The Persistent Dog

If you look up the word “dogged”…you will see its very definition is “Unrelenting Persistence.” Some of you are undoubtedly saying with a sigh… “Yep, that is my dog”.  And here is the irony in that…we humans purposely bred for heightened levels of that very trait…persistence…for hundreds if not thousands of years. But first let’s go to where it came from, the wolf.

If you observe wolves hunting large prey, Bison, for instance, they will start by gathering around the herd, almost casually, which in and of itself is unsettling. Then they begin nipping at the heels to spook the herd to run. Once running you will see that the wolves are not trying to catch the prey…but rather just keep up with it enough until the weakest,  oldest, or unluckiest in the herd falls from exhaustion or trips.  An exhausted Bison that is too tired to fight back is less dangerous than one which is well-rested.  A wolf’s survival is fundamentally rooted in being more persistent than its prey.  Our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who most likely scavenged off wolf kills, over time developed hunting techniques of their own by injuring an animal with a rock or spear and then following it until it fell from exhaustion. We too had to out persist what we wanted to obtain. 

Persistence is a phenomenon found everywhere in nature.  The grass in your lawn is persistent, the dandelion growing in the sidewalk crack is persistent, water in a stream is persistently eroding rock…termites are persistently chewing wood, mosquitos are persistent, everything is persistent. In short, you must persist to exist.   

When humans realized the unrelenting persistence of the canid, it was quickly put to work helping us not only survive but thrive. As a hunter-gatherer we wanted a hound to hunt and bay all day, chasing its quarry to absolute exhaustion. As we became farmers we wanted a Shepherd Dog to stay vigilant and protect the flock while the Herding Dog was to tirelessly gather the animals and drive them to various locations.   As we grew into towns and cities, so grew the rat population and that gave birth to the Terrier, which was bred to be a tenacious rat killing machine. Even the fluffy toy breeds had jobs in the vermin department as well as being sentry dogs with a keen sense of hearing to alert the bigger dogs of possible intruders, hence the yappiness. However, as human ingenuity advanced at record speed, we entered a new epoch in the long history of humans and dogs.

Almost overnight, we have taken away many of the jobs respective breeds were designed for.  We as a species went from nomadic hunter-gatherers to farmers, to city-dwellers, and now we enter a world of Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality.  Hunting, by and large, has been relegated from “need” to “hobby”, which means less need for hunting hounds, spaniels, and setters. Technology has radically changed farming/ranching and while small family and hobby farms exist, the need for massive flock protectors has been greatly reduced compared to the population of various herding breeds we have today.  The rat-killing terriers have been replaced by mouse traps and poisons. Security systems and guns have replaced the need for heavily muscled protection dogs to guard homes and businesses.  So while yes there are fanciers and purest who still use specific breeds for the job intended, most are not…and this is creating a bit of a conundrum.  We, humans, have collectively pivoted as a species into a world of visually dominant technology where dogs can’t go and frankly…don’t want to go. We have taken hundreds of years worth of selective breeding, directing a dog’s persistent nature for various channels of work, only to do a complete halt and say… “Now be a good lap dog and watch funny dog videos on Facebook with me”.  Don’t get me wrong…I love a funny dog video as much as the next guy.  But my dog Belle couldn’t care less about that and will prod me with her nose to put down the phone, step away from the computer, and walk with her outside, persistently!  Her nature must be satisfied or else there will be distress. It is just that simple.

There are a number of causes for behavioral problems in dogs, whether it be past trauma, illness, or lack of socialization as a puppy… but a dog’s persistent nature, not being satisfied, is a big one.   While we all can’t go to the store and buy a herd of sheep for our Border Collie to chase,  a box of rats for our Yorkie to kill, or shoot some ducks from the apartment balcony for our Labradors to retrieve, we can still satisfy their nature. How you ask?

Say hello to the Cold Wet Nose! Yes, that thing we like to boop. A dog’s brain is heavily wired to the nose.  I would go so far as to say that a dog’s brain gathers more information through smelling than all of our human senses combined.  We must keep in mind that dogs do more than just run through the countryside, they methodically examine the world in great detail and with great persistence through the nose.  Allowing a dog to smell the environment is more important than walking great distances.  We must mentally tire our dogs! I want my dog to stop and sniff and take all the time she needs. This is why I am so passionate about exploring the world with our dogs, incorporating them into our lives outside the home. I want to help people and dogs have the confidence to explore the world around them together. 

It is truly wonderful we have reached a point where dogs are living inside our homes by the fire as members of our family. However, there has been a plot twist! The dogs we let inside our homes are pulling us back outside, persistently! Dogs have been by our side for over forty thousand years, helping us adapt and advance as a species. Now we are moving into Virtual Worlds, Artificial Intelligence, and Space Tourism and I feel our dogs are helping, once again, by doggedly reminding us, with pluck and enthusiasm…of our own human nature, which is Emotion. I feel the better part of grace is to honor this history we have with dogs and allow their well-developed persistence to wander in a fresh direction, a direction towards the mutual advancement of our mental, emotional, and physical health, as well as the preservation of the natural world from which we both came.

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