In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Island Travel | Main | Victoria, 2007 »

June 13, 2007


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

My current favorite TV show: a British import that's broadcast on Animal Planet called "It's Me or the Dog."

(Actually, my real-real favorite TV show is the History Channel's great "Modern Marvels." I've spent more hours watching "Modern Marvels" than any other TV show ever. These are clear, straightforward documentaries about down-to-earth subjects like bridges, pumps, and water, done mostly from an engineering point of view. I don't bother with the numerous military-hardware shows myself; my own favorite episodes have concerned topics like tea, concrete, coffee, bricks, ice, nuts, and bathroom technology. How the people behind the show keep the quality as high as they do while being as productive as they are I can't begin to imagine. In any case, since "Modern Marvels" rates as my all-time favorite TV show, I've unofficially made it hors de concours.)

"It's Me or the Dog" is dog-training reality-TV -- is this a popular genre generally? This being a British show, it's crisp, fast, and amusing in a way that makes much American TV look overproduced, pushy, and bathetic by comparison.

Another dog mastered

Each 30-minute episode features a family having trouble controlling the family dog or dogs. To the rescue comes dog-trainer Victoria Stilwell. Victoria spends a couple of days with the family, first diagnosing problems, then helping the family members grasp the basics of living-sensibly-and-rewardingly-with-dogs. Often, she returns a few weeks later to see how everyone's faring.

I enjoy the show for any number of reasons. First is the spectacle of how flat-out clueless some folks are about living with dogs. You'd think that people signing up for 15 years with an animal would first learn a thing or two about what might be involved. You'd also think that they'd take care with their dogs if not out of respect for themselves then out of consideration for neighbors and friends. But noooooo. Dogs are cute, people want love, so self-restraint flies out the window. And in no time at all, the mess, the noise, the relationships, and in some cases even the neighborhood are outta control.

The glimpses of family life that the show affords often transfix. The sociological details are fascinating: the carpets, the fashions, the accents, the kitchens ... The glimpses of psychology and family dynamics can fascinate as well. It's amazing how self-centered and crazy some otherwise-presentable people can be, isn't it? A common case seems to be the mum whose kids are growing older yet who wants still to be the sun around which all love revolves. And if this love entails slobber and wagging tails, well, so much the better.

In one episode, a woman living with her family in a small suburban house had acquired six dogs -- she was clearly using the dogs to immerse herself in love and fuss. Given how badly behaved the dogs were -- the household was a hurricane of barking, fur, and agitation -- she might also have been using them as a buffer between her and the rest of her family. Yet, despite the resentment of her hubby and kids, and despite the fact that she was raising the dogs on popsicles and tea, it came as a complete surprise to her to learn that she was part of the problem.

At one point Victoria Stilwell instructed the woman to stand up every time a dog jumped on the sofa. This was meant to be a way of letting the dogs know that they were no longer permitted to overrun the household furniture. The woman did as instructed -- yet was instantly in tears. Why on earth? ... My best guess was that the woman loved her dogs' misbehavior more than anything else in the world -- that it was the dogs' misbehavior that was what made her feel loved and needed. As a consequence, enforcing decent behavior broke her heart. In this case, Victoria had to take the woman to a dog pound to scare her into taking her responsibilities as an animal-owner seriously.

Victoria Stilwell is a big part of the pleasure the show offers. It's satisfying and amazing how quickly Victoria gets the animals to pay heed and behave, as well as how apt and insightful she can be about what's happening within the families she visits.

Plus Victoria herself is quite the star presence. She's self-possessed, attractive, and radiant -- slim yet earthy, commanding yet likable, capable of bluntness yet caring. She roars onto the scene in a white VW Bug convertible, clad in pointy black heels, black stretch clothes, and kooky-yet-all-business bangs. She's cute, sexy, and reactive -- like a pixie version of the younger Camille Paglia, or a post-punk version of Diana Rigg's Emma Peel. What a creature, in other words, and what a performer.

