Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cruel to be Kind?

In today's New York Daily News, Stephen Budiansky writes that when people pamper their dogs, they don't necessarily give the dogs what they really need to be happy.

And, just like when I read Budiansky's book "If a Lion Could Talk", I think he has a point, but he goes about making that point in the wrong way.

In today's article, he ridicules such things as doggie day care centers, designer pet foods, and people who refer to themselves as "pet parents".

While I would agree that there are plenty of useless (or worse) excesses for people to waste their money on, I would like to give the "pet parents" the benefit of the doubt and hope that they actually want what's best for their dog. What they need is education along that line, not ridicule. Reducing such education to a glib line like 'you must be crueler to be kind' is not helpful or even correct.

Budiansky argues that a dog needs to know its proper place in the family structure. Of course, this is true. It's true for any animal (or human) that has a relationship with any other animal (or human). A clear idea of one's role in any society, no matter how microcosmic, is of key importance to one's psychological well-being.

That Budiansky credits this need to a mythical wolf-social-structure gene that 'all dogs still carry' is a red herring and gets in the way of the education all animal "parents" need. Any decent tiger handler will tell you pretty much the same thing I said in the previous paragraph; that you need to establish for the tiger what the family or society structure is, for the well-being of all involved. And I defy anyone to find the "wolf-social-structure" gene in a tiger.

What I'm saying is that Budiansky needs to leave the ridicule and false science behind and concentrate on the education that dog owners (and all animal owners) need: your animal needs to have a clear picture of his role in your family. The entire value of Budiansky's article is found in the last paragraph. You have to be firm; you have to be consistent; you have to take on the role of a true parent. You have to pay attention to your animal. There is nothing "cruel" about any of this. It's what any social animal needs to be happy and a good family member.

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