We adopted a dog from Safe Haven, the rescue group that brings abandoned pups from Tennessee and Kentucky up to Illinois to find homes for them. We named her Lucy, in part after triathlete Lucy Charles-Barclay, a person we both admire.
By breed Lucy is officially half Staffordshire terrier, otherwise known as a pit bull. But she’s also part beagle, boxer and border collie. All smart breeds, but stubborn and willful as well. So training is a top priority for her while she is a young pup. We hired a dog trainer to help us learn how to bring her along.
One of the things we learned early on is that pups like Lucy value certain types of food or objects higher than others. These “high value” items include larger rawhide bones but also the ground red meat we’ve introduced into her diet.
With items like those under her nose, Lucy can get defensive and even snarl at us. That is not behavior we want to abide, much less encourage. Some of her aggression likely stems from her earliest experiences in kennels or situations where other dogs were dominant over her.
But some of it is just dogs being dogs, and that’s not really good either. When animal instincts such as food aggression are allowed to continue, the pet is uncomfortable in many situations and can make people uncomfortable as well. She’s a sweet girl, but she needs to be trained out of these harsher animal instincts.
We’ve got her going to doggy day-care as well. That socializes her to other dogs, which is an important aspect of her overall training because the world is full of other dogs, and we want those encounters to be healthy for her too.
All this dog training makes me think about how humans behave as well. Dog training is probably 80% training humans and 20% actually training the dog.
Much like dogs, it is also true that people in this world also have “high value” objects and ideas that they will snarl and growl to protect. These are the red meat and bones of contemporary culture.
We can see much of this “high value” aggression going on in the political issues vexing the American populace right now. Try to take away someone’s guns and they’ll snarl and growl about their Second Amendment rights. Try to take away someone’s health care preferences and they’ll bark at you. All of these issues are the product of possession instincts versus fear of loss.
Fear of loss or even the perception that something of high value might be taken away drives it all. And when the head of a pack of dogs shows aggression, it puts every other dog on edge. Fights break out in redirected aggression. The red meat of human evolution bubbles to the surface.
During my peak competitive years as a runner, coming in first place in a race was something I valued quite highly. I cared about those results more than almost anything else in life. And while I was young and in peak physical condition, I was fortunate to win a number of races and do quite well in others.
Some of that competitive stuff was merely ego-driven. We all like to win. That is true. It makes us feel important. We hope that others take notice.
Yet some of that drive to win was also compensatory. It was the result of a powerful need for approval related to struggles with self-esteem, a critical father and a spectrum of sibling rivalry issues. Those influences caused troubles in some of my “high value” training as a child. Not all of that was well-managed. It left me with some anger issues that admittedly (ultimately) helped drive my competitive spirit. I guess I can be thankful for that in some ways. Those are some of the ironies in red meat achievement in life.
But anger and snarling at the world isn’t really a sustainable way to exist on this planet. Eventually I had to work through those anger issues and emerged with a more mature sense of what I truly value and how to go about getting or keeping it.
And with some things, I’ve just learned to let them go. Every dog has to learn its place in this world, and that is true of people too.