Ah, mystery explained: I see at Wikipedia that Victoria has been an actress. That may help account for the openness to the camera, the expressiveness, the poise, the flair, etc. I often wonder if performers commonly have a good intuitive understanding of animals.

Which reminds me of a story a movie director I know slightly once told me. He was making a film with a famous, award-winning, older Euro-star. In awe of this art-movie legend, my director-friend left him alone on the set and treated him with deference. After a few days, though, the actor called him aside, and with tears in his eyes beseeched, "Treat me like an animal! I need guidance! You must understand! I can't do it on my own! I am a dog!"

The show is also good -- or so The Wife and I have found -- at provoking fun and interesting conversations. And isn't that part of what we turn to art for? A few examples:

  • Why do some people choose to allow their lives to be displayed on reality TV? In fact, some of the people come across pretty well. They seem -- if overwhelmed and in bad need of coaching -- generally sharp and likable. Others ... Well, though the show doesn't point this up (I can't bear shows and movies that deliberately humiliate real people), some of these people are as bizarre and misshapen as anything in Diane Arbus. Do they have no idea how they come across? Or do they perhaps figure that any media-fame beats none?

  • It's quite amazing to witness what some people are working out via their dogs. It's the stuff of great fiction. Some of the people on the show seem to be using their dogs as externalizations of their unconscious -- the dog represents their inner self, perhaps even their id. They treat the dog -- and they insist that the world treat the dog -- in the same way that they want their own inner being to be treated. Dog-ownership in this case is an example of emotional injustices being set right.

  • What's with the people who actively incite their dogs to behave badly? YouTube, for example, is awash in clips of out-of-control dogs being prodded into even worse behavior by owners who seem thrilled to be doing so. They post the clips, I suppose, because they find them charming -- Aww, that incorrigible Toto, just look what I can make her do! Is this sadism? Boredom? Some cases are so flagrant that commenters leave indignant comments, saying, You really shouldn't be taunting your dog in that way.

  • For some people, of course, dogs aren't animal companions, they're surrogate children. The show got The Wife and me yakking about how many NYC people raise their kids -- with a toxic combo of narcissistic projection, overindulgence, and excessive anxiety.

  • Most people seem to acquire dogs not because they want a real relationship with a real animal, but for nebulously-emotional reasons that they expect the dogs to cater to. They don't really want a dog, in other words; they want a fantasy buddy or a dream-child. The percentage of people who keep dogs because they like and value the company of dogs -- dogs as dogs -- seems surprisingly small. Why should this be the case?

  • Then there are the policy and poli-sci discussions the show prompts. Given noise, safety, and filth considerations, the one that pops up most often is: Where does one person's freedom end and yours begin?

    An example from nearby is NYC's "Pooper-Scooper" law, which was passed in 1978. I'm old enough to remember the city before the Pooper Scooper law, and it was undeniably a cruddier and stinkier place than it has been since the law was passed. But do we really want laws that extend this far into personal behavior? Wouldn't it be far better if people simply behaved well? Yet if people aren't behaving sensibly and respectfully, doesn't something need to take the place of good manners? If so: Where can these lines best be drawn?

When I visit flyover country, I'm often struck by how much dogs (and the fear of dogs) rule neighborhoods. They roam free, they snarl ... People either avoid walking or they take clubs or pepper spray with them when they do walk -- ill-raised off-leash dogs are terrifying. Yet many suburban types don't seem to consider all the elements of their life to be in place until a Lab or a Golden is part of it. House with two-car garage? Check. Kids? Check. Huge out-of-control dog? Check ... How did this conviction that the Good Suburban Life includes a free-ranging dog come to be?

In our own city lives, it's amazing how regularly dog-issues crop up. We have friends whose lives are dominated by their dogs. One couple we know has three badly-behaved dogs. Their apartment is full of play-toys, chewed-up clothing, gates, stink, and kibble. The dogs themselves -- squirmy, underexercised, and big enough to knock over an adult -- don't know the meaning of the word "sit," let alone "no." During one visit, the largest dog took a big wet bite out of a cheese round that was on a coffee table as an appetizer for the adults. The owners guffawed -- Oh, that lovable rascal of ours! -- and suggested in all seriousness that we snack on the cheese anyway.

