A good friend of mine in the dog world recently asked me to think about cutting back on calling dogs “kids” or “children” in my blog. She made some excellent points, and after a long email exchange I promised her I would address the issue here.

In my last blog, ” ‘Hyper’ Dogs” I called dogs “kids” or “children” 8 times.  Whew! That’s a ton, and probably what got my friend’s brain ticking (and surely she’s not the only one).  Proofreading sometimes does us wrong when it’s our own work. Though this was an excessive use of these words, I don’t feel it gives the blog the wrong tone, especially since I was focusing on the parallels between hyperkinetic dogs and children with ADHD.  (If you keep your ADHD-diagnosed child on a diet free of artificial chemical additives, why would you feed your hyper dog a dog food with that crap in it?).  Anyway, go back and read that blog if you haven’t, and let me know what you think of my use of these words.

Kids/Pups/Pooches/Hounds/Puppits/Children/etc.

I use a lot of words to describe dogs with affection. “Kids” is just one, and “children” just another. In speech I refer to them most offen with nonsense words like “puppit” or “schmobbity” (now you think I’m really nuts…I also call them all “hounds” though I know plenty of them are not hounds at all but toys, sporting dogs, etc.) and in writing I lean more toward “pups” or “kids.”  For me this is no different from saying “this little guy is a little sound-sensitive,” or “this girlie like her frisbee,” since “guy” and “girlie” are not technically dog terms either.  Dog, bitch, pup/puppy, are the “correct” nouns to use when referring to dogs.  When I call dogs kids or children, I do not mean to imply that that is what they are, and though I thought that was clear, it has become apparent that it is not.  It is just that the way I feel about dogs can only be compaired to what human educators feel for the children in their care.  What I feel for my dogs can only be described as a maternal kind of affection.  I feel the need to protect, educate, care and provide for them.  I think of them before myself. I want to raise them to be confident, well-learned individuals.  Could one not say all of that for one’s own human children?  Having said that, I want to mention that thinking of the dog-human relationship as nothing but a parent-child relationship is faulty.  In fact if I were AS protective of, AS affectionate toward, AS, well, let’s face it, obsessed with,  human children as I am with dogs it would not be considered healthy for any party involved! I think that the dog-human bond is a bond all its own, unique and special, and should be respected as such.  Caroline Knapp’s book Pack of Two is an excellent resource for more information on the intensity of the human-dog bond.

Guardian vs Owner

Recently a few counties and cities have legally changed dog “owner” to dog “guardian.”  This is considered a case of Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare (and if you’re not sure what that means, check this out  http://www.animalwelfarecouncil.com/html/aw/rights.php ) Though it is arguable as to whether this legal change in vernacular will take us down the Animal Rights road as opposed to the Animal Welfare road (and there are people on both sides who prefer the term “guardian”).  My point here is not to delve into that subject much, but instead to vocalize MY OWN PERSONAL THOUGHTS since this is, after all, my own personal blog!  I still use the term “owner” instead of “guardian” in my daily life.  You will notice I use it several times in my ” ‘Hyper’ Dogs” blog.  The term “owner” does not quite reflect my true opinions, I do not feel that I “own” my dogs in the same sense that I own the laptop I am currently using or my cell phone that is sitting next to me.  My dogs are sentient beings, they DO have rights, and more importantly I have responsibilities toward them.  I try to take care of my personal belongings, but the only person that suffers when I don’t is myself.  I believe that all creatures have the right to be treated humanely, and that if human beings are to intervene in their lives they deserve to BENEFIT from that relationship.  I believe that I am a guardian of sorts when it comes to my dogs, but I still use the term “owner” if for no other reason than “guardian” seems formal and awkward to me! I DO, however, refer to myself as their “mom.” I am “the mama” in their world, and I use the terms mom or dad most often when describing the dog-human relationship–yes, even with clients.  Here’s why: if you are the dog’s parent, not his “owner” you no longer have the right to dump him in a shelter, put a shock collar on him, flip him on his back in a display of “dominance” or any other such nonsense.  I wish more people viewed themselves as having a parental role in their dog’s existence, I think this would force them to take more responsibility.  I also think using parental terms softens everyone up, and encourages people to relax and laugh about their dogs, instead of taking everything so seriously.  You and your dog are not wolves who need a strict social hierarchy to survive, be friends or family instead!

What’s Different About Child-Rearing and Dog-Rearing, For the Record

Yes, I want people to take a more parental role with their pooches.  But, I want them to be good parents!  Good parents set boundaries, enforce rules with kindness, reward good behavior frequently, and stay consistent in their expectations.  They do not overindulge their children, and though they protect them from harm they don’t coddle them.  Good dog owners do all of these things as well.  Both should provide adequate education, and excellent nutrition.  Dogs, on the other hand, need to learn how to deal with isolation appropriately, and must be left alone for periods of time very early on in life to acclimate to this.  They must be taught aquired bite inhibition. They go through very canine-specific developmental periods that must be adhered to.  All of this is quite obvious, but I think the cardinal difference between raising kids and raising dogs is this: while both species benefit trememdously from consistency, dogs require it much more than children, because you can’t speak to them.  “Just this once” might not get you into too much trouble with a child, but with a dog you could be in a world of hurt.  (Think about the kid who learns they can stay out late when dad is out of town, versus a dog who can’t figure out that dad feeds them from the table but begging drives mom crazy). 

On an end note, I would like to say that I do think words matter, and that I choose mine carefully depending on which clients I am around (I know not all of them appreciate parental lingo pointed at dogs).  But for the purposes of this blog suffice it to say that in my efforts to enhance respect for this species I have come to know and love so very much I will continue to refer to them in human terms periodically.  If dog owners came to see themselves as the responsible parents of dogs, they would pay them more respect, and be less inclined to give up and try again, as so many people do.

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