Yes, this is my second rant on here – this time with an added bit of animal behaviour nerdism (read: tangential ethology rant) – in the space of a week. A few things happened yesterday which made me quite angry and I just need somewhere to vent.
My dad and his partner came over to visit yesterday. My dog grabbed something out of the bin (as he tries to do about 30 times per day) not long after they arrived so I shouted “No!” and he left it. My dad’s partner then said (talking to my dog rather than to me) that if my dog belonged to him and he went into a cupboard he would “smack your a*** and you would never do it again”. I was really angered by this but was not sure how to respond. My dad then responded jokingly to his partner “Hmmm, maybe I should try that with you then”, so I just said “Yeah, I was gonna say…” I actually wanted to say “Well it’s a good thing he’s not your dog because he’d probably have some serious aggression issues”. I witnessed first-hand increased aggression in the beagle (i.e. one of the most placid dog breeds of all – hence why they were unfortunately used in animal testing laboratories) we had when I was a kid after he had been repeatedly hit/ mistreated by my dad, and this was a dog we’d raised from a puppy and knew the full life history of. I know things would be far worse with my rescue dog, whose puppyhood we know nothing of, and who seems from his behaviour to have been hit or mistreated in the past. I’ve witnessed an almost immediate increase in aggression from him after the few times that my mum has smacked him – he’s bared his teeth a couple of times after she told him off and once snapped at her (he didn’t bite her, he just snapped at the air in front of her, if you see what I mean). He doesn’t do this with me when I tell him off, but my parents apparently can’t see the connection.
I’m just so fed up of my dad’s partner constantly undermining me. I worry that if I ever have children, he’ll make similar comments about my parenting. And what annoys me even more is that he has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. His knowledge of dog training appears to have been taken from a few episodes of Cesar Millan (i.e. someone with no formal qualifications in canine behaviour and who backs his methods on long outdated theory). Unsurprisingly, my dad’s partner seems to be a big believer in “dominance/ alpha dog” theory*, which was based on behavioural observations of wolves in unnatural conditions and of which there has been no evidence in more recent studies of wolves in natural settings. Any dog trainer/ behavioural expert nowadays who actually has qualifications and uses an evidence-based approach will tell you much the same. Furthermore, although dogs are descended from wolves, humans domesticated them around 15,000 years ago and we have changed their behaviour considerably since then. The wolves from which dogs originated were also probably quite different from modern wolves. Honestly, I could write an essay on this but that’s not what this blog is for. I’ve included a bibliography at the end, on the off chance that anyone is as much of a nerd about this as I am. (I’ve included mostly web sources and haven’t done formal referencing because I think it’s more important that this information is accessible to everyone) Maybe you’re wondering why this topic is such a big deal for me/ makes me so angry. The answer is that so many people misunderstand their dog’s behaviour/ motivation as a result of outdated theory (popularised by certain TV shows) and think that they have to use aversive training methods to show their dog who’s boss. This greatly damages the dog – owner bond. The majority of trainers/ behavioural experts today are against the physical punishment of dogs for this very reason.
*This was based on the observations of groups of unrelated captive wolves in Swiss zoos in the 1930s. Often only single animals could be obtained from the wild and these were then grouped together in captivity to form a “pack”. This is very different from wolf packs in the wild, which simply consist of the “alpha” (breeding) pair and their offspring. Futhermore, zoos (especially in the 1930s) obviously restrict the movement of animals so they cannot run away/ form separate territories so the wolves had no choice but to interact aggressively with one another.
I can’t remember how it came up but my parents and their partners then started talking about the London terror attack which happened a couple of days ago. My dad’s partner has been discriminatory towards eastern Europeans before and my mum mentioned that one of members of the public who confronted the attacker was Polish. So naturally he then went on a racist rant about Muslims instead. I’d had enough of him by this point and just did the dishes then went to my room to get away from him.
In the evening, my mum and stepdad were pretty much having a counselling session at the dinner table, with my stepdad saying that his stepmum used to tell him he’d be a “loser”, a “waster” and “amount to nothing” if he didn’t study and do well in his high school exams. My stepdad then said to me that my siblings and I should feel so lucky that we’ve had such supportive and encouraging parents who never said anything like that to us/ verbally abused us in any way. I kind of just ignored him and went back to my studying. I felt like screaming at them that I’ve tried to tell them before exactly how my dad treated me when I was younger, but they just brushed it off and in essence said that I was lying/ exaggerating things. I felt like I really wanted to say something about it but I didn’t want to say something I’d regret, so I said nothing. I’d like to say to them that I don’t think being called “selfish”, “pathetic”, “fat”, unpleasant to be around, or being told that I’m so horrible it’s no wonder I had no friends/ that my own father will be glad to no longer be around my siblings and I, by my dad really counts as either supportive or encouraging!
I don’t know how much longer I can deal with this. Am I being the unreasonable one? It just feels that with my dad’s partner frequently undermining me and my parents and stepdad acting as if there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and denying that the past (re: my dad) happened, I keep being worn down. On the one hand, I’m starting to feel like maybe I should just start voicing my own opinions/ knowledge (especially if my dad’s partner is just going to disagree with me no matter what I say) because I am absolutely sick of constantly biting my tongue and walking on eggshells around him. On the other hand, I’m hoping that at this point, it’s only a matter of months until I’m able to move out, though I don’t want to build up too much hope because something will inevitability come up and complicate everything. I’m starting to worry that if I ever bring it up, I will cease to have any kind of relationship with my parents and their partners, and then my siblings may also stop talking to me if I’m made out to be the bad person. Maybe I’m catastrophising a bit, but that’s the worry. I know there are people who have been through far worse abuse (I still feel weird calling it that) than I have (my own mother included), but I’m starting to realise how family dynamics are so often set up to protect the abuser and to discount or blame the victim.
- ‘Is Dominance Theory Still Relevant?’ – Dogs Trust
- ‘Dominance Theory – Current Thinking’ – Dogs Trust (Word Document)
- ‘Dominance Versus Leadership in Dog Training’ – S. Yin
- ‘Debunking the “Alpha Dog” Theory – Whole Dog Journal
- ‘What is the RSPCA’s view on dominance dog training? – RSPCA (Australia)
- ‘Dominance and Dog Training’ – The Association of Professional Dog Trainers
- ‘Clever Dog’ by Sarah Whitehead
- ‘In Defence of Dogs’ by John Bradshaw
- ‘Think Dog’ by John Fisher