Another couple we know made themselves miserable by acquiring an unsuitably large dog, which proceeded to exhaust them and wreak havoc on their small apartment. As The Wife likes to say about this couple: "The dog ate the sofa." Their solution to the problem was to buy another large dog -- that way the poor first dog would at least have some company. Needless to say, their woes only doubled.

OK, so sometimes a dog is the id set free...

Once I nearly came to blows with a guy whose dog was off its leash. The Wife and I were jogging in the park; the dog chased and harassed us; The Wife jogged up to the guy to tell him to put the dog back on its leash; the guy turned on The Wife ... And all my testosterone flamed up. In a second I was butting chests with the guy, exchanging "Oh yeah? Well, your mother better come along because you're going to need some help!" threats and challenges. (Where do these words come from? It isn't as though I'd ever rehearsed them.) Which is a hoot, of course, given that he was a bulky Tony Soprano type with large gold chains and rings, and that I'm a bespectacled artyguy who has never been in an actual physical fight. But there I was risking life and limb -- all because of a dog.

A big presence in our lives for the last ten years has been our next-door neighbor and his two yappy dachshunds. When this cretin moved in, his dogs would often bark for eight or ten hours at a stretch. It took two years of arguments and letters to the landlord to get him to exert any control over his dogs at all. Even now, he'll sometimes leave them alone for an evening; they'll yap on and off for a couple of hours.

What we overhear through the walls -- through the thick walls, by the way-- of their relationship can be alarming. He seems to be the very model of a terrible dog owner. He yells at the dogs, he coos over them, he cajoles them, he weeps over them ... Not unusual was the other evening. First we heard him scream: "Fuck you, doggie! Fuck you!" A minute later, nearly weeping: "Yes! Good doggie! Good doggie!" Later it was "God-damn you! God-damn you!!" We refer to our neighbor as The Dog Bellower.

How to explain this kind of behavior? My theory is that the guy was raised this way himself, by parents who alternated between screaming fits and frenzies of overemotionality. In any case, the idea that as a dog owner one should be a calming, firm, and regular influence never seems to have occurred to this clown. He looks at us and at the other neighbors defiantly. It's him and his dogs versus the world, I guess.

It's interesting that, as a trainer, Victoria Stilwell doesn't seem to be from the "you need to be pack-leader" school. She believes instead that it's your responsibility to guide your dog in how to live well in a human world. Judging from the results she obtains, there has got to be something to her approach. I'm tempted to call it her philosophy, really: involved here are ideas about hierarchy, psychology, relations between humans and other species, and how we live in society. Over and over again questions that you might call metaphysical crop up, if not explicitly then implicitly: Why do these people even have animals? What do they want from them? What -- in a big general way -- are they really looking for?

For all these reasons, people and their dogs strike me as a genuinely great topic. Perhaps understandably, dogs in popular culture are usually treated in jokey ways. I liked "Beethoven" and "Air Bud" fine, in a dopey, half-watching-it-on-an-airplane kind of way. Nonetheless I find it surprising that the people-and-dogs topic isn't given more substantial treatment at least occasionally. There's a lot in the way of heartbreak, love, narcissism, and politics there to explore. Amusing and interesting enough on the surface, "It's Me or the Dog" also begins to suggest some of this richness.

I'm no dog-art or dog-lit specialist, but I gather that Vicki Hearn and Stanley Coren are the two Real Thinkers among the people who write books about dogs. I've read them both and I've liked their books pretty well, if not as well as many reviewers. I'm a bigger fan of the bloggers Steve Bodio and Terrierman, both of whom write insightfully, appreciatively, and lovingly about dogs -- about dogs as dogs, not as gooey projections. Nate Davis is often bemusedly insightful about his beloved whippet -- I wish Nate would write more about his dog. And Kirsten Mortensen has written a couple of books about dog training.

