Educating children

TO THE RELATIONSHIP WITH DOGS: THE ROLE OF VETERINARY BEHAVIOURISTS IN SCHOOLS
Lorella Notari


In modern western society the practical functions of dogs have progressively lost their importance and their behaviour as companion animals is now more relevant in the human-animal relationship. A recent research conducted in Tuscany (Gazzano et al., 2002) showed that dogs are mainly chosen not because of the original functions of breeds but for their ability to relate with human beings. The same research revealed that the choice to adopt a dog is also induced by the perception that the relationship with a companion dog is “genuine” , a quality which (as the investigated sample stated) seems more and more difficult to find in interpersonal relationships. One of the reasons of this perception might be that dogs represent the ancient link of human beings with nature and with their origins, but there is the risk of an increasing tendency to “use” dogs as human surrogates. Companion dogs can have the role of human surrogate or “projection of self” (Veevers, 1985) and the latter function is often on the basis of the choice of particular dog breeds because of their appearance and their popular image: behaviour problems and difficult dog-owner relationships may arise from these anthropomorphic perceptions of the animals. The dog-owner relationship is a “social environment” to which both the human being and the animal have to adapt, and the general level of comprehension of dog behaviour and its physiological and ethological needs are probably the most important elements that have to be taken into account .
Symptoms of poor welfare conditions –often due to excessive anthropomorphism and/or lack of knowledge of dog behaviour and needs - may have implications for dogs, their owners and the community. One of these symptoms is aggression towards human beings, which is also the main concern about dogs of Government Authorities. An effective means of preventing aggression is to educate the new generations to understand dogs, their behaviour and their needs, by means of school programs. Educate children can have also an effect on their family members: a cultural improvement that is likely to enrich the entire society. The practical application of this reflections, however, seem not to be easy neither from the practical nor from the cultural point of view. A general project in Europe should probably consider that cultural differences among (and even within) countries must be taken in account: different existing general level of culture about dog behaviour, different management attitudes, different perceptions of dogs’ roles in human society, different existing laws about dogs, different educational systems, different methods of education in schools are some of the elements that have to be considered.

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