Martin Clunes: A Man and His Dogs part 2

Last week, we wrote an article about the first episode of a two part documentary on ITV1, Martin Clunes: A Man and His Dogs, about the history of the extraordinary relationship between man and dog over the last fifteen thousand years.

The second episode explored how we have utilised dogs over the years and why this relationship developed. Dogs used to work hard for mankind; they protected us from danger, provided us with transport and worked with us to protect our livestock, but why?

Here we explore the theories put forward in last night’s episode and how far we can stretch our relationship with dogs.

Contrary to popular belief, dogs do not work with us because they love us. They have an inbuilt pack instinct, which makes them look for a pack leader. If you fulfil that role, then they will work for you.

The Modern Relationship between Man and his Dog

As humans moved into cities and developed a modern lifestyle, Clunes muses about why our need for dogs has not diminished. As he pointed out, the modern relationship is somewhat different. We have dressed them up, bought them treats, let them sleep in our beds, where do you draw the line?

According to statistics, the dog retail market is a multi million pound market in Britain alone and is still growing as we seek primarily companionship and unconditional love from our dogs. Perhaps this is a result of the growing divorce rate and lack of family values in modern society.

The range of dog products is amazing. We have doggie hats and clothing – even bride and groom outfits – plus bags, beer, tea, soup, games, breath spray and more. All these products can most definitely hurt your wallet but do they really do any harm to the dogs?

Well that depends on how far you want to take it. I personally know a vegetarian owner who wanted her dog to be vegetarian too. Luckily, she realised this would be taking it too far, but there are many who still try to feed their dogs vegetarian food. I really do think doting dog owners push it too far sometimes and this should be against the law. Dogs are carnivores, carnivores need meat, and so if you want a dog, you will have to feed the dog meat.

Personally, I treat my dog like a human to a certain extent. She has the run of the house, sleeps where she likes, has all sorts of treats and toys and even has her own cupboard in the kitchen, but I draw the line at her own wardrobe, a dog tattoo, painted nails or dying my dog to match my curtains.

Of course, not all advanced dog retail is bad. I’m sure many dogs enjoy their turn on the treadmill, hydrotherapy and a holistic full body massage and if people have more money than sense, then so be it.

Genetically Modified Dogs

Over the years, we have bred the dog into more than 400 different breeds. We bred huskies to withstand the cold and run for miles, and Jack Russell terriers to catch rats.

In recent years, the bulldog has been probably the most publicised example of how selective breeding has hurt a breed. The bulldog was bred for our entertainment, simply to bait bulls, bears and lions for sport and so we could put a bet on. How sick is that. Their jaw was made so they could hang onto the bull better; their nose was set back so they could still breathe whilst clinging on for dear life. As Clunes put it, this is no better than ‘facial guttering’. Although the world has moved on, we still insist on in-breeding, yet why?

As I predicted last week, this episode turned down the same path as the BBC’s Pedigree Dogs: Exposed programme from last month. Pedigree dogs are bred in line with the Kennel Club standards, to what the KC say makes a good dog, so breeders can win rosettes at shows and sell their puppies for a higher price. The Kennel Club states that all responsible breeders do not breed to make money but simply to ‘better the breed’. How the hell does breeding to make a dog’s head smaller or tail curlier help a breed better itself when that breeding encourages prolapsed brains and curved spines?

Surely the price of our partnership is too high for the dog. Inbreeding has resulted in some dogs being riddled with disease and despite what appears to be good breeding on paper, it is difficult to say what makes a good dog now. We experience epilepsy in poodles, deafness in Dalmatians and blindness and brain disease in spaniels.

Thanks to our breeding for sport, more than half of all bulldogs have to be born by caesarean and many cannot even breed without their owners helping to hold them up.

State of the art surgery and animal hospitals mean that we can help our dogs to live longer, but surely, we should be ensuring that we attempt to breed from only healthy stock. In the meantime, the cost of pet and dog insurance rises sky high.

If dogs had not partnered with humans, what would have happened?

One dog that is different is the African wild dog. These dogs will not accept humans as pack leader, because they will not allow anybody to be pack leader who is outside the pack, so they reject humans even when raised in captivity. If the alpha dog dies, it is his son that takes over. I have seen these dogs in captivity in Australia and they are really fierce, wild beasts and surprisingly larger than they looked on the small screen.

Are these dogs are an endangered breed, simply because they are so different to the rest of the canine species and will not respect humans, accept us and make us feel good? It makes you wonder who is better off. Is it the African wild dog, who has rejected humans and as a result is endangered, or is it the domestic canine, who has become our constant companion and as a reward we modified them, made them weak and susceptible to disease as we are?

The problems our dogs experience are mankind’s own fault as we search to buy a pedigree to fit in with our lifestyle, and I confess, as a self-proclaimed dog lover, that I have not helped the situation. Although I steadfastly disagree with inbreeding and competing for rosettes, I still have a selfish need to want a small dog and more so, one that does not moult. Hence, I have surely contributed to ‘genetic modification’ through breeding.

On the face of it, it would seem that nowadays the price of our relationship is that we give them food and a basket by the fire in return for companionship, unconditional love and make us laugh.

To date, I am lucky enough to have a four year old healthy dog. As I look at my own dog, lying flat on her back with all four paws in the air, I have to appreciate the value of what she gives me. The question is, what did we do to her ancestry and what will we give back to our dogs to stop this circle continuing?