So what is the great art about dogs? One well-known literary book about a dog is "My Dog Tulip" by J.R. Ackerley, and it really is a small (if slightly creepy) classic. Has there been a movie that has done justice to the big part dogs often play in life, let alone to the sheer dogginess of dogs? I thought "Turner and Hooch" was more than pretty good myself. The filmmakers made a real effort to get some of the dog's dogginess on film, and opposite this imposing Dogue de Bordeau Tom Hanks gave one of his best performances. But what are the other great dogs in art that I'm forgetting, or overlooking, or don't know about? Perhaps it's more than enough that there are first-class trainers, bloggers, and photographers who do great jobs of depicting and teaching us about dogs. Here's a trustworthy-seeming Amazon reader's guide to books about dogs.

The dignity of the Frenchie

If I were to have a dog myself? Nice of you to ask. I'd choose an elegant Whippet. Or maybe a roughneck Border Terrier. Or a goofy Frenchie -- I've never met a Frenchie I didn't instantly hit it off with. Or maybe I'd adopt a rescue Greyhound. Greyhounds and Whippets may look high-strung and delicate, but they're surprisingly hardy and sweet-natured animals.

Here's a book about training your dog by Victoria Stillwell. Here's Victoria Stilwell's website. Here's Animal Planet's site for "It's Me Or The Dog." The show is currently being aired Monday and Friday evenings at 8:00 and 8:30 pm.

Are there people who still watch TV the traditional way: ie., settling into the sofa, remote in hand, seeing what's on, and sitting through all the commercials? Now that alternatives are available -- TiVos, DVRs, downloads -- why on earth would anyone do this?



posted by Michael at June 13, 2007


Do dogs love their owners? Or maybe I should just simplify that and ask: do dogs love? They love food. And the owner feeds them. So they associate the owner with the being fed. But is that love?

Posted by: ricpic on June 13, 2007 7:23 PM

Went off to Wikipedia to verify that my memories of Ackerley's other "dog" work, We Think The World of You, were accurate. It's an enjoyable novel, Michael, but also creepy like My Dog Tulip. Its dog is called "Evie", but she's Queenie in every way, and the narrator is Ackerley. Have you seen the movie with Alan Bates and Gary Oldman? I've heard it's quite good.

As for why people can get so weird about dogs, here's a quote from the same Wikipedia article:

...his [Ackerley's] mother too was often depressed and overly fond of dogs, as she was disappointed by other humans...

Disappointed by other humans. I'll bet you that's the underlying common answer to the questions you asked, Michael: "Why do these people even have animals? What do they want from them? What -- in a big general way -- are they really looking for?"

They're looking for what they couldn't get from humans, I think. I'll bet every one of "these people" are failures in their core human relationships. Sad, really. Dogs deserve more than to be treated like surrogate humans. They're cool enough just being dogs.

Posted by: PatrickH on June 13, 2007 9:22 PM

*rick, you're a risky man...

MB: assuming various "ifs" are fulfilled, I'd get myself a dog like this one.

When I had cable, I vaguely remember there was a "dog taming" show with a guy named Cesar in exactly same role you described Victoria Stillwell is. Couldn't take my eyes off him.

Posted by: Tat on June 13, 2007 9:47 PM

I can tell you my big red dog loves me! Even if I do give him nice meaty bone treats, I can see that undeniable look of love on his goofy face. And his entire body twitches in spasms of excitement whenever we come home.

Rusty is a humane shelter rescue. He's half Rhodesian Ridgeback and half Boxer. A nicer pooch you never wanna meet. Sometimes he is "Ned Nubbin, Dog Detective" when he is on the scent of some strange yard critter. Other days he is "Commander Cody of the Lost Planet Airmen" when he is in one of his more enigmatic moods.

We adore him, and he is part of the family. We have a nice fenced backyard for him to romp and explore in. We seldom take him out of his environment, but he is most congenial and polite with company and more importantly he is absolutely trustworthy with the grandkids (though just to be sure, we never leave him and the rugrats alone).

