Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Good Dog?"

AKC's Canine Good Citizen program is in many ways excellent: it invites people to begin training their dogs, to teach basic manners, to go to classes, and even to walk into the "ring" for the first time.  I have long supported this appealing program, have taught CGC classes, and have directed many novices to it as an appropriate beginning… 
However, the CGC program, and in particular legislation endorsing this program, has some profoundly worrisome potential consequences for future dogs and their owners.  Please take a few minutes to carefully consider not only the details of the program and legislation, but also the way it might be used or manipulated in coming years. These questions may not immediately seem correct—they are contrary to how you have likely thought about the CGC program for years or decades—but they are well worth our careful contemplation.
First, let me recount a disturbing historical pattern: time after time leaders in the dog world have supported seemingly positive ideas that have been usurped by the Animal Rights movement to divide animal owners into little groups that could easily be conquered. Our own programs have repeatedly been twisted into weapons against dogs and the people who love them:
1.       We encouraged spaying and neutering for most casual owners for lots of seemingly good reasons and for years we told people it was the responsible thing to do. Animal Rights supporters took it over and legislated mandatory S/N.
2.      We encouraged people to revile pet stores, backyard breeders, puppymills, designer breeds. We said adoption was wonderful.  They took it a step further and said only adopt, and let's make all those bad options illegal.
3.      We said vaccinate your dogs as appropriate.  They said keep all dogs 'utd' on all shots on our schedule, even if it is a bad schedule; otherwise, you are abusing your dog.  
4.      We said that people should not get more dogs than they could handle as this would lead to inadequate care; they legislated that nobody can own more than "X" number of  dogs.  
5.      We preached that people not leave dogs in hot cars with the windows rolled up.  They tweaked that message to become never leave any dog in any car or you are an abuser.
6.      We encouraged people to provide better veterinary care for their animals, and now absurd veterinary choices like how often to clean teeth are being used to seize people's dogs. 
In essence, we have spent decades trying to share our views of the ideal, and how we can all nudge closer to perfection for our animals, and AR advocates have twisted our fundamentally good ideas to be horrific ideas by insisting that the loftiest of ideals ought to become the legal minimum.
I believe that the CGC is another initially positive program that will soon be used to divide dogs and owners. Just as in all the other cases above, the distance between the message that people SHOULD teach their dogs basic manners and the message that every dog MUST pass this test is a VERY short and slippery one. 
Not only does the CGC set a very dangerous precedent, but also it contains some intrinsic problems:
1.      Dogs are NOT citizens.  People are.  People are responsible for ensuring that their dogs' behavior is not disruptive to society.  The onus must ALWAYS remain on owners to be responsible citizens, not dogs.  Otherwise we set ourselves up for ARs to start passing not only breed specific laws, but soon behavior specific laws. 
2.      Dogs are not good or bad. They simply are what their nature and experiences make them, and "goodness" is not a relevant value judgment. Dogs that cannot pass this test are NOT bad.  Not even less good. Low drive, non-reactive, docile, agreeable dogs are NOT the only good dogs! There are many sorts of dogs (and other species) that may not be well suited to the CGC test but are fabulous pets.  People own different sorts of dogs for countless different reasons and in countless different ways. So long as they can keep those pets safely and humanely, that should be just fine.
The CGC program perpetuates the ever narrowing range of what is a "good" dog.  Prey drive, reactivity, fearfulness, over-confidence, exuberance, protectiveness, and playfulness are not bad. Whatever dog an individual wants to own is a good dog if its owner keeps it safely and does not allow it to impinge upon anyone else's rights.  Nothing else should matter to society or our legislature.
People absolutely should be encouraged to teach their dogs basic manners, and much more, but as we support this process we must be extremely careful that we do not inadvertently support the notion that any dog that cannot pass a particular test must be a bad dog. If this is endorsed at the state level, what municipality would want to welcome dogs that are not good citizens?  What will happen to the millions of great dogs who are not suited to this test, or the millions of dogs whose owners are not willing or able to pursue the CGC?
The language and attitude of the CGC program plays perfectly into the hands of the AR movement. I have little doubt that the AKC believes it is a DEFENSE against such attacks—that by demonstrating how well-mannered these dogs are we prevent bad laws, but I believe this is exactly the same as the other examples I cited in that it will have the opposite effect over time—it will create a line that will eventually be used to criminalize everyone who is on the wrong side.  It may temporarily save the handful of dogs that have CGCs, but it will do so by sacrificing the vast majority of dogs and owners. Admittedly the CGC program becoming mandatory would be a huge financial victory for the AKC, and a huge practical victory for the AR movement , but it would be a huge loss for dogs everywhere.
40 states and the US Senate have already passed resolutions "endorsing the CGC test and supporting its effort to promote responsible dog ownership."  Insurance companies have already offered discounts for dogs with CGCs. These are the first steps on a short path to making dogs without CGCs uninsurable and ultimately illegal. This test will simply become one more excuse to eliminate millions of pet homes and pets.
Furt hermore, the specific language of HRC12 raises some questions:
… responsible owners should properly control and provide adequate training for their dogs [Who defines "adequate training" now and in the future? HSUS would be happy to do so in the next legislative session, will you agree with their definition?]
…dogs should exhibit "good citizen" behavior in the presence of other people and animals in both the home and the community [Why is it anyone's business how a dog behaves in a private home?]
…dog bites and animal concerns are on the rise [According to whom?  Is this really a statement we want codified into our legislature?]
…there is a need for dogs to remain well-behaved community members [No, there is a need for people to remain well behaved community members and as such to control their pets in a manner such that they are not disruptive. If people want to train their dogs to be well behaved that is their choice.]
Some readers will perceive this email as being overly paranoid, others will feel that the benefits of a state recognized CGC program outweigh the risks, others stopped reading long ago! These are all fine responses, you must decide for yourself how you feel, I merely wanted to lay out some issues in hopes that before you support or oppose HRC12, or the CGC program in general, you will give some serious thought to future consequences.  It is no longer sufficient for us to innocently create programs or propose legislation that under ideal circumstances might be a good idea. 
We MUST ask ourselves: How will this tool be used by those who seek to eliminate animal ownership?

