Unicorns, myths and fairy tales….

As the father of a 3yr old, I am constantly engulfed in the world of make believe and story telling… the adventures of characters created in the minds of others, designed to take my daughter on adventures across the globe, or to far off lands, and capture her imagination. This world of make believe is both inspiring and influential.

I say influential, because we are now learning of the far reaching impact of these subliminal messages. The princess empowerless, waiting for her prince to come save her… or the imaginary of man and woman being the ‘norm’. Whilst I can see these now for what they are, and enjoy the magic of ‘Disney’, I am conscious of the irony. Indeed so are film makers, as they slowly amend their messaging to align with the way in which the world is and should be. For example the latest ‘Frozen’ movie has been created with this in mind. Debarking the stereotypes of men and emotions, self love being one of the most important loves one can experience.

Deep right? Bit too heavy for a kids movie? Thats what I thought prior to having a daughter… and the awareness of what we ‘are told’ via these influences.

In my observations, this is exactly what we are under going in the dog world.

We have a distinct misalignment between what we are told of how dogs should behave, versus what they are and how they are meant to behave.

What was your first imagery of dogs, in the media? Lassie? Rin Tin Tin? The littlest hobo? Old yellow?

All the above have a common theme, dogs that behave ‘very non dog like’!

There is nothing normal about Lassie befriending a random dog, and helping that dog over come adversity… or helping Timmy get out of a well, by barking to signal this…

In both instances the reality would be somewhat less endearing.

The meeting the strange dog would probably involve some posturing, possibly minor acts of aggression or defensive behaviour, scent marking and possibly some casual interaction with clear rules being set… and the incessant barking?? Probably a disgruntled neighbour complaint and a spray collar!

Often we are so indoctrinated to believe the messaging presented in media and wider society that we prolong the much needed reality check to see dogs for what they are.

The sooner we align ourselves with what dogs are, the sooner we will be talking less about reactivity, less about separation anxiety, less about behavioural problems in a manner which demonises, and more about proactive training, education and socialisation, more about how our dogs behaved like ‘normal’ dogs and how we trained them to behave ‘totally abnormally’. How we taught them to behave in a manner acceptable to functioning in society, just as we do our children.

Let’s take the example of the ever so problematic ‘Beethoven’… the loveable St Bernard that blundered into the lives of the Newton family.

The story follows the journey of first time owners taking on a rather fun loving puppy, and then the subsequent escapades as a result of his antics. The laugh and smile as these, as the story shows how he ingratiates himself to the ‘head of the house’, saves their daughter from near drowning and ‘outs’ the black market dealing of the veterinarian.

So hold up! What part of this is ‘real’? And what are we being ‘told’?

In truth and somewhat less dramatic viewing, the problem issues were actually easily resolved. Some simple crate training, reinforcement of desirable behaviour, management and education!

Perhaps not a box office hit, but def a happy ending for the dog….

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an attack on the latest canine capers to be presented on the silver screen… I can appreciate the story of man and dog, and be as entertained as the next person.

However, we need to remind ourselves that they are movies… movies designed to entertain. Not necessarily reality.

When delivering seminars across the world, specifically on reactivity, one of the most common examples of what people qualify as ‘reactivity’ is by explaining that their dog doesn’t ‘like dogs in their space’….

This always strikes me as a perfect example of the misconception of what dogs are versus what we are told they should be.

Why would your dog like another dog that it doesn’t know, in its face? Would you like a random stranger to come straight up to your face? What would your reaction be? Aggressive? Worry? Fear? Avoidance? All perfectly acceptable and perfectly ‘normal’ responses.

And in reality, the antagonist would be the person who approached you… they would probably be arrested for an offence ranging from public order, assault or worse.

Dogs do what dogs do. Sometimes grossly inappropriate and totally contradictory to what we would like, but it doesn’t make them the villain, or the ‘bad guy’. It makes them a dog, no more, no less. They may lack education, training, socialisation or the endless list of totally reasonable justifications for their behaviour, but its down to us. Its down to us to see them for what they are. Its down to us to stop believing the fairytale, forget about golden unicorns… and save that for 3yr olds bedtime stories….

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