I can't imagine life without a dog...

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on June 13, 2007 10:06 PM

Great post Michael-- and no disagreements even from as doggy a person as I.

The "Alpha" stuff can just get silly. Read the late Vicki H. for some of the best thinking. Adam's Task is demanding but brilliant-- she was a poet and Yale lecturer in philosophy as well as a trainer ( I wonder if she ever knew or at least crossed paths with Camille at Yale). Bandit is also good.

You might try Donald McCaig as well. Another bright original.

Ricpic: dogs love, and we love them back-- we have co-evolved that way for milennia and can't help it. Stephen Budiansky has a good if reductive (and not too up- to- date) read.

Posted by: Steve Bodio on June 13, 2007 10:29 PM

Great post, Michael! I guess I betray my simple roots here, but I thought _Where the Red Fern Grows_ was an amazing book about dogs.

~~Mrs. Blessed

Posted by: Mrs. Blessed on June 13, 2007 11:11 PM

I highly recommend Caroline Knapp's Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs as an insightful and personal account of Knapp and her dog and she negotiated life as she overcame alcoholism. Her book about her alcohol habit is also a compelling narrative and most insightful: Drinking a Love Story. It's a horrible injustice that Caroline Knapp died so young.

Posted by: raymond pert on June 14, 2007 3:05 AM

Some random reactions: (And in the interests of full disclosure, I am a cat person. But I have no antipathy to dogs, and have had several close friendships with friends' dogs, who seem to love me almost as much as they love their owners.)

Your incident with the dog owner reminded me of a time I was walking through Central Park and a large, unleashed dog was attacking a squirrel. The dog had the poor little critter in its mouth a moment, but the squirrel got free, and the dog tried to bite it again, and seemed clearly intent on ripping the squirrel to shreds. Before it could, I ran up, waving an umbrella at the dog and putting myself between the dog and squirrel, giving the latter time to escape up a tree. As soon as I seemed to be "attacking" the dog, the owner--who had been standing near-by chatting with a friend and laughing, apparently enjoying the sight of his dog attacking the squirrel--broke away from his friend and started to walk menacingly toward me. I guess I looked like some crazy New Yorker to him and he backed off a little when I yelled at him for not reining in his dog. There's no real point to this story, I guess, except how the guy could stand by and be okay with his pet eviscerating an inoffensive squirrel, but how he got all indignant the moment I "threatened" his beloved four-legged poop-machine.

This was circa 1980, the dawn of the Yuppie era, and I wonder if this guy wasn't one of the early or or proto-Yuppies. I now live in Atlanta, which is lousy with Yuppies, particularly frat-boy jock type Yuppies, and this type almost ineveitably ownes very large dogs. Is it a macho or status thing? I don't know, but it seems too common a thing to be mere coincidence. I note that in the 1990 movie STATE OF GRACE, which is about the Westies--the Irish-American gang that ran organized crime in the Hell's Kitchen area of Manhattan (my old neighborhood), the Gary Oldman character is complaining about the yuppification of "the Kitchen," and one of his gripes is how all the Yuppies seem to have dogs--and not just regular sized dogs but large poop machines. He says that the sidewalks were once clean but now there is dog feces everywhere. (Since then the city has enacted a pooper-scooper law that seems to have had a beneficial effect on the situation.) I had left Manhattan by the time the movie was made but I had observed the same thing in Atlanta. In Atlanta there's a leash-law, but this city's very under-policed and what few cops you do see have bigger fish to fry than enforcing it. So the frat-boy/jocks-turned-corporate-climbers frequently let their animals run unleashed. I guess it's because they're special people with special dogs.

Posted by: Bilwick on June 14, 2007 8:58 AM

I just can't quite grasp the whole concept of animal training. This comes from having eight cats, who are quite difficult - more precisely, impossible - to train.

