A Little Wild
Why good dogs are for chumps
With charming regularity, our dog, a blue heeler/kelpie/some other stuff reminds me at his core he remains a savage. Our often timid and affectionate mutt we sometimes invite to sleep next to us loves stalking birds and losing his mind at threatening looking dogs, and not so threatening looking dogs. Wally is smart and cheeky but I’m not talking about mischief, I’m talking about the wild savage that no amount of training or behaviourist intervention seems capable of subduing. Yes, behaviourist, apparently that’s a job people have and I now know about it. The call of the wild is strong in this one and it’s a regular source of anxiety but also a little reassuring. It helps me to believe there’s hope for all of us.
Like our dogs, we’re a long way from where we started as a species, and as individuals. Some of us take a long time to civilize. There were many parts of communal and work-life - the social contract that I wasn’t sure were for me. I wasn’t going to spend my life working, or in one place, or living in the shadow of a 30-year mortgage… but gradually, my adolescent wildness, my resistance, gave way to pragmatism. My impulse to roam the world unburdened and unattached gave way to the impulse to nest and accumulate. It’s never been so apparent to me how much we get from society, and how much we must give up for it.
We meet a lot of very good dogs down here in Rye, the coastal village where we live. They can walk off lead and play nicely, they don’t bark at other dogs or cars and some of them don’t even malt. They’re bred for these qualities, for affection and obedience. They’re trained and sometimes medicated to ensure they are as their owners would like them to be. Failing all of these methods, sometimes, they are given up and hopefully rehomed.
I can understand it. When we got Wally, I was shocked at how much time and attention a wild and boisterous little puppy required. It seemed ridiculous that 2 relatively high functioning adult humans should have to make 4-5 hours of time available a day to look after a dog. Frankly, it felt a little below our pay grade and I was sceptical of the cost to value. It’s funny because bringing a half-wild little bastard into our home has forced me to be more domestic. Like settling down with my partner years ago, or starting my business years before that, each was an order of magnitude change in my lifestyle – domestication.
Yuval Noah Harari has a bit in Sapiens about agriculture and domestication; how with agriculture, humans slowly went from being tribal and nomadic to building sedentary communities. In cultivating plants and livestock, we domesticated wild species, but also, they domesticated us. We help them to propagate – the ultimate goal of all living things – and they nourish us. We’ve thrived, but so has wheat, rice and chickens. Spare a thought for all those chickens.
It’s harder to say why puppies have thrived except that they are adorable:
It’s Friday the 22nd of October 2021 and in Melbourne, we’re being released from lockdown today, back into the wild. Except it’s not very wild: it’s a relatively safe, functioning and comfortable community as far as communities go. These are amiable qualities and hard-won; most of us have been bred and trained, coerced and sometimes medicated into fitting in. We produce and consume, more and better, smile and shake hands and try not to bark at cars and it’s great, really, I love it. But every time that little bastard does what he likes instead of what I ask I can’t help but smile. A little wild.