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Just Plain Ignorant

I’ve heard people label their animal as vengeful, guilty, or spiteful (among other pejoratives).

(I say “animal” rather than “dog” because, although this is a Dog Blog, two of the three examples I give below involves people talking about cats. Despite this, the overall message is still pertinent to dogs.)

My Response To The Pejorative Label

When I hear a person describe their animal in disparaging terms, I ask them to explain further. They then describe the animal’s behaviour, and each time it’s immediately clear to me that their dog or cat is not being the least vengeful, guilty, or spiteful. What is also very clear is that the person is ignorant about animal behaviour.

In my experience, the person has either:

  • A profound misunderstanding of animal psychology.

  • An anthropocentric attitude, leading to incorrect assumptions about animal behaviour.

  • A lack of understanding of the meaning of the word they’re using.

Case 1: A Profound Misunderstanding Of Animal Psychology

A man once told me that his cat was vengeful, because when he didn't bother to feed her one day, she killed a mouse and dropped the dead critter at his feet. This, to him, was the cat wreaking vengeance.

This, to me - and to the cat - was about hunger, not vengeance. (Not to mention irresponsibility on the part of the man.)

The poor cat hadn’t been fed for a day, and she killed to eat. She wasn't to know that she was the only one going hungry, so she was merely trying to feed what she thought was her starving family by killing a mouse and sharing the spoils.

Case 2: An Anthropocentric Attitude, Leading To Incorrect Assumptions About Animal Behaviour

I’ve heard the following silly comment on many occasions: “I came home to find the house torn up. I started screaming at my dog and he was so guilty.”

I respond the same way every time: by telling the person that their dog was NOT guilty...their dog was, in fact, scared because he didn’t understand why his beloved person came home and started yelling their lungs out.

Dogs tear the place up due to separation anxiety, boredom, or pent up energy through lack of exercise. So, to begin with, it’s not the dog’s fault that he was destructive. And second, because the destructive actions occurred in the past, the dog doesn't connect the screeching person with his destructive behaviour. The dog thinks their person has gone ballistic for no reason at all, and he’s confused and frightened. NOT guilty.

To make it worse, the dog is frightened of the very person who they should never feel fearful of: the person who's supposed to be their protector and guardian.

(Note carefully: this doesn’t mean that if you catch your dog in the act of destroying something you should start screaming your head off. Nothing is ever achieved from doing that other than frightening your dog. Good teaching never involves shouting: the two are mutually exclusive. If your dog is regularly destructive, talk to a vet, trainer, or behaviourist about positive, non-threatening ways to help your dog.)

Case 3: A Lack Of Understanding Of The Meaning Of The Word They’re Using.

(Please note that the below experience was NOT with a person whose second language was English. I don’t expect people who were not born into English to have a perfect command of it. The person in question was born and raised in Australia and has heard English spoken since the moment she was born. She’s just not very smart - and, no, I’m not kidding: I had the misfortune of getting to know this person quite well at one point. Ugh…bad memories...but that’s another story!)

A woman told me that her cat was spiteful, because he’d routinely try to attack another cat on the other side of a glass door.

“How is that spiteful?” I asked her. “Spite is doing something to deliberately offend or upset another. For example, if someone knows you really hate it when people are late and purposely arrives late just to annoy you. That’s spite. Your cat was showing aggression, yes, but not spite. Spite is a whole different (and distinctly human) thing.”

In Conclusion

I won’t give more examples, because I’m sure you get my point. All I’m saying here is that if you have an animal in your family, you need to read up about the behaviour and psychology of that species. Learn all you can, because while animals have things in common with us, but they’re not exactly the same as us. Each species has their own ways, and if we’re going to live with non-human animals it’s our duty to educate ourselves that so we can do right by them.

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Adopt a homeless animal instead - they all deserve a second chance

It's estimated that 130,000 dogs and 60,000 cats are killed every year in Australia because there are not enough homes for them all. And the global numbers amount to millions upon millions every single year.

Puppy mills are a major contributor to the terrible problem of overpopulation. Puppy mills are essentially 'dog factories' where dogs are forced to churn out litter after litter, with no thought for the welfare of the dogs and all thought for profit. The dogs live in appallingly dirty, cramped conditions all their lives, and when they no longer serve their purpose they're killed, dumped or sold to vivisection laboratories.

Petshops fit into the picture because puppy mills are generally where petshops get their animals from. Furthermore, having animals in shop windows encourages impulse purchases, and adding an animal to your family should be a conscious, careful decision - NOT one to be made while shoe shopping.

Breeders contribute enormously to the tragic statistics above too. And it doesn't matter whether they're professional breeders or backyard breeders, and whether they breed for profit or not, because while there are homeless animals sitting on death row in shelters, any and all animal breeding is utterly irresponsible.

Now, here's where you come in. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. You can either buy animals from puppy mills, petshops or breeders and be part of the problem. Or you can adopt from a shelter or rescue organisation and be part of the solution.

If I haven't convinced you, visit your local shelter to see the homeless animals. Let their innocent faces convince you that adopting is the only responsible choice to make.

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