Posted by: Peter on June 14, 2007 9:05 AM

Dogs are wondrous creatures, people screw the dog-person relationship up. Like your jerk neighbor. Although I do think people are filling some emotional needs with dogs, even when they handle it right. Dogs are always happy---genuinely thrilled---when you come home. My dog (a beagle) would never take a walk with anyone else if I was there unless I made it very clear it was "OK"---loyalty. Although she would quite happily go for a walk with most anyone else if I wasn't there, walking being the bliss of her life. Plus, dogs can be highly amusing, just being dogs.

I set an empty box of milkbone dog biscuits down on the floor by the sofa one evening. My beagle could smell the crumbs, and took the lid of the box in her mouth and dragged down the hall with her to another room. Until--disaster!--she came charging back to me with her head stuck inside the box. She'd gotten stuck trying to vacuum the last crumbs out of the bottom. She was like four legs and big red milkbone biscuit box. I rescued her, but I must admit it gave new meaning to being caught red-handed.

And, finally, one of the funnest and cutest things in the world is to take a dog swimming. Dogs are such great little swimmers.

Anyway, my guess is that people who are particularly neurotic about the way they interact with dogs (and my guess is all dog-owners who adore their dogs are at least a little neurotic, just like all parents who are engaged parents are at least a little neurotic)are also particluarly neurotic with people, too. It's just an extension of their dysfunction.

Posted by: annette on June 14, 2007 9:52 AM

PS---You might want to check out the show "Dog Whisperer"---I can't remember what network, it might be "Animal Planet"---on the weekends. It sounds like the American version of "Me Or the Dog". I've watched a couple episodes and its also kind of interesting.

Posted by: annette on June 14, 2007 10:40 AM

Doesn't Hugh Grant claim that his father's hobby is teaching cats to wink?

Posted by: dearieme on June 14, 2007 11:18 AM

I have the world's best dog, and I can prove it: he doesn't know the command "sit", because in 5 years I have never once needed to use it. He's a Border Collie, by the way.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on June 14, 2007 1:24 PM

Re: emotional attachments between dogs and people, last month Jane Galt (Megan McArdle) put up a post mourning her dog that had just died. She got some very strange, hostile comments condemning her for treating her dog as a surrogate child, not knowing the difference between a dog's death and a human's death, etc. All things it would never be possible to know about from reading her blog. Very strange

Posted by: Reid Farmer on June 14, 2007 1:58 PM

Great piece. I wanted to mention another literary dog classic: Steinbeck's Travels with Charlie.

Also, not the same category, but there are oodles of children's books about dogs.

Posted by: Robert Nagle on June 14, 2007 2:03 PM

Cesar Millan, "The Dog Whisperer" is I believe on the National Geographic Channel. There was an article about him in the NY Times last Fall that provided fodder for posts and much discussion both by Patrick Burns (Terrierman) and our blog Querencia."

Posted by: Reid Farmer on June 14, 2007 2:08 PM

During one visit, the largest dog took a big wet bite out of a cheese round that was on a coffee table as an appetizer for the adults. The owners guffawed -- Oh, that lovable rascal of ours! -- and suggested in all seriousness that we snack on the cheese anyway.

OK...see...that would fall into the particularly neurotic category. But I am laughing!

Posted by: annette on June 14, 2007 3:38 PM

It's probably not just coincidence that so many (it seems) of the handlers in dog shows are overweight (often seriously) females, or at least that's how it was the last time I saw the Westminster, which was a couple years ago. Dogs don't give a shit. Some chow, some scratching, some sleeping, some walking, some playing -- you could weigh 300 lbs. There's no love like dog love. Unless it's cat love.

A friend of mine is in a new (disastrous) relationship (she can't see it) and doesn't spend the time with her two Labs that she used to, and the week-long dog jail boarding sessions once a month so friend & sweetie can recreate themselves are making the dogs increasingly, obviously, sadly, neurotic. The human-human relationship is full of double-binding nutty behavior and now so is the human-dog. It's probably true that crazy with people = crazy with dogs.

