Take a moment and ask yourself this question in relation to your dogs: What things would you still do if no one was watching? Would you have gotten a dog from a breeder instead of a shelter if you could never tell anyone it was a “rescue” instead of a purchase? Or the other way around if you could never claim your dog as a purebred with a pedigree. Would you bother to take your dogs to dog shows and compete for ribbons if you could never be praised for doing so or criticized for not doing so?
What if it was all anonymous? What if you couldn’t plaster your smugness on the bumper of your car?
Now ask yourself why you still do things for the supposed benefit of other people.
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
– Gospel of Matthew 6:1-6
I don’t believe that many people would show dogs (not many do anymore anyway, and the number is dropping) if it weren’t a supposed requirement to distinguish the quality of your breeding stock or to separate yourself as a “hobby breeder” instead of a “backyard breeder.” Nor do I believe that the innate joy in moving stock on a trial course is sufficient motivation if it weren’t a public display of skill and a competition against other handlers for all to see. If you only cared about results and not accolades or public acknowledgment, you could stay home and make your assessments in private. Any judge that is qualified to assess your skills in front of hundreds of people (but most importantly your peers) is equally capable of doing the same out of the public eye and in your own backyard instead of half way across the country.
And yet sheeple and canine hairdressers alike pack their cars and drive thousands of miles and pay entry fees to put on the dog in front of their peers just to be judged and then complain about being judged. Most of them don’t even own sheep, or if they do it’s for the express purpose of practicing for the competition.
People who feed raw post photos of their dog’s food bowls every day online like foodie hipsters do on Instagram. Cooked or raw, no one wants to see that. I mean, what’s next, AFTER photos? Dog people talk enough about dog poop, we don’t need a photo diary of it too.
People who shoot, dig, search, or hunt over their dogs are sure to update us every time they set foot out their front door. In case you forgot that they shoot, dig, search, or hunt. But you can never forget because they won’t let you. They’d disappear if you forgot the myth they’re tying to sell you, like Narnia.
And don’t get me started on the people who document their pet’s ongoing illness with histrionic prose worthy of a warzone. Oh the humanity! (Send money). My dog is suffering! I’m totally trying to get a book deal out of this.
And of course, we’ve all met the people who “rescued” their ill-behaved and decidedly non-rehabilitated mutt and uses their past “abuse” as an excuse for every problem with their dog, most of which are not actually problems with the dog but with the idiot holding the leash. What would they say if they couldn’t use their dog as an excuse? The truth maybe?
It’s not enough to consume, you must be seen consuming. And it’s not enough to be seen, you must be judged superior. Thus all the endless social positioning and bizarre value judgements that go along with how you consume in relation to how others consume.
And of course I recognize the irony in telling you this on my own little soap box. LISTEN TO ME, WHAT I SAY IS IMPORTANT. AGREE!
But there is a difference. I know that I would do much the same thing with my dogs, day in and out, even if no one took notice. I don’t value my dogs because you value them. I don’t need your approval and frankly most of what I say is a direct insult to those who play that game. It would be much easier to stay quiet than to invoke the wrath of the dog snobs. I don’t post a great deal of autobiography, rather I try to post arguments. And this is not conspicuous consumption, it’s conspicuous thought. And I don’t so much ask for your agreement as I ask you to provide a better argument if you have one.
I’d always think the same things if no one challenged them, because it’s very hard to change a belief if it’s never challenged by another belief or a run-in with reality. There’s value confrontation, very little in conformation.
You can try to live your life for other people, but that’s never a recipe for success. And it’s quite possibly the root of many problems in dog culture. Mindless following of traditions that aren’t really that old or storied. Mindless aping of behaviors that are harmful and unproductive simply because a mentor does them. Repeating the cycle of stupidity, never asking if there’s any evidence that this is working or not, never any real accountability save to the cultural wardens. The dogs don’t get any better, they just get worse and soon enough there’s no one left around who even remembers how much better it used to be.
Novices to the sport of dogs often have no problems asking these questions, but they are pounced on like a fallen Piñata at a birthday party. First you violate their integrity then you beat them senseless with blinkered flailing, and lastly you rob them of their virtues. Group-think and religious fanaticism wipes out any trace of innovation or dissent, even when it’s well-intentioned. And so not only are the new and different made to think and act like the old conformists, they’re taught the culture of conformity and public reinforcement of the ritual.
Would you still do the same things with your dogs if it meant confrontation instead of conformity? Or just simply anonymity? Why?
If more people simply stopped and asked why they do what they do, we wouldn’t have the problems we do in dogs.
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