But what if there is a component of “nurture” rather than “nature”?
People talk a lot about doing exercises to “give their dog confidence.” And these exercises do help dogs to negotiate strange textures underfoot, to learn to ignore loud, potentially scary noises, and to learn that they need not shrink from new humans or dogs. And there are a variety of other things it may help with.
A dog who has overcome fears of the things described above is seen as having acquired confidence. And of course, within the context of the things that the dog has been desensitized to, it has acquired confidence. But I think that the nature and extent of this sort of confidence is not well-understood by many dog owners.
I do not think it means that the dog has gained courage.
I call this raising a dog in a bubble. People do it with kids too. Animals, including human ones can easily fail to meet challenges if they have spent their lives never being challenged.
|I don't have a picture of Loca, a husky mix I got from the pound, but this dog looks very much like she did. Loca once attacked a man who followed me as I was walking home from work one night. He tried to grab me, but Loca sent him on his way.|
Courage is fear governed. Grit is pain mastered. The dog without fear is a fool. It walks into danger, and is crushed. The dog that knows what fear is, and can govern it, can lead peril a merry dance. The dog that knows pain knows its own limits – and can bear pain with patience and strength, in measured proportion, thereby winning the day.
While it is well to shelter a dog from cruelty; it is unwise to shelter it too much form from hardship. There is nothing so sweet as a victory hard-won. To prevail over daunting odds, or to defeat a puissant adversary, is its own reward, and more cherished than plangent songs of praise. A dog divided from such experience lives a grey life, a half-life, and is to me, an object of pity.
While a dog that has been raised in a bubble may inherit a fearless nature, it will not often be able to demonstrate it more than once. It will not have caution, having never known a negative consequence, and its fearlessness will be cancelled out by recklessness. Thus, a good dog may meet an untimely and unnecessary end. Or it may be so traumatized by its first collision with reality that it becomes a useless craven. Or, it may, if never faced with adversity, live its whole life as a feckless, foolish, shadow of what a dog can be. That, to me, is a criminal waste.
I have had three of my dogs come to my aid – twice before I was even aware of my own danger. They did so deliberately, without fuss or bluster, and saved me from serious harm. Because they were the kind of dogs they were, they joined battle knowing the risk and emerged victorious and uninjured. They were not without fear; there can be no true courage without fear. But they went without hesitation to my defense. They were good dogs. And I will always be in their debt.