Why are so many dogs so unhappy? Why does scientific research (such as this large 2011 US study) continue to support my clinical impression that more and more dogs are showing signs of chronic distress and heightened reactivity to normal everyday things?
One thing we do know is that dogs living in areas where they are free to roam – and are not constrained by fences – simply do not bark significantly. A small group of neighbouring dogs will mill around down at the corner, and take turns to pee on and sniff the lamp post, sometimes they will play, and sometimes one will stand over another raise her hackles and grumble till the other turns away, and on they continue.
Sadly, with increasing urban density this kind of free range country living, still enjoyed by residents of WA’s country towns, just isn’t possible in metropolitan cities. Without secure fences dogs get lost, get cleaned up by cars, frighten passing pedestrians and worse.
So the fences are necessary, but what is the cost? Separated off from the world at a very young age, so many dogs only get fleeting glimpses of passing people/cars etc, confusing sniffs of various things and of course sounds. A screech of tyres at the intersection, the squeak of the posty’s brakes, the loud rap of a knock at the door, and then the thunder! Dogs quickly learn that when someone approaches the house, freaking out and barking till you’re blue is extremely effective at making them go away again. As your postman punts off to the next house your dog slowly winds down thinking “That was so close! But yet again I’ve saved the family from that crazy murderous bastard on his freakish undead red horse!” And every day the xenophobia grows and your dog teaches itself ways to defend against a big scary world.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
There are many ways – simple daily practices you can do to gently and progressively uncouple the fear from the unfamiliar. The result is a dog who enjoys life far more, and therefore brings far more happiness into the lives of everyone.
Next week I will begin discussing some of the ways we can achieve this.