Have we forgotten to look at things from our dog's perspective?

“Free roaming” does not tell you anything about a dog’s ownership status – a free roaming dog can easily have an owner.Sometimes I wonder how much we understand about dogs. 

Our own dogs, dogs in the park, dogs on the street in communities where they roam, and just dogs in general. I was in my car, stopped at a stoplight in the city when I watched a person walk their small dog across the street on the green light. 

On the other corner was another person with their dog. 

Both people and dogs ended up on the same corner, inches from one another and neither of the owners let their dogs interact. Not one sniff, not one second of normal dog greeting allowed. It made me wonder if we aren’t forgetting that dogs actually have…dog needs. 

It would seem odd since we have been coexisting for 12,000 years or so but maybe we’ve forgotten to look at things from the dog’s perspective. 

From our side of things, dogs have been our partners for hunting, transporting of goods and food, as guides, guards, as sledders, sheep herders and companions.  Maybe in all our uses of them, we’ve forgotten that the deal goes both ways. We too need to understand what they get from their relationship with us and what they need.

As I’m thinking about this, I have four dogs and a cat splayed out around me. I know why I have dogs and while I’m sure I don’t meet all their doggy needs, I do recognize that they are….dogs. They love to chase things, they love to run, they bark, they bite, they love to roll in stinky things and eat really gross stuff, they communicate with other dogs in ways that I don’t understand or want to partake in but I know make sense to them. 

They comfort me when I’m sad and they make me laugh. They each have a distinct personality, a different need for exercise and sleep, and they all play a different role when a new foster dog comes through the door. But I never mistake them for being anything other than what they are…dogs, and that is why I enjoy them so much.

Four of our dogs are Northern Dogs and come from three different communities in which IFAW works. They each fulfill a different need that I apparently have…which is why I have four of them! 

Each one has excellent dog skills, which doesn’t mean they like every dog or that every dog likes them, it simply means they understand dog speak and respond to it in ways that make sense in their crowd. 

Their good dog skills have nothing to do with me and all to do with their early life experiences. In the north, most of the dogs are free roaming. In fact, believe it or not, this is the way the majority of dogs actually live around the world. 

“Free roaming” does not tell you anything about a dog’s ownership status – a free roaming dog can easily have an owner. It doesn’t mean the dog is not cared for –free roaming dogs can be owned by individuals or by multiple people who provide for them. 

This is not to say that every free roaming dog receives adequate care, just like every contained dogs doesn’t necessarily either.  But free roaming dogs have that freedom, that ability to be dogs that many of our contained and heavily managed dogs don’t.

I’m not advocating that our dogs be allowed to run free as they please. But when I think back to the two dogs who ended up on the same street corner without the ability to interact -- to be dogs -- I think our dogs would benefit from our spending a little more time thinking about their needs and of ways to meet them. 

It’s amazing how much you can learn from your dog!


Interested in learning more about dogs and our relationship with them around the world, check out this year’s Animal Action Education pack, Cats, Dogs and Us.

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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Jan Hannah, Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project