I don’t remember, back in about 1954 (I was ten), ever seeing a dog on lead. I don’t actually remember seeing many dogs at all.
My brother, my friends and I would also be free to walk or cycle around the roads near home or go and play in the woods.
My first memory of a dog was when one rushed out of a garden barking ferociously at us. The friend I was with ran. I instinctively kept on walking. Slowly. Not looking at the dog.
Perhaps even as a child I knew how to react. As I remember and fortunately for my friend, the dog hung back barking at me as I continued to walk past his house rather than chasing my running friend.
She was terrified but I wasn’t.
It must have been a little after this that I had my first close dealings with a dog. Our neighbour, a dentist, had a Boxer called Janey. Janey would come on our explorations into the woods with us, no lead of course and no worries.
Unfortunately Janey chewed up my tortoise. Flies laid eggs in her and the dentist was unable to save her. It is one of my worst of my childhood memories and still etched in by brain. Vets weren’t universal then as they are now.
For a long while I hated all dogs.
When my children were small in the mid-sixties we lived opposite a park. I still hated dogs. I remember once throwing my kids’ shoes away, unable to face cleaning off the revolting embedded dog mess. I even wrote a letter to the local paper about dog dirt in the park!
Who would believe that with four dogs – three of them quite large – a big part of my day is now about picking up dog poo (‘turdling’)! Who would believe, in 1977 when I got my first dog Paddy, a Golden Labrador puppy, that I would become as obsessed with dogs as I am now.
Anyway, what’s got me thinking is how different life is for dogs today and not only in obvious ways like being unable to roam more freely.
Back then few women went to work so the dog wasn’t alone. Today it’s quite unusual to visit a house where someone is home all day.
I don’t remember family dogs ever being formally trained. I don’t remember agility classes. I certainly don’t remember Behaviourists.
I don’t remember so many dogs.
It seems that the less time for them we have, the more dogs we get.
One huge change that dogs have had to adapt to is constant TV. Considering how much more acute their hearing is than our own, this could be really vexing for some. I go to houses where TV is on from dawn to late at night. The dogs, trapped indoors, never get a break. I believe there is a constant high sound when TV is on that we can’t hear which they surely will.
I personally can’t concentrate when background TV is on too loud for me. It makes me very irritated. In many houses I ask for the TV to be turned off before I can start work.
People leave TV on for their dogs when they go out, especially for their dogs. Is this helpful, I wonder?
Then there is people’s preoccupation with all sorts of devices which they hold in their hands, stare at, talk to and touch, whether they are sitting or walking about.
Someone talking on the phone must be an odd thing to a dog.
Today it’s common for people to get expert help for their dog’s behaviour and hang-ups. I’m sure this wasn’t necessary in the ‘good old days’. (You might perhaps say the same thing for children).
Sixty odd years ago Janey would have had sporadic attention, she would have quite a degree of autonomy, she accompanied the family children and their friends on adventures minus lead, she may have sometimes been shouted at ‘get out from under my feet’, she would have had company most of the time if she wanted it and it’s very unlikely that her family would even have had a TV, let alone daytime TV. We didn’t.
The lives of dogs back then were a bit more like those of dogs in other parts of the world who have homes but spend the day on the streets.
We now acquire pet dogs rather than working dogs because we fancy the idea. We like the welcome when we get home. They feel lovely to fuss. We can play with them when we are in the mood. Dogs encourage us to take exercise. For people who live alone they are company.
This is all about us.
Behaviourists and trainers like me have jobs because, due to the life that today’s people give their pet dogs (most of which have some working breed in their veins) the dogs need therapy or artificial stimulation by way of training, agility and so on to compensate for the lives they really need.
Too many dogs. Too much noise. Too little time. Too little space. Too much excitement. Too little fulfilment. Too much necessary dependence upon training.
What’s the future?
More and more puppies being born? More and more dogs being ‘rescued’ from overseas? More and more frustrated dogs? More and more disappointed, upset and disillusioned owners? More and more dogs needing therapy and training just in order to cope with life?
More and more dogs put to sleep?