Words and reality

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By Cesar Millan

Although humans first began to domesticate early ancestors of dogs about thirty thousand years ago, it wasn’t until the 1880s that the first flea and tick treatments were developed at about the same time as the rabies vaccine, allowing dogs to move closer to our human packs.

After that, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the concept of animal rights even existed, and not until the 1990s that service dogs were recognized and finally allowed, by Federal law, into places where dogs were normally prohibited.

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It wasn’t until twenty years ago that San Francisco became the first city to pass a no-kill shelter law. So far, so good. But, in the twenty years since, well-intentioned humans have forgotten one very important thing...

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Dogs are dogs. And dogs see themselves in this order: animal, species, breed, name. That’s how they look at us, too. To dogs, our names are the least important thing about us.

But to humans, names are very important. It’s how we identify each other, and our names are very personal. If you’ve ever misspelled or mispronounced someone else’s name (or had it done to you), then you know how personally we take our names. And that’s kind of silly.

In the dog world, a “name” is scent and energy. That’s how dogs identify each other, and it’s how they identify us. While dogs can learn the meaning of several hundred words, they will never understand that their name means “me.” They will only understand it as a sound you make when you want their attention.

This is why you should never use a dog’s name to discipline it, by the way — you’ll just teach them that the sound means something bad is going to happen.

Names are important to humans because we approach the world with our intellect and emotions first. Our intellect is why we name things, and our emotions are what give meaning to those words. We get in trouble when the way we apply words doesn’t match reality.

“She’s my baby.” “My dogs are my fur kids.” “I’m a pet parent.”

We say things like that for ourselves, and in that way it’s okay. The trouble comes when we actually treat our dogs like they are little human children, or believe that they perceive the world the same way that people do.

As I’ve said many times, when I came to America almost twenty-four years ago, one of the first things I noticed was how differently the dogs were treated. They didn’t have jobs like the dogs back in Mexico did. They were spoiled, in some cases extremely.

I saw people dressing their dogs in little outfits or carrying them around in purses. In America, some dogs have birthday parties, and I’ve heard of weddings and even “bark mitzvahs” for dogs, with the first one happening in the 1970s. The first job I had in America was as a dog groomer, something unheard of back home at the time.

From a human point of view, these may seem like nice things to do, and the best way to show our dogs that we love them. But from a dog’s point of view, they can be very confusing and even terrifying experiences. A wedding can be stressful enough for human participants. Now imagine a couple of dogs being dressed up and paraded past a bunch of people, then forced to stand around and do nothing while somebody says a lot of words. It will make absolutely no sense to them at all.

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When we try to treat our dogs like children or think of them as our babies, we are not providing protection and direction as a good Pack Leader should. Instead, we are focusing on our emotional needs first.

The best gift our dogs can give us is to be balanced and happy, which is why the best way we can show affection to our dogs is to let them be dogs, and to follow Nature by respecting and honoring their instincts.

Stay calm, and follow your instincts.

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