The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 21, 1999


Carlisle Comments: To Train or To Raise: Is a Dog a Human?

I had thought that the distinction between dog and human was much overdrawn. While others derived dogs from images of wolves running with the pack, I imaged nice Neanderthals snuggling with dogs while sharing the warmth of open fires. I reasoned that thousands of years living together made dogs and humans like some old couple who had grown to talk, think, and even look alike. Then came Tuck, our border collie, and I was not so sure.

Border collies are smart, fast and energetic. As a pup, Tuck made me feel dumb, slow and tired. He did pretty much as he wished, despite our entreaties. He stole, soiled, chewed and, on walks in the woods, he disappeared for what seemed interminable periods of time. But most troubling were the times Tuck snarled and sometimes bit. In an instant, Tuck could change from being a cute puppy into being a snarling wolf. It was truly scary. He had symptoms of what the professionals call "dominance aggression." I was ready to train.

But I couldn't. I could not crate Tuck, leash Tuck, or "modify" Tuck's behavior as if he were, well, a dog. Tuck may not have been my son, but he was a member of our family. My wife, too, showed a compulsion to raise, not train. While complaining that Tuck needed training, she could not resist holding Tuck in her lap as if he were, you know, a baby. And my boys, God bless them, even though they bore the brunt of Tuck's nips, were adamant about being brotherly and treating Tuck very, very nicely.

So we raised Tuck rather than trained him. To burn off his energy, I walked him in the swamps at all hours of the night (was I becoming a wolf?) We played with Tucksoccer in our hallway (he was good on defensenot so good at scoring goals), and hide-and-seek out-of-doors. But sticks were his favorite. On walks, he began to follow behindstalking us, waiting for us to suddenly turn and throw sticks. When he snarled, we disciplined him, as any parent might discipline a misbehaving child, but discipline never became the main theme, nor did training.

Now Tuck is the dog we had hoped for. Unless he is busy chasing soccer balls, Tuck comes when called or when I pat my chest (smart, huh?). More important, Tuck's now civil. We can talk to him now. For example, in the middle of the night, if he lies on my feet, I ask him politely to take a corner of the bed, and he does. If he pokes about trash cans, I tell him I would rather he stop, and he stops. In short, he is responsive to our needs.

So, now I bristle when others attribute the change in Tuck to his being trained, neutered, or some combination of the two. I bristle, want to bark out that he was raised, not trained. But then I look at Tuck and am reminded I should be civil and act more like him.

1999 The Carlisle Mosquito