Posted by: Flutist on June 14, 2007 4:59 PM

This was an interesting post, Michael, but I can't believe no one has called you out yet on your comment about dogs in suburban America. While my experience is limited to Indiana and Illinois, I do believe that they qualify as flyover country and I have never once seen or heard of the situation that you are describing.

People carrying clubs? Pepper spray? Michael, I have you have some strong, strong biases (admittedly, I don't care for them either and would not choose to live in them) against the suburbs, but that is just ridiculous.


Posted by: ben on June 14, 2007 9:08 PM

Ben -- Maybe the mean dogs follow me around! But the smalltown/burb I grew up in ... there were numerous scary dogs around. The burb my sister lives in ... there are multiple big bad dogs who love to snarl and threaten. Do people in most suburbs do a good job of keeping their dogs on leashes, or behind fences, or at least well-behaved? Nothing against the 'burbs, but in most of the 'burbs I've visited the neighborhood dogs are a major life-factor. Some of them for the good, of course ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 14, 2007 9:48 PM

I have lived in on a farm, a small town, the suburbs of a small city and in a big city (Chicago) and in every place dogs have had a prominent role in the lives of the people there. In nearly all of these cases, the role was positive. I don't doubt that there are places where mean dogs are prized (see NFL dog fighting subculture as an example), but it is simply not something that I have encountered. Sure, I have been barked at before, but only by dogs that were behind fences (mostly in Chicago) and I have never felt threatened by those angry little pugs.

Posted by: Ben on June 15, 2007 9:50 AM

I watched the dog show tonight for the first time. Very good. The two episodes that I watched both featured couples where the wife was an idiot and the husband was passive. How else to explain a household where the wife sleeps with the dog(s) and the husband sleeps on the couch, for a year, and doesn't either leave or tell the wife to get rid of the dog? The dogs behaved badly because their owners reinforced bad behavior. As soon as the owners stopped reinforcing, and in some cases punished, bad behavior the dogs began to behave well.

Victoria is obviously an excellent dog trainer (and human behavior therapist, not that there's much difference). She obviously understood the human dynamics in these situations that produced bad behavior in the dogs. But she couldn't very well tell the wife that she, the wife, was an idiot or the husband that he was an idiot for putting up with his wife's nonsense, so instead she gave clear advice on how to handle the dogs.

The caveat is that these were extreme cases. I suspect that, in most cases as bad as these, either the marriage would have broken up or the dog(s) would have been given away long before things got to the point where Victoria was called in.

I do wonder why these wretchedly flawed couples would want to make themselves widely known. Perhaps they felt that they benefited enough from the deal to justify the humiliation.

Posted by: Jonathan on June 16, 2007 12:04 AM

Dogs are wonderful, and I have had around 6. But, you can take some precautions against barking dogs. Try to buy a home that has both neighbors' bedrooms on your side of their homes. This ensures against late-night barkers. Consider a corner lot to reduce your risk of getting a barker. Make sure your dog is not left to bark whether or not you are home. Don't make noise yourself such as with a radio.

I had to sue to obtain an injuction once, but the judge still let the dog bark from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. So much for peace of mind. I sold my home.

Probably the best advice (through many years of experience with barkers) is to take the neighbor's dog off and let it loose without ever complaining about it. To the contrary, pretend you love the dog. Never tell anyone else that you would do this or that the neighbor's dog is annoying you. I have not had to this, but I would do it if all else failed.

Before taking it off, try to make friends with it by feeding it through fence. That way, it might reduce the barking, and it will go with you willingly when it is time.

Don't try to figure out why dog owners allow the barking. Probably, it is the same reason why drivers are so rude and mean.

Posted by: Paul Henri on June 18, 2007 10:27 AM

Late for the show, but I just got to see this post and immediately thought of you!

Now you can choose from a variety of expert-proposed means of defending yourself from mean dogs (and sometimes from their owners..CA excluded, however)

Posted by: Tat on June 24, 2007 11:21 PM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?