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When It Comes To Your Dogs, Sentimentality Is Poison

Don’t mistake it for love.

21/05/2017 10:34 AM IST | Updated 21/05/2017 10:36 AM IST

Disclaimers first: The toxicity of empty sentimentality as an idea is hardly original. We ourselves have, in some part, covered the damage that sentimentality can do to your dogs and you in our previous post. Now, don't get us wrong. We are reasonably confident that should it come to that, we would put our lives on the line for our dogs. Which actually brings us to the point—letting emotions take over can sometimes be antithetical to loving them or, at least, doing the best by them (and you).

He does not need those dog strollers (pray, why is that a thing?), the funky Ray Bans, the dapper tuxedo, the lavish birthday party, the bone-shaped cake...

While you may recognise that this statement is almost universally true, it is more true when it comes to matters concerning dogs because—and we can't overstate this—anatomically and psychologically, dogs aren't human. Here's why sentimentality has the very opposite effect of love on a dog.

Sentimentality is self-centered

Sentimentality makes it all about you. This often results in you treating your dog like a human and projecting your own desires, likes and dislikes on to him.

There is something odd about humanising your dog. The reason most owners do it is because it is easier than spending time and effort in knowing your dog better and forming a bond. The thing to remember is that the psychological differences between humans and dogs are so contrasting treating him like a person will lead to a confused, ill-adjusted dog and a strained owner-dog relationship.

Treating a dog like a dog is harder work. One of us, for example, brought home a second dog to keep the first one company (and it hasn't exactly been a balm to the pocket, moving along with them across the world). It does however, mean that things you do are at least well directed.

The key is to understand this—dogs need leadership, discipline, routine and consistency. There is no greater need your pooch has than to make you happy. There is no greater security he seeks than to know that you are in charge and that he has nothing to fear with you around (sorry to bring this up, but remember this when you have to say the final goodbye. Having you around always helps).

The next time we hear "Happiness is a warm puppy", don't be surprised if we spontaneously combust! If you don't understand why, one visit to your local dog shelter will clarify.

Your dog needs consistent rules, long walks, conversation, your company, regular showers, grooming, a comfortable confined space to retire to, good food and a clear idea of who the boss is (hint: s/he walks on two legs, not four).

He does not need those dog strollers (pray, why is that a thing?), the funky Ray Bans, the dapper tuxedo, the lavish birthday party, the bone-shaped cake or the doggy beer.

He doesn't even need to be allowed on the bed with you (if you do, be sure you don't change that when he gets bigger/begins to shed/you get married/have a baby/grow allergic to dog hair/ travel too often—in short, bad idea).

The last bit is important to note because...

Sentimentality is impulsive

The next time we hear "Happiness is a warm puppy", don't be surprised if we spontaneously combust! If you don't understand why, one visit to your local dog shelter will clarify. A companion (human or animal) does fill that void in your life. The animal companion, however, will not cease to exist when your enthusiasm wanes or the intensity of the moment fades any more than the human will. However, unlike the human, the animal will never understand where all the love went!

From gifting puppies to unsuspecting loved ones on birthdays and Valentine's Day to shopping for one to celebrate or overcome something, the moment often overrides the realisation that a puppy is a lifetime's worth of commitment. How this ends more often than not is with a confused, traumatised dog tied outside a shelter or let loose on the street.

Sentimentality has spawned toxic fads (and cynical businesses)

The Hutch ad featuring the pug in early part of the last decade led to a spurt in demand for the breed. The movies Beverly Hills Chihuahuas and 101 Dalmatians did the same thing for Chihuahuas and Dalmatians worldwide. Apart from the obvious fallout—of dogs bought and abandoned because the complexity of raising a pup of the breed wasn't fully understood (each of these breeds have genetic predisposition to peculiar conditions; respiratory problems and obesity in case of pugs, deafness and behavioral issues in case of Dalmatians and digestive tract issues in Chihuahua). In India, these fads have led to what is arguably an industry at par with industrial farming in its barbarity and propensity for exploitation but far less tightly regulated—puppy mills. It is beyond our brief to talk about the utter barbarity of puppy mills. However, one important point to note is that most pedigreed dogs in India are inbred and show the same effect of consanguinity as humans—mental retardation, physical deformity and social maladjustment.

[T]he impulses which govern sentimentality (rashness, irrationality and momentariness) are different from those which govern love (commitment, sacrifice, care, reason and caution).

The obsession with baby animals has also led to other bizarre business ideas like "puppy therapy", where a warm puppy is delivered to your doorstep to play with and soothe your shot nerves. What the constant change in environment and the physical strain of moving does to the puppies is, however, something which has generated a lot of controversy among genuine dog lovers. Not least because businesses display the same obsession with pedigree and encourage puppy mills the same way as ill-informed buyers. Moreover, because India is still to get to a point where any business having anything to do with live animals has regulations to comply with, there is every reason to worry about this trend catching on (this, please remember, is a country that imported the Tomatina festival to Chhatarpur).

Love runs deeper than sentimentality

Actually, much deeper. As any psychologist will tell you, the impulses which govern sentimentality (rashness, irrationality and momentariness) are different from those which govern love (commitment, sacrifice, care, reason and caution).

Failing to discipline your dog, compromising his well-being and not being informed enough may scratch some itch for you but it's not something that will make for a happy, well adjusted dog or a happy content owner.

That takes commitment. And love.

PS: If you really want a deeper understanding of the pernicious potential of hollow emotionalism, we recommend theSpoilt Rottenby Theodore Dalrymple. We were quite tempted to lift that title for this post!

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