Each time I visit Kalamaki, Zakynthos, I am always overwhelmed by the gentleness of stray dogs here, given that many have been abandoned or left to do their own thing, they are actually really quite balanced dogs. Ironic really when you consider the increasing dog behaviour issues I see happening in the UK, many of which live in a loving human household!
It makes me question what it is that has caused a number of dogs in the UK to have become unbalanced, particularly in their lack of natural instinctual behaviour to ‘greet’ in such a calm, respectable manner? Time upon time the behaviour issues I am called in to help with revolve around teaching a dog to ‘greet’ people or other dogs without barking, jumping up, getting overexcited or aggressive… Those very basic skills, underpinned by two fundamental things- Trust and Respect.
Consider this: stray dogs here travel miles on a daily basis to survive, they just roam, rest for a bit, then continue. Often participating in many survival activities along the way- foraging for food and water, digging, resting, mating, avoiding traffic, interacting with other animals, people, swimming….The physical and mental stimulation they get is constant. So, you take all that daily instinctual activity away that a stray dog gets and bring them into our human world. What happens? In my view they get ‘humanised’, taught ‘human language’, not exercised enough, given inconsistent rules… So they get bored, frustrated and confused, losing touch with their animal-dog instincts. Their innate calm energy, their ability to co exist with people and other animals and their will to survive, just seems to get distorted as they become humanised-living and being treated by their owners as if they were a human being.
Before I left for my trip, I met a lady who’s dog was in charge of, basically everything! She had taken to not going out because her dog would bark when she left her and she’d come back to absolute destruction and with her dog peeing all over the lounge. Her dog would sleep in her bed, decide what she liked to eat and when, she had at least 3 beds around the house and if she didn’t want to walk, by grounding her feet, she wouldn’t! So her owner would turn around and go back home! The owner thought that by doing whatever her dog wanted would make her happy, and her one and only being in her life was her dog!
So, the question I ask many people who come and seek my help is ‘Do you think your dog is happy?’ And if they say yes I ask them to explain why they think their dog is happy, what behaviour/body language do they observe?
The definition of a happy dog is controversial. Some would say, ‘my dogs so happy to see me when I come in. He jumps up, barking, licking me, I love it!’ Whereas in fact I observe this behaviour and interpret the dog as being extremely anxious when left alone and going into an overexcited state of hysteria when the owner returns. So why does the owner think her dog is happy? Because that’s what the owner interprets from behaviour in the human world and possibly needs to feel from her dog, to fulfil a need in her and fill a hole in her life that is loneliness. I have met many many people with their unbalanced dogs whom have come to realise and then admit that they have turned to their dog to fulfil a need of feeling wanted and loved in themselves. Without even thinking about the knock on effect of that responsibility on their dog, misinterpreting the body language and behaviour signs that their dog is showing them as signs of being unbalanced.
So if you happen to come across a dog living on the street, just watch them, and ‘feel’ the calmness of their energy. Some may well be skinny and under nourished and need intervention but some may also be just ‘being’, travelling from A to B, resting, feeding, mating, playing, digging a hole… doing all the natural behaviours that are instinctual in any animal.