Saturday 30 April 2016

The Wolf Within: Some Thoughts On The "Dangerous Dogs" Controversy.

Man's Best Friends: They were not our pets but our co-workers – valued members of the human packs into which they had been inducted. The lives these wolf-like creatures led with their human companions weren’t, in truth, all that different from the lives they’d led as wild creatures. They still ranged far and wide in search of prey: padding softly through vast forests; loping tirelessly across endless grasslands. The wolf within was never very far away. Neither was humankind.
NO ONE KNOWS exactly how it happened. Some say it was the starved remnant of a hunting pack drawn to a human encampment by the smell of roasting meat. A single individual, most likely female, probably ready to whelp, willing to risk anything, even the wrath of these hairless apes, for the sake of her unborn pups.
No one knows who did it. A mother, perhaps, looking out into the darkness at the edge of the firelight and seeing its reflection in the eyes of the wretched, desperate and importunate she-wolf looking back at her.
No one knows why she did it. When the hunters asked, astonished, she just tightened her hold on the shivering animal’s neck and shook her head.
The men would have killed the starving creature there and then, but the tribal shaman stayed their hand. The call had been made. The call had been answered. The she-wolf was theirs now, the tribes’, and so were her offspring – for all time.
What they had feared would now be feared by others. The Tribe had a new hunter, a new lookout, a new protector. Henceforth they would call themselves, and be known as, the People of the Wolf.
Sixteen-thousand years later, it’s easy to forget the context out of which the human species acquired its oldest and most steadfast animal companion.
Long before we learned to cultivate the grasses of the hillside, or to domesticate the animals that grazed upon them, the canine carnivores that would, in time, become “dogs” hunted and gathered at our side.
They were not our pets but our co-workers – valued members of the human packs into which they had been inducted. The lives these wolf-like creatures led with their human companions weren’t, in truth, all that different from the lives they’d led as wild creatures. They still ranged far and wide in search of prey: padding softly through vast forests; loping tirelessly across endless grasslands. The wolf within was never very far away. Neither was humankind.
To gain some insight into the sort of expectations our distant ancestors had of dogs, one has only to visit a farm, or join a pig-hunting expedition. In both contexts, the hunting instincts of dogs’ wolfish ancestors have been honed to a nicety. To witness a well-trained sheep-dog turning a herd of ewes, or a trio of pig-dogs launching themselves upon a tusker at bay, is to understand what a very beneficial bargain was struck all those millennia ago between the barkers and the talkers.
Had they remained our co-workers – valued partners in the enterprise of survival – dogs and humans could have remained the truest of friends. Unfortunately, however, the clever brains of the hairless apes, and the almost infinitely malleable genes of the canine species ruined the relationship.
In the words of Slate magazine columnist, William Saletan: “Dogs are the world’s longest self-serving, ecologically reckless genetic experiment, perpetrated by the world’s first genetically engineering species: us.” He’s right: we have been breeding dogs for centuries; re-purposing them in lock-step with human civilisation’s own ever-increasing reliance on specialisation.
“In the course of engineering dogs to look, feel, and act as we wanted,” says Saletan, “we ruined millions of them. We gave them legs so short they couldn’t run, noses so flat they couldn’t breathe, tempers so hostile they couldn’t function in society.”
Signs warning passers-by to “Cave Canis” – Beware of the Dog – abounded in Ancient Rome. As well they might have, given the Romans proclivity for breeding large, black and thoroughly vicious guard dogs to protect their property. Not that these squat canine sentinels were anywhere near as intimidating as the terrifying dogs-of-war that accompanied Rome’s legions into battle. These brutes could crush a man’s skull like an eggshell.
It is only relatively recently that anyone other than the very rich could aspire to keep dogs as pets. Up until the twentieth century, dogs, like plough-horses and house-cats, were expected to earn their keep. An aristocratic lady might carry a little dog in her lap – but not a peasant girl.
How things have changed. Dogs are big business in today’s world, their upkeep alone representing billions in corporate profit.
Popular culture paints the dog as a fun-loving member of the suburban family – as harmless as it is companionable. It is considered neither helpful nor polite to remind these folk that they are sharing their lives with animals boasting inch-long incisors and bone-crushing jaws.
True, the aforementioned genetic engineering has eliminated much that is dangerous from a large number of dog breeds – many of which are too small to pose a serious risk to human life and limb. In some dogs, however, the purposes for which they were bred: hunting and fighting; sit uncomfortably with suburban family fun.
The wolf within is never far away. Neither is humankind.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 26 April 2016.


aberfoyle said...

