Unleash Your Dog's Dogness
Like a tiger in a zoo that spends his life walking in circles in restless frustration, and hopelessly uses his limited brain capacity to understand what’s happening to him, a dog that sees life from a window and the restraint of a leash, won’t know what’s wrong. But it’s wrong. Restraint is not good for dogs.
After all, in a way, dogs are tamed wolves among us. This means a ton of things and none of them includes a leash.
It is more often than we realize that a dog’s life is limited to 20-minute walks around the block. This lack of action is a recipe for misery for most dogs. How is someone unable to do better, and why did they end up with a dog in their household in the first place?
Dogs may be tamed wolves, but we should not confuse tameness with vapidness.
Before we became farmers, dentists, designers, or social media experts, we were nomads, free from property or borders, always unsafe and alerted. 12.000 years can do a lot to a species, but it’s not enough time to change a 2 million years old genetic structure. The mentality and attitude of our ancestors are implanted in us, and this cannot be undone.
A significant part of our brains is still a hunter-gatherer, ready to feast on sugar. We look more like cavemen in urban canyons and less like God’s chosen. In all seriousness, the key to lead better lives is to know how we came to be who we are today as a species.
Likewise, the key to helping our dogs live better lives is to know how they came to be who they are today as a species. Under what circumstances was their genetic structure built?
Once upon a time, somewhere on Earth, some ancient wolves (dog’s prehistoric ancestors) abandoned the lifestyle of a hunter and came closer and closer to our settlements to live as scavengers. Before that, they thrived in grasslands and ancient forests. They were great hunters and lived in extended families with hierarchical order.
Over the centuries, the most friendly ones became part of the street life of human communities. Those wolves (or should I say dogs?) were no longer a threat to the human and vice versa. Their desirable hunting skills came in hand, and a new symbiosis — the only one of its kind — began. Never before in history had two species formed a relationship this close.
For thousands of years, those primitive dogs evolved alongside humans in a controlled but demanding environment. Dogs served as hunters, guardians of the community, or companions, and used the human communities to acquire safety, food, and shelter. Fair.
Their appearance changed. Their characteristics became friendlier, their personalities more social and playful.
When we moved to the cities, dogs moved in with us. Not very long ago, we developed methods to teach them how to behave and obey our commands. They now learn boundaries. They are no longer the village dogs free to go to the nearby forest if an interesting smell reaches their noses.
Most dogs live in buildings now, and they walk on a leash.
It’s clear that wolves voluntarily gave up a little bit of their freedom to be part of human society. Now their descendants, our dogs, keep honoring this agreement — not that they know of an alternative. Their roles have changed, as we have changed our relationship with the wild. They are no longer a great addition to hunting expeditions; they are now members of the human family.
But leashes were never part of the ‘’deal’’.
For the wild wolf that’s still in them or the free dog that served the community with hard work and excitement, their domestication must stop there.
It is time to ditch the anthropocentric and anti-dog notions that take over the conversation of how a dog should live and behave. Most dogs are forced to a boring life and experience almost everything through the constant restraint of a damn leash.
Their dogness is being unfairly oppressed. Not that there is a fair kind of oppression, but when it comes to dogs, their maximal wellness is only a step away, and it depends entirely on us: their people, guardians, providers, and entertainers. To be good at this, we need to see our dogs as dogs (=domesticated wolves) and not merely as our pets (=animals that are kept at home as a companion and treated kindly).
Dogs deserve better.
Freedom is joy and dogs deserve it
The taste of freedom is just too sweet to not let your dog experience it. All dogs should be able to unpack their dogness — sniff, run, play, explore, and smell each other’s butts — without constantly having to keep pace with us.
Preferably take it to a natural setting; a forest, a lake, a beach on your own, or a mountain. Visit those places and your dog will thank you. Do more of it and you’ll be your dog’s favorite person.
More off-leash quality time outdoors is the one thing you could do to bring more happiness and meaning into your dog’s life. Some bones too, but the absence of bones won’t make them depressed or socially unreliable. Constraint will do.
And to the lady that once attacked me for having my dog free while hiking in a nearby mountain, I never had the chance to say this: mountains, rivers, lakes, and beaches belong to dogs too. Denying them that is a supercilious attitude.
Unfortunately, in a world where the sight of a free dog, even deep in the mountains, is a trigger and an annoyance to many, unresponsive dogs have not earned the right to be free. Having your dog well-trained is your way to avoid getting in trouble with tact.
As a final thought, I’ll say this: dogs that live with outdoorsy people are the luckiest. And if you are not, it’s never too late to become one. Take the extra mile that your dog will love you for. Because if you haven’t taken your dog to the great outdoors, you haven’t seen your dog’s dogness on full display yet.