Friday, June 19, 2009

The Myths of "Wild" and "Domestic"

photo by Joseph ScherschelThere are two related concepts that are deeply ingrained in our society; so deeply ingrained that we may never be free of them. And yet, the world would be so much better if we could be free of them. Better for all of us, and better for all the animals.

Those concepts are that some species have been "domesticated" while other species are intrinsically "wild".

Everybody knows what a "domestic" animal is: A dog, a cat, a parakeet, a horse, a cow, and so on. Everybody knows what a "wild" animal is: A lion, a bear, a fox, and so on.

And yet, I could take you on a walking tour of a nice suburban neighborhood and point out plenty of dogs you wouldn't want to get within 20 feet of. Why is that? They're domesticated, aren't they?

And the list of gentle, loving lions (to pick one supposedly "wild" species) is quite long: Christian, Elsa, Zamba, Little Tyke, Blondie; to name just a few.

The proper way to think of these animals--and all animals--is in terms of whether they have been properly socialized or not. Socialization is the process of learning the rules of the society you live in.

The reason so many dogs are dangerous is due to the myth of domestication. According to the myth, a dog is an animal that is just supposed to behave in a certain way. Just go down to the pet shop, pick any one you want, throw it out in the back yard "for protection", and you're done. But this dog doesn't really know how to behave. Not with you, not with your neighbors, not with anyone. And so the dog will be dangerous to be around.

On the other hand, there have been plenty of people who have successfully owned so-called "wild" animals as pets--foxes, racoons, skunks, ferrets, pumas, tigers, lions. Probably their success is due in no small part to the fact that the owners were not blinded by the myth of domestication and took the time to actually pay attention to their animals and teach them the proper ways to behave.

Any animal has to learn how to behave, whether it has to live in human society or in a society with its own species. An animal that doesn't know the rules of human society will find you unpredictable, and so his behavior will be unpredictable and potentially dangerous, be it a wolf or a chihuahua.

What is the point of all this? For one thing, dealing with people's unsocialized "domestic" animals is a problem we all have to face from time to time. I believe it wouldn't be such a problem if people didn't think that a dog just naturally will behave like a proper "domestic" animal. Any animal you bring into your life needs to be taught how it should behave in your life.

For another, the myth of intrinsically "wild" animals is separating us as a whole from practically the entire animal world. We have the phenomenon of uncommon animals being seen as threatening coupled with the myth that a "wild" animal can never be properly socialized. And unethical political action groups are using this to make people more and more ignorant about animals with every passing year.

The fact is, in the right hands, any properly socialized animal is a good companion. And in the wrong hands. an improperly socialized animal is a major problem, no matter how small, or common, or "domestic" it's supposed to be.


  1. Hey! Just wanted to tell you that I love reading this blog. It's interesting and makes you think more about animals and our relationship with them in a different way. Keep up the good work!

  2. Thank you very much!

    If there's anything you'd like to discuss, or even disagree with, I'd like to hear from you.

  3. Awesome article. Couldn't have put it better myself, obviously.

    I've been watching youtube videos with various "wild" animals as pets, and ever so often there is someone in the comments saying that "wild animals can't be pets" or "wild animals belong in the wild and must be set free" like if there was some arbitrary distinction that makes "wild" animals (like any animal with fur that isn't a cat or a dog :P) unsuitable pets.

  4. That's what I'm fighting against with a post like this. People like slogans; if you can have a slogan like "Wild animals belong in the wild", you don't have to think about things. It's neat, simple, and reinforces the myths we're brought up with. The damage that is done to people who have worked hard to responsibly socialize and care for a non-traditional pet, by people who don't see any farther than their slogan, is heartbreaking. Plus, we have to consider that there are very little natural areas for animals to live in anymore, and less every day. We have to re-think our notions of the true nature of animals and our relationships with them.