It’s not hard to imagine why a loyal dog might stare devotedly at his master. It’s the stuff of Old Yeller, White Fang and Lassie –– starers, all. But some dogs take staring to extremes, following their owners around with baleful eyes as if expecting links of sausage to fly from their human’s fingertips.
Let’s face it: Dogs love their owners, but when they stare expectantly, it’s not usually because they’re trapped in a reverie of devotion. Rather, it’s because they’re thinking they might get something. And usually, that “something” involves a tasty snack.
But dogs can—and do—stare at their owners for plenty of non-food issues, too. Indeed, anything a dog might want that a human can provide could be the source of the staring behavior, from a fun game of fetch to a ride in the car or a long run.
Then there’s the possibility that a dog is simply seeking attention in any form, or perhaps she’s merely waiting for praise or direction. Some dogs may just be trying to read an emotion in our human facial expressions.
In any case, staring is typically considered to be a good thing. In fact, most trainers encourage dogs to stare at their owners while awaiting their cues. And if you’ve never done it, gazing deeply into a dog’s eyes can be a highly rewarding pastime.
Before you try it, be aware that staring directly into a dog’s eyes can be considered a direct challenge. That’s why mutual staring is an activity that’s only to be encouraged within the context of a healthy dog-human relationship unsullied by any taint of aggression or behavioral abnormalities.
I was meeting a friend for coffee whom I had not seen in some time. He was in town for a short visit, and we took advantage of a free afternoon to catch up. After the preliminary hello’s and how are you’s, he mentioned that he and his girlfriend had suffered the loss of their baby. I was devastated. How had I not known that he had had a child, let alone had lost that child? And then he clarified; the baby in question was their dog.
Ugh. Not this comment again. I hate it when people say that. Of course I was polite and asked about his dog, but I was not happy. I mean, there are so many things wrong with the statement “My dog is my baby.”
The first, and most obvious one, is this. Your dog has parents. His parents are other dogs. If your dog could talk, he might mention that his mom and dad are other dogs, not you. He could also say that he is an adult dog, not a baby. He is housebroken, weaned, and capable of basic self-care. For all I know, he might point out that he doesn’t like dressing up in adorable clothes and going by Fluffles Scruffles. You never know.
The second is that your dog is a dog. He is not a human. He doesn’t want what humans want or think what humans think. He flourishes best on dog food and not on people food. He would probably rather play than snuggle a lot of the time. From what I’ve heard from people who have trained dogs, they generally see their owners as pack leaders rather than parents. After all, dogs do not usually keep up close relationships with their parents once they’re grown up.
Third, if you think taking care of a dog is like having a kid, it’s no wonder you have no respect for parents. Think of all those people who disdain babies, who react to a baby’s cry with “Why don’t they keep him quiet?” Do they think it’s as easy to keep a baby happy as to keep a dog happy? When I introduce my son and people say, “Oh, I know just what it’s like. I have a dog baby,” I feel insulted. You just said my son is the equivalent of a pet. Thanks so much.
Fourth, if you think taking care of a dog is like having a kid, you’re not going to be prepared if you ever do have children. Dogs need to be fed a couple of times a day, let out to go to the bathroom (and sometimes trained to go at the right time and place), walked, brushed from time to time, and played with. Babies need to be fed at least every couple of hours. They need to be changed very frequently. They don’t sleep through the night for a long time. They sometimes cry inconsolably and need to be rocked, even for hours. Their needs are constantly changing and all-encompassing. I keep hearing from parents who are shocked at how hard it is. Sure, it’s demanding, but I wasn’t surprised by that. If I’d thought it was like having a dog? Yeah, I’d definitely have been unprepared.
Fifth, call me an animal hater, but I think our responsibility is first to our own species. I do love animals very much. I believe that it is wrong to cause suffering to an animal, and that you should never kill an animal — or even cut down a tree — without reason. I believe that we were given the earth to be stewards, not owners. We should care for it like a trusted property manager would, not like a bunch of college students trashing a rented beach house. If you’re going to take on the responsibility of a pet, you should give that pet what it needs to live a happy, fulfilled life.
