Wednesday, 22 September 2021
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Let’s be honest, America: Dogs are parasites, not man’s best friend

Dogs have a dirty little secret, as you’ll soon find out, but Americans’ love affair with them just keeps growing. In his 2009 book, “One Nation Under Dog,” author Michael Schaffer wrote about how owners’ devotion to their mutts had reached astounding heights. Many of the canines …

… live in a world of dog walkers and pet sitters and animal trainers and canine swim therapists and pet Reiki masseuses … [a] baroque and endlessly subspecialized array of service providers. … 83 percent of American pet owners referred to themselves as their animal’s “mommy” or “daddy,” [reflecting] the centrality of dogs in the lives of ordinary people.

This crazy dog love keeps getting more and more costly. Spending by Americans on their pets more than quadrupled from 1994 to 2017, going from $17 billion to $69.5 billion.

A July 4th story in The New York Times detailed just how eager dog owners are to pamper their loyal, loving, obedient “fur babies” — even if the dogs don’t grasp that what’s being done to and for them is pampering. Writer Peter Haldeman described the millions of dollars that owners have spent on plastic surgery — plastic surgery! — for their dogs, in particular “tummy tucks, nose jobs and eyebrow and chin lifts.” Haldeman also noted that owners who love spas and brand-name clothiers project their feelings onto dogs who are “wallowing in mud baths and detox wraps, hot oil treatments and blueberry facials.” He wrote…

Even people who are very bad animal trainers can usually make themselves understood to dogs. If you shout at a dog, it cringes. Does this mean the dog feels sorry for peeing on your Oriental rug? The fact is that it doesn’t matter, as far as the dog is concerned, whether he feels sorry or not. The cringe is a successful technique for deflecting aggression. Millions of years of wolf evolution have selected such behaviors because they are socially effective; thousands of years of dog evolution have fine-tuned such behaviors so that they are socially effective on people. Just as we are genetically programmed to seek signs of love and loyalty, dogs are genetically programmed to exploit this foible of ours.

I know the clinical coldness of these last two paragraphs is going to rub dog lovers the wrong way. But the case that Budiansky made in 1999 has only gotten stronger over the years — even if some authors try to soften the blow with semantics, such as The Verge’s 2015 description of dogs as “nature’s most adorable parasite.”

As for dog defenders, at least they can always find reassurance on YouTube. I am among the millions who have watched the April 2017 video of the North Carolina man who lost 50 pounds during a lengthy stay in the hospital and whose dog initially didn’t recognize him, only to be seemingly overcome with joy after recognizing his owner’s smell. It seems completely and believably spontaneous, not a “programmed behavior.”

But was the dog — Willie — overjoyed to have his friendly master back? Or to have his primary meal ticket back? As Budiansky writes, “when it comes to dogs, almost nothing is what it seems.”

So is that love in your dog’s eyes — or is that the look of a con man sizing up his mark? Science says it’s the latter. Sorry, world.

Reed, who apologizes to Yoshi, Murphy, Cosmo, Wanda and Lola, is deputy editor of the editorial and opinion section. Email: chris.reed@sduniontribune.com. Twitter: @chrisreed99. Column archive: sdut.us/chrisreed.

Twitter: @sdutIdeas

Facebook: San Diego Union-Tribune Ideas & Opinion

Source: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/commentary/sd-dogs-parasites-humans-20180711-story.html

The Bark Box

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