Thursday, 8 August 2019

For the Love of Dogs

I have long been troubled by our attitude to dogs, but it's heresy to question extreme dog-centric behaviour and I content myself with not having one, even though it would seem natural to do so.

Herry and Danny at Stocks c.1953

I had dogs from an early age. The first was Danny, a cocker spaniel that to begin with, I looked after, but when I went to school, of course, he was looked after by my parents, principally my father, who always had dogs, usually several and generally labradors. I remember Fuff coming back from Scotland with Caron (named after Loch Caron where he had found her), and there was Flax, Bonnie and Bosun, Charlie and others that I can't now remember. And we had a sheepdog (a border collie) for as long as we had sheep (ie not in later years) that was actually used to round up the sheep. 
All our dogs lived outside, first in the stables and later in a purpose-built shed with an outside 'run' full of straw. It was next to the farmyard so they could watch all the comings and goings - though in the daytime they were almost always free to run around as they wished.  The first thing my father did when he came down to talk to the men in the morning was to let the dogs out - and they stayed with him as he went around the farm - on horseback, on foot or in a van - all day. If he drove up to the cottages on the down, they would run after the van in both directions. They accompanied my father when shooting and picked up when he shot with others.

The dogs did come in and out of the house, but never went upstairs and weren't allowed on the furniture. Feeding them from the table during meals was discouraged. And at teatime - an unvarying ritual with my mother behind the teapot -  they were given a ginger biscuit. At about 6pm they were fed a simple and unvarying diet of meat from the local butcher, with a handful of dry biscuits with an egg mixed in. Tinned food wasn't used. Bones were always available to gnaw on the lawn and in their shed.

Our dogs were supremely healthy and happy and I don't remember them ever needing the vet - nor did they have fleas (though sometimes they had to have ticks removed). They were perfectly matched to their environment. Few people, of course, have farms and a lifestyle where they are outside all day and their dogs can accompany their master everywhere, and therein lies the problem. People don't always choose dogs for their environment and instead chose them for spurious reasons such as the way they look, or the impression their owners want to portray to others. Highly intelligent breeds like sheepdogs are used as pets when they have been bred for centuries to work, and they suffer if they can't. Gundogs have likewise been bred to pick up birds but few are given the chance and become fat and lazy unless given frequent long walks. As for the many breeds that have been disfigured to create a particular look favoured by their owners, like pugs, their lives have been shortened and their breathing made more difficult. Why this isn't regarded as cruelty, I can't imagine.

Recently, breeding dogs to match modern lifestyles has improved and dogs such as the poodle/spaniel crosses successfully match equable temperament and sociability with ease of looking after, but almost all dogs need two good walks a day and they should never be left alone for long. as they suffer greatly. If owners can't meet their dogs' needs, they shouldn't have them.


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