However, if you aren’t able to do this for your pet, it doesn’t make you a horrible person if you have to find a new home for him. It’s called being responsible. I read on one on-line forum some time ago the complaint of a pregnant cat owner. She said she wasn’t able to give the cat the attention she used to, and the cat was getting very anxious and licking all the fur off her paws. She was considering finding the cat a new home. People commented on her post angrily, “When your baby is born, if he’s too much trouble, will you just give him away to a stranger?” I’m sorry, that’s different. Your child is your own flesh and blood. Your cat is not.
If you believe in evolution, you understand that, for the survival of our species, we are hardwired to produce offspring and to protect them. Taking care of a dog or other pet and saying it’s like having a baby is “faking out” your instincts, convincing them that you are reproducing when you’re not.
For what it’s worth, I have two dogs. They are members of our family and I am very fond of them. I make sure to spend some time with them every day, walk them, play with them, and keep their sleeping area, food bowls and yard clean. They gets their snuggles, and they have a warm spot to nap in. But they are NOT on the same level as my kids.
It’s just a pet peeve of mine; I know many people who call their dogs their babies don’t really mean it’s the same. It’s just an expression of affection and a tease about how needy their dogs are. But some people really do think it’s the same, and that bugs me.
Wolf DNA varies from that of a domestic dog by just 0.2 per cent. Few of us will live with wolves, but an awful lot of us live with dogs, so it is useful to understand how the social structure of wolves applies to the dog world.
People think it’s good to have an alpha dog, believing it to be the bold one who comes to say hello when you go to choose your puppy from a litter. That is not the case. Alphas stay at the back of the kennel because they have a strong sense of self-preservation. They never put themselves in jeopardy.
If you take a true alpha puppy home with you, he will be a quick learner, easy to train so that one day, when he sees the time is right, he can take over the pack. And he’ll be looking for that day, for a sign of weakness in you that suggests you are no longer capable of doing the job. Unless you are constantly one step ahead of him, he will turn into a willful rebel who pays no attention to anything you tell him.
The beta, or what we now tend to call the enforcer, is the one who comes boldly over to you when you go to view the litter. He’s the disciplinarian, the bouncer, the bodyguard; he is pure aggression. He doesn’t think; he just weighs in.
If you choose this puppy to take home without being aware of what you have picked, it could be disastrous. You and he may differ in what you view as a perceived threat. It could be another dog in the park, a neighbor or a child.
Then there’s the tester within the pack, the quality controller, a very trying pet who will be pushing your ability daily, making sure you deserve to be the one who makes the decisions.
Mid- to low-ranking individuals make good pets because they have no need to discipline or teach anyone anything. These ranks don’t seek you out when you visit the litter.
Owners have been taught they must take on the role of the alpha dog but, despite the miraculous results in problem dogs seen on television, this doesn’t always work. If you have a nervous, low-ranking animal and you behave like an alpha, or even a beta, you could destroy him.
Many people, of course, don’t get their dogs as pups. Contrary to the saying, ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’; I believe you can, by going back to that time in the dog’s life when he was at his most receptive.
A pup learns basic principles from his mother: he picks up her calming signals, discovers the reward system, and learns his pack value and how to communicate with his own kind. When he stumbles out into the world at five weeks and begins to mix mother’s milk with regurgitated meat, that circle of learning increases.
So to re-educate an adult dog you feed him on the sort of diet he had in his first few months of life: a mixture of milk and minced or finely chopped meat.
After a couple of months on that he should be pliable and ready to listen, whereupon you can train him more or less as you would a puppy, heavy on reward and light on punishment.
Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.
I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.
As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane
might learn something from the experience.
The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.
The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s Death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.
Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, ”I know why.”
Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation. It has changed the way I try and live.
He said , ”People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life — like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?”
The Six-year-old continued,”Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”