Canine Corner

A rescue dog from the streets of Spain, homed in the United States.

What if I told you that only about 20% of domestic dogs worldwide are household pets?

The remaining 80% of dogs fall into the “unrestrained” category, which comprises unowned dogs such as feral dogs and stray dogs, along with dogs who are owned but not kept in a home or yard; the dogs from the latter group are cared for by either an individual or by communities but roam freely and live as they choose. It seems that “owned,” as it pertains to dogs, means something quite different in other parts of the world than it does to us.

Objectively speaking, it is obvious this means that our pet dogs, and our ways of being with them, are in the minority. What isn’t so obvious at first thought is how the 20%’s experience of life differs from the majority.

Perhaps the main difference is that the 20% have no choice but to live almost completely under our rule, by our human mores—they have very little autonomy. Our beloved companion canines have pinned to their coats a long list of human-oriented rules that must be followed if they are to live and be accepted. These rules are tiered:

Tier One: The rules of the resident country.

Tier Two: The rules of the resident state.

Tier Three: The rules of the resident city or town. Tier Four, in some cases: The rules of the resident landlord or homeowner’s association. And the last but certainly not least tier: The rules of the individual who possesses a dog from the 20%.

Imagine what would happen if the other 80% of the world’s dogs were suddenly scooped up by humans and expected to be “dog” in the way that we think of when we think “dog.” Imagine all those befuddled creatures surrounded by crates and gates and collars and huge hands.

I’m not suggesting that we fling open our doors and wave goodbye to the tail end of our best friends until they decided that we meet again. In a society such as ours, this would be very dangerous for them. Nevertheless, it’s enlightening to consider the differences and potential ramifications.

While this isn’t true for everyone, generally speaking, our relative freedom and prosperity mean we can give our dogs anything we wish. Paradoxically, this situation might also feed feelings of entitlement to treating our dogs in any manner that we please. The 80% do not and would not tolerate much of what we see as normal. They don’t have to. They can literally walk away. I wonder how many of our dogs would walk away if they could, opting for more freedom and less obligation.

Rain Jordan, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP, is a certified canine behavior and training professional. Visit her at www.expertcanine.com.

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