Pit bulls.Eyes dead to see question.My cousin had one,lovely dug.The home of our place has lower garden than our next door house.They have a Bull Mastive,lovely dug,like all bull Mastive!s,however my cousins jumped and grabed locked and whould not let go,as the Mastive just shook its head and SHOOK IT OFF.Pit bulls dead eyes,cannot see what is behind them.Cunliffe,Twyford.What a Labour dance.

Anonymous said...

A very good piece:
The political party which states as policy their killing off of dangerous dog breeds in their first year of office gets my vote , no matter what their other policies may be.
Come on MSM, get the debate started, start growth in selling your product.
Come on the public, show your concerns any which way.
Come on Winston, we need you.
Come on the leaders of political parties, get some balls.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I'm somewhat of an expert on dogs, having been a runner, walker and mountain biker – I've been threatened by dogs more than 40 times and bitten thrice :). The last words I heard before the last time were "he won't hurt you." Only one dog owner has ever apologised, and that was for a dog that threatened my toddler. Most of them act as if the damn thing can do no wrong. Obviously people have far too much of their personality and self-worth tied up in these things. Indeed, one of them lied in court about my bite – "he must have fallen over." One couple I saw had a dog that was so vicious, it was literally chained to her waist – for which I was extremely grateful when it went for me as I rode past. The noise it made I have never heard from a dog before. Why people want dogs like this, and why they are allowed to have them I will never know.

greywarbler said...

Gosh Aberfoyle can't quite make out your reasoning. You do very well if English is your second language but have a look at the spacing round sentences that other commenters use, I suggest.

Nick J said...

I have reason to fear dogs, an Alsation ripped my blazer from my back, an Akita bowled me over and attempted to dog. I have had rottweilers and dobermans snarl and growl. The worst by far have been small terriers and miniature dogs snapping at ankles and hands. Aggression is across all breeds, it is just that some are better equipped to do damage.

I don't have any easy answers to dangerous dogs or aberrant behavior. I coexist with a large crossbreed whom I trust implicitly to keep her fangs to herself. She has never been smacked or physically abused. Mammalian behavior is both genetic and learned, like people socialised behavior is learnt by dogs.

Jigsaw said...

I was recently bailed up while riding my bicycle on the beach. I had read somewhere that putting the bike between myself and the dog was a good idea and so it proved to be. The owner was some 300-400 metres away and was too fat to run. It snarled and barked and threatened me for some five minutes until she arrived and belted the dog (some sort of Rottweiler)she said "he won't hurt you" and then "what can I do" at which point I used several expletives to describe what I would have done had I had a gun with me. I couldn't help thinking what might have been the result if it had been a child instead of an old guy. Naturally she took off with the dog which is still out there somewhere.

Andrew Nichols said...

When I was a kid in the 60s dogs in NZ were kept as pets or working animals and lived in a kennel. They were not permitted inside. They were not surrogate human beings. In the 70s even large dogs moved inside and became sad peoples "boys" and "girls". Result thoroughly confused animals smally houses and unpleasant experiences for visitors.

Anonymous said...

As a jobbing gardener I encounter many dogs. My conclusion is there is a problem. There are many lovely dogs but even the best have anti-human flaws. Despite their good company I would prefer I didn't have to deal with them generally. No dogs above knee level in town and no jaw-clamping breeds? If not, I think I would prefer they could roam free rather than be holed up, where neuroses breed.

David said...

I read that goats are the oldest domesticated animals. They have a much nicer nature for being around humans.