to solve the problem because then I’d lose this thing that gets me attention and sympathy) and in rescue circles (Oh! Poopsie was a victim of terrible, terrible ABOOSE! Let me tell you about this purported abuse in long, graphic detail!).
3) Moral Balancing. This is a phenomenon by which people do Something That Is Good, and so feel justified in doing Other Things that Are Bad, as if their previous moral investment was savings in the bank that they can spend by being dicks. For example, because you rescue dogs, you feel justified in treating people like total crap. This is seen extremely frequently in all circles – dog people just do not treat people well, especially if they have a very strong, ethical position on something – say, rescue, or aversive free training.
4) Dogs cannot say no. Dogs are entirely dependent on us. They can’t pack their bags and leave – so if you’re a douchebag, and you’ve alienated all of the people in your life because of your moral balancing and tribalism, the dog’s still there. They may not like you very much (and trust me, I’ve seen plently of dogs that didn’t like their person) but they can’t say anything about it with words. And that’s good enough. They are, ultimately, our captives if we choose to use them as looking-glasses, as ego-boosters, as justifications for our crazy. If we choose to infantalize them, allow them to become obese, allow them to be aggressive, allow them to be unhappy, unfulfilled, and use them ruthlessly for our own narrative, they can’t protest. They can’t hold us to a standard of behavior, of cleanliness, of reason. They are ultimately voiceless, and ripe for a person to layer over their own thoughts, ethics, hangups, and stories on.
And that, I think, is the most important reason that so very many crazy people get into dogs. Because dogs are a social creature, and so are we, and we need that. But they can’t give us negative feedback about shitty behavior, and so have to sit mum as they are toted around as symbols for a cause, or examples of “human atrocities”, or used for an angle, or political wrangling, or moral retribution on another group. Even if they try to protest with their teeth, or just their eyes, that too can be turned to support somebody’s narrative, or the dog can be quietly disappeared.
So stop and think next time you’re using your dog as an extension of your ego. We all do it, a little – through competitions, through training. It can be an innocent thing. But always make sure you’re keeping your dog’s welfare prime in your mind, because they cannot speak for themselves, even to save themselves from you.