Thursday, January 16, 2020

Should We Humanize Our Dogs?


After trading messages with two breeders, one in Texas who offered to fly our top choice, a Norwich Terrier, to us in the care of a handler for a few extra hundred dollars, I decided to make a trip to another breeder for our second choice, a Lowchen, eight hours away in Indiana. I wanted my son to see a farm where puppies come from.
Filly At 9 Weeks
(Photo By Aldo Cantellano)

We spent the night at a Holiday Inn Express at the edge of a soybean field and then drove down a 1/4 mile dirt driveway in the morning, past some other crop fields and parked in front of a red barn with an old tin Coke sign in the center column between its two sliding white doors. The breeder and I already talked about the name for the dog so it would be part of her papers. We ended up with Filly, which isn’t short for anything, but fit the breeders desire to have a gambling term associated with every pup in her litter.

Once inside her farmhouse, it didn’t take us long to start playing with Filly. In reality, it was just me who tried to play with her while my son laid down and stuck his head and arms into the whole liter. After a few minutes, the breeder took the pup out of my hand and explained that since our pup was only 7 1/2 weeks old, she may not be as playful as expected.
I already knew she was young but said that the best bonding occurs with humans and younger puppies. I was given this bit of wisdom by a neighbor. Since then, I’ve come across several supporting theories on how dogs evolved from the gray wolf between 10,000 and 30,000 years ago. One theory holds that there were two major domestication events resulting in Eastern and Western Eurasia variation of dogs while other scholars believe there were hundreds. The Hollywood movie Alpha portrays it as a single incident between an injured teen and an injured wolf some 20,000 years ago. Seeing their plights a similar, the teen domesticates the animal for mutual advantage. Some scholars believe that dog domestication resulted in co-evolution and has changed our world more than anything since.

Even so, we felt bad hearing Filly whimper as we drove out the driveway knowing this would be the last time she would see the rest of her pack.

I stopped at the PetSmart in Eau Claire, WI two hours before we reached home and did a Facetime chat with my wife. My son gave away our surprise with a big smile. We panned the phone to produce an image of tiny, tiny Filly crossing the snowy parking lot for my wife and her and her friend to see.

I spent the first night in the basement sleeping next to her shiny new crate. I woke for bathroom breaks outside despite early October snow. Each night, the routine continued, and I started to develop the droopy eye complex that is also common among parents with infants complete with all the complaining.

Filly was biting a lot in the early weeks and at one point I contacted a pet behavioral-psychologist from Minnetonka, one of the more affluent towns in the Twin Cities area. Unbelievably, someone from her staff got right back to me with full pricing for the initial consultation and assurances that this was a behavioral issue that could be dealt with. The assistant also mentioned the possible use of medication. I was on guard, knowing the over-medication craze that is sweeping America and figured we could ride the biting out and use a variety of methods found on the internet.

We enrolled her in puppy classes and the instructor encouraged age appropriate play with other dogs in the class as well as in our neighborhood. The thought of setting up playdates became a new source of anxiety. Luckily, a neighbor across the street had gotten a puppy a few weeks before. Setting up puppy playdates is much like setting up playdates for the kids.

We let her roam a bit and this led to her first visit to the emergency room at the St Paul Campus of UMN.

“Something’s stuck in her throat,” I said to the skeptical admission clerk as she bounced around in the waiting room behind me. I filled HIPPA forms out and made sure my wife was listed a contact in case her results needed to be shared with someone other than myself. In less than ten minutes, I was able to take her home and monitor her there. Within an hour, I helped her dislodge whatever it was by turning her upside.

She is entering her teenage years now and showing signs of teenage behavior: Tuning me out when called, willfulness and making some bad choices in her eating habits. She’s developed a taste for rabbit poo nuggets that have been frozen by the Minnesota winter.

Despite this gross behavior, I still feel she is entitled to continue to be treated to human comforts like the couch, YouTube videos, the fireplace, warm clothing and lots of company whenever possible.

The internet is filled with posts on the dangers of humanizing your dog – it’s something I didn’t expect to engage in. I’m starting to see how this could be the next step in dog evolution.