Dog Training & Behaviour Blog

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    A Better Life?

    Street dogs- Vietnam Street dogs - Vietnam
    A street dog, fighting each day to survive, scavenging for food, and avoiding perceived threats such as humans. Lived its life since a puppy with its mother learning to avoid humans, and scavenging for food to survive. Its an environment and world the dog knows well and fully understands. A Good Samaritan comes along, sees what they perceive as a poor unfortunate dog fighting to survive on the streets, living a traumatic life avoiding humans... The Good Samaritan captures the dog and takes the dog home feeling sorry for the poor animal, and wanting to give it a "better" life.
    Question: Who decides what is a "better" life? The subjective emotions of the good Samaritan feeling sorry for a dog fighting to survive on the streets and believes a loving home is a better life for this dog, or a dog that has learned to survive in an environment it fully understands?
    In the new home the dog withdraws avoiding the Good Samaritan that removed it from the environment it understands, distressed and not understanding what is going on. Weeks go by and very slowly the dog becomes more trusting of this Good Samaritan. However, when visitors come to visit the home, the dog reverts back to feeling insecure and unsure, avoiding these humans as it did when living on the streets, ever since it was a young puppy with its mother. The dog has nowhere to run, stuck in the same room as these humans it desperately wants to avoid, barking trying to scare the perceived threat away. Flight instinct has been totally removed, that had previously helped the dog feel safe when living on the streets. The Good Samaritan tries to comfort the insecure and distressed dog that is trying to avoid these human visitors, as it has instinctively done for months or even years, ever since it was a young puppy learning from its mother on the streets.
    The insecure dog slowly becomes more and more confident within its new environment, because it has become overly dependent and obsessive of its loving owner, and cannot bare to be parted from them, and now becomes even more distressed when this Good Samaritan is not around. However, stress levels also increase when visitors arrive at the home. Flight instinct has been removed, the dog slowly but surely begins to understand that barking, displaying some aggression and moving towards the threat makes the perceived threat back away. Now we have an apparent unpredictable aggressive dog developing, that learns that its feeling of insecurity is reverted to confidence and pleasure when its brain is flooded with dopamine, because forward focused aggression works, making the perceived threat stay away, the behaviour is rewarding. Flight instinct is now taken over by fight, due to the dopamine rush of the expected reward.. the threat eventually backing away or maintaining distance.
    This dogs forward focused aggression intensifies, and eventually the dog severely bites someone. The dog is blamed, or the owner makes excuses for their dog, deciding it was because the dog had such a traumatic past life on the street...... And yet, the dog on the street never bit anyone, it was allowed to avoid perceived threats, by triggering flight response that always worked. It was living in an environment it totally understood...
    Now the Good Samaritan is distressed, realising they now cannot trust the poor dog  around other people that they saved from a traumatic life on the street to give it a "better" life.
    Such a common story, of street dogs removed from the environment they understand. Either they can become unpredictably aggressive, or withdraw totally inside their shell, and live a life of torment in a distressed state, trusting no one but their owner. You don't hear of these stories, of which there are many. I know, because I come across them on an almost weekly basis.
    And to be brutally honest with you, many of these dogs cannot be fully rehabilitated, no matter how much we overwhelm them with loving human emotions. Many live in a continuous distressed state, never fully adapting to their new environment of a "better" life.
    Do some dogs transition from the streets positively and live happy well-balanced lives? Yes of course, many do. But many do not, and in part, due to early conditioning and nurturing from their mother,  learning to be "street smart" from an early age, and especially genetically insecure dogs due to weak nerves that have spent their life avoiding human contact. Also what doesn't help is when the Good Samaritan believes that overwhelming an insecure and distressed dog with love and affection, will "fix" the dog.
    These situations are a lot more complex to deal with than many uneducated people understand. These street dogs, if taken from the environment they understand, to live a human determined "better" life, should be assessed by a professional to ensure the dog will actually adapt to a human determined "better" life. Also, whomever are taking on these dogs as pets, should educate themselves on how to help these dogs adapt, and not focus on feeling sorry for them, and overwhelming them with pity, love and affection.... If we viewed them as the canines they are, and not treated them as delicate little children to be wrapped in cotton wool, their transition into a "better" life would be a lot more successful. Having said this, there are many that cannot adapt and never will, no matter how much we try, and we must accept this possibility. Please, don't allow emotion to override what is best for the dog, no matter how heartbreaking the decision maybe for you.
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