Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Is dignity part of the canine experience?

I was recently chided for saying that a dog in a video was being robbed of his dignity.  The dog was a 10 mo. old Labrador Retriever executing a heeling pattern.  The dog was exhibiting the head-wrap, craned-up neck, and Hackney Pony movement in front, which is de rigueur in the AKC obedience ring these days.

I was unimpressed.  

I have nothing against an obedient dog.  In fact, I insist upon it.  But competition obedience is a different kettle of fish.  While I am sure there are truly obedient (and dignified) dogs in the obedience ring, I have seen too many HIT dogs at home that behaved like savages – snatching unwatched food from counters, charging out the door the second it opens, without so much as a by-your-leave from their feckless owners, and threatening mayhem to anyone who walks past their house by hysterically barking and scrabbling at the widows.

Is this dignified? I think not.  But neither is gleefully wolfing up steaming road-apples or rolling over with tongue protruding at a rakish angle, entreating a belly rub.  Yet my Border Collie bitch is guilty of both things as often as the opportunity or urge arises.   And I think of her as possessing considerable dignity – though certainly not nearly so much as a certain Doberman Pinscher bitch I once owned. 

 I have known many a dog that enjoyed a joke, or a bit of silliness – a dog that could laugh.  Many dogs will share a joke, or even play one on a friend – human or animal.  Dogs will laugh with you.  But no dog likes to be laughed at.  They shrink from it as they would from a blow.  Those who habitually underestimate a dog’s mind, and a dog’s soul, will wither a dog’s dignity by belittling the dog, or by drowning it in an infantile deluge of mollycoddling and baby-talk.  

If you have known very many dogs in your lifetime you must have met at least one that was a fool.  Some were born that way.  But usually when I see a dog without a shred of dignity, my thought is “He wuz robbed.

This theft of dignity will have various results.  Some dogs will shut down and become withdrawn.  Some sulk.  A very few become taciturn or even vicious.

And many more needy creatures will become habitually foolish – strung out on a habit of sloppy tomfoolery, and slavishly, urgently plead for constant endearments, treats and petting.  These dogs will often do well in the obedience ring, executing pointless exercises with apparent, barely containable delight, time after time, ad infinitum while their doting owners look on with shining eyes.  I find them both insufferable.

I prefer a dog that can speak its mind – politely if possible.  A dog of ideas and opinions.  A dog with a purpose, and the delight in life that come with fulfilling that purpose with intelligence, energy and pride.  A dog like that that will have dignity.  And he/she will know when to wear it (with or without a sneer), and when to toss it over his/her shoulder and just have fun.  Such a dog is a pearl of great price, and whoever earns its respect is thrice blessed.

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