Author unknown


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. It's been at least five years since I first said that the people who want to end animal ownership use our greatest ideals as weapons against us. The picture that you draw here, Starbreeze, is of them doing exactly that.

    Good ideas must never be used as weapons against people. The "responsible ownership" movement has the fault that it excludes people who aren't responsible, and that's a doorway that the HSUS can push its entire agenda through.

    Rights are unconditional. I haven't been comfortable with removing the right to vote or own guns from convicted felons after they have served their prison sentences. Asset forfeiture laws are so bad that the people who pass them and enforce them should be jailed, do not pass go.

    Sometimes it seems like poetic justice because a lot of people can't see that when they throw shock troops at one kind of offender, those troops will come back and do them in. People who don't realize what that means don't worry about it. If they're suicidal and want to be done in then they're a worse threat to society than the people who they sent law enforcement after. The war against some drugs has caused massive damage.

    Outside of the illusion that society gets revenge, horrible revenge, against a few people who aren't loved by everyone, there is no evidence that the law is being enforced responsibly. On the other hand, many of the same enforcers are just fine when you actually need their help. Limit their tasks to actually helping stranded motorists, search and rescue, and solving murders, rapes, and robberies and they're just fine. "Society" sets them to rob middle-aged ladies of their beloved animals in the name of attacking animal abuse.

  3. Is this excellent essay current, as of March 15,
    2011, as stated above, or is it a reprint of
    something published earlier? If so, when and
    where was the earlier publication? Also, was
    Walt Hutchens the actual author of this essay or
    did someone else write it and post it to Walt's site? And what was or is HRC 12,
    apparently a bill referred to in the essay?
    Thank you. --Roberta

  4. Hi Roberta, this was sent to me by a friend, supposedly from the pet-law site, but Walt tells me he did not write it, and the identity of the original author remains a mystery. I don't know about the HRC 12, possibly a house resolution??

  5. Walt told me, also, that he didn't write it. But
    it is not on the site at all. I
    assume HRC 12 is or was a house resolution, but
    what house? what state? Federal?

  6. Wish I knew! Perhaps the author will recognize his work here and contact us to let us know.

  7. A somewhat shorter version of this essay was
    posted on March 6 on the pet-law list by
    someone signing himself or herself as "Roland
    and Lauren". I'm not on that list, but someone
    sent me the post privately. However, who took
    that post and added to it? "Roland and Lauren"
    or someone else and if someone else, did that
    someone else have permission?

  8. I have gotten to the bottom of this. There is nothing unknown about the authors of the above
    essay. They are Roland Sonnenburg and Lauren
    Henry, who run an animal talent agency called
    Talented Animals with offices in West Hollywood and Corvallis, Oregon. They published a shorter
    version of their essay in December on the pet-law
    list and the longer version printed above on their website blog, where they titled it, "Examining the Canine Good Citizen Program".
    The only mystery, therefore, is why everyone
    keeps X-posting this great essay without permission and without giving the authors due
    legal and courteous credit.