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Unconditional Love

Once hunters and protectors, today's dogs have been promoted to family members. here's how to choose, train and love a dog
Stacey C. Rivera
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Bacon, May/Jun 00

(continued from page 1)

Problems like separation anxiety, mouthing (play biting) and pulling can be controlled by establishing yourself as alpha and remaining consistent. "Mouthing is a natural way for dogs to show affection; it is like kissing. But it can get out of hand and people need to draw the line," Dibra says. Owners inadvertently teach their dogs bad behavior by being inconsistent. If it is sometimes acceptable for your dog to jump up to you to receive a treat but sometimes not, a dog will not be able to discern the appropriate time and adopt jumping on you and others as an acceptable behavior. Most people pet a dog while telling it no, Dibra says, which is a mixed message because the dog feels the positive reinforcement of the touch while you are attempting to enforce discipline.  

Certain actions that people make will trigger a dog's protective instinct, leading to aggressive behavior. Different dogs respond to sounds differently and they will genetically interpret certain vocal tones as growls. In dog speak, dogs challenge each other by such vocalization. Another mistake people make is when first encountering a new dog, they bend down to eye level with the dog (which some dogs, such as Akitas, interpret as a challenge) and then quickly stand upright, which other dogs may take as an invitation to jump up as well. In these cases, the dog will take its cue from its alpha and react according to your positive or negative response. "The more you train a dog, the more they trust you and stop bad behavior," Dibra says.  

"When a dog is really trained right and you understand dog speak, you will have these moments when you and your dog are totally in synch and it is almost as if you are talking to the dog through telepathy, because the dog is picking up on your body language and vice versa," Dibra adds.   Alexander Pope mused in the eighteenth century that "histories are more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends." In the twenty-first century, a wise and unknown poet paraphrased Pope into bumper sticker-ese: "The more people I meet, the more I like my dog."  

The emotional benefits of owning a dog are obvious when you talk to a dog owner. Moreover, a multitude of studies show that animal companionship benefits the infirm and the elderly and reduces stress. Dogs are even becoming a regular sight in the workplace. "There is lots of evidence of animals reducing stress and generally creating a happier, psychologically healthier environment," says Andrea Reisman of the Petopia office in San Francisco, where employee dogs roam free. "For us [having dogs in the office] actually creates an environment that is turbo-charged in terms of pace, because the animals really create a backdrop of calm and warmth."  

Dogs can also foster a sense of community among owners. In dog parks, in chat rooms and at competitive shows, dog owners never tire of discussing their beloved companions with one another. "If you walk past any dog park, you'll see the dogs playing and the people talking to each other," Reisman says. "If you listen to the conversations, people don't know each other's names, they know the dogs' names. They refer to each other as Rex's owner or Buffy's father. Dog owners really want to talk to each other." According to the AKC's Roberts, it is no different on the show circuit where "a real close-knit family" develops between people whose only association is that they compete at the same shows.  

As dogs become more integrated into their owners' lives, a growing number of services are becoming available. In the hotel industry, for instance, many establishments are now providing accommodations for the dogs of guests. The field of veterinary care has made great strides towards curing diseases and extending life. Pet therapy is also an expanding field. "Pet therapy is very valid, and people willing to make that investment, bless them, because that investment can pay off in many ways," says Hawk. "By initiating drug therapy or behavioral changes, you have created an animal that can be part of the family instead of ending up in a shelter or being put down. We all need help occasionally, and so do our pets."  

Many people still view pet owners as nuisance neighbors. In an attempt to assuage some of the fears and create confidence in a pet's behavior, the AKC has developed the Canine Good Citizen Program, in which all dogs, purebreds or mutts, can pass a series of obedience tests and be certified to behave well in society. "There is a tremendous movement now among housing people who do not want dogs in their buildings because they think they are nuisances. With a Canine Good Citizen Certificate, a board can be sure that a dog is well behaved," Dibra says.  

Perhaps what is needed is a better understanding between people. Those who don't love dogs can't understand why most dog owners admit to having regular conversations with their pups and to calling them by a diminutive. Or why more than 50 percent of dog owners refer to themselves as Mommy or Daddy. For those who do not love dogs, it is hard to understand why people subject themselves to the sometimes unpleasant aspects of owning a dog. To them, Dibra asks, "What is the point of living if you don't have a dog?"  

Christine Merrill is exclusively represented by The William Secord Gallery Inc. in New York City. For more information, call 212-249-0075 or visit its Web site, www.dogpainting.com.    

MASTER'S CHOICE  

Find which dog best suits your personality, according to Why We Love the Dogs We Do, by Stanley coren.  

If you're this sort of person... EXTROVERTED

Outgoing in social situations, cheerful and people-oriented. Your job involves a lot of public contact. You deal well with people and are generally the joke teller in the center of the crowd. Your dog should be...

CONSISTENT (Chihuahua, dachshund, pug) or clever (Belgian sheepdog, German shepherd, poodle)  

If you're this sort of person...INTROVERTED

You avoid social interaction because you are uncomfortable in a crowd. People sometimes call you aloof or distant. You work well in jobs where you can be independent of other people. In a crowd, you tend to stay with the people you already know. Your dog should be...

INDEPENDENT (borzoi, Chinese shar-pei, dalmatian) or steady (basset hound, beagle, Great Dane)  

If you're this sort of person... DOMINANT

You are forceful, assertive, self-assured and competitive. Because you are very ambitious and achievement-oriented, your job is in management where you can have power and lead. Your dog should be...

SELF-ASSURED (Jack Russell terrier, shih tzu, Yorkshire terrier) or steady (bloodhound, bulldog, mastiff)  

If you're this sort of person... NONDOMINANT

You are shy and passive and avoid leadership roles. You like structure and therefore work in an environment where the rules are clear. You are nonconfrontational and sensitive to the needs and wants of others. Your dog should be...

PROTECTIVE (Akita, bull terrier, rottweiler) or independent (Afghan hound, greyhound, pointer)  

If you're this sort of person... TRUSTING

You are gentle, obliging and modest. People who know you refer to you as a good sport. You work in the arts because you don't like situations in which manipulation is an advantage. You tend to leave your car unlocked and take friends at their word. Your dog should be...

PROTECTIVE (boxer, chow chow, puli) or clever (Cardigan Welsh corgi, border collie, papillon)  

If you're this sort of person... CONTROLLING

You are competitive, calculating and manipulative. People sometimes refer to you as cocky and blunt. You can bluff in any situation and may work in marketing or sales. You are charismatic and have a desire to be successful at any cost. Your dog should be...

STEADY (Great Pyrenees, Newfoundland, Saint Bernard) or self-assured (miniature pinscher, Welsh terrier, basenji)  

If you're this sort of person... WARM

You are sympathetic, forgiving, affectionate and charitable. Because you are accommodating and helpful, your job is in the personal service field. You belong to clubs and boards, but don't require recognition for your efforts. Your dog should be...

CLEVER (Doberman pinscher, Shetland sheepdog) or friendly (golden retriever, soft-coated wheaten terrier)  

If you're this sort of person... COOL

You are self-oriented and independent. People refer to you as a lone wolf. You work in a job where your cynicism and skepticism are helpful, such as investigation. You give little thought to the desires of others and you want to win at all costs. Your dog should be...

STEADY (Bernese mountain dog, clumber spaniel, Scottish deerhound) or consistent (Boston terrier, English toy spaniel, Maltese)    


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