Let me start with a short personal note, as a good substitute for a preamble: I do not have any dogs (no room for one, no cash for one, no desire to have that much responsability), but I like dogs.
Ok let's get started.
1) History (short)
|Dogs have been domesticated for at least 17,000 years (1), a process by which they initially entered mankind's sphere by being confined to special tasks with a food reward, tasks such as livestock protection and herding in particular, or hunting. Domestication is thus generally thought to have been initially oriented on food, not companionship. Dogs have been valued animals for quite a while too, on the following evidence at least: European Mesolithic sites like Skateholm (5250-3700 BC) in Sweden, or Svaerdborg in Denmark have dog burials (1).|
Domesticated dogs come basically in 2 forms. Pet, and task-oriented. Both these forms are not necessarily antinomic. Task-oriented dogs, such as helper dogs for the blind, police sniffer dogs, sheep-herding dogs, hunting dogs, Nanook of the North's dogs etc, do not only exemplify the stunning relation that mankind has developed with dogs along the millenia. They may also show a form of dominant human abuse in some cases, like this WWI picture below tells us, and like has been the case ever since the likes of Hannibal discovered that elephants were not only good for making jewelry (nb: although it can be argued that war elephants are not domesticated but merely tamed, much like N of the North's dogs).
ps: this diary will here on focus only on pet dogs
a) Just how many dogs are there?
|There are an estimated 8.51 million dogs in France, or roughly 1 dog for every 7 French people.|
Given that the average life expectancy of a dog, at 11 years, is roughly 1/7th that of the average French person, suffice to say that to every French person in life will correspond a dog. Not everyone here has kids, but everyone has a virtual companion dog.
The worldwide population is difficult to estimate, though some have put it at 400 million (2).
Top 10 dog populations in the world (3):
|Country||Dog population||Human population||Humans per dog|
b) No way!! So many dogs??!! They must eat heaps of food that we could instead feed to starving children. What a waste!
How much a dog eats depends on its size, but a good estimate is that the average-sized dog needs an average 700 calories per day, which is more than a human starvation diet (300-500 calories per day or less). For complete dog requirements see (4) in the annex below.
However, most dogs are fed canned meat foods, which contain, on the protein side, essentially waste food products that are "unfit for human consumption" (slaughterhouse offal, such as lungs, esophagi, udders etc) (4a), so it's not really an issue anyhow, since they only eat the parts of the meat that humans throw away. They still get the bones, basically, and better them than the cows. Anhow don't be surprised that the expression "it will go to the dogs" exists. However this may not remain a suitable answer in a world in which humans consume too much meat (see my diary on this).
Besides, let's just say that dogs are part of the food cycle too. Not just because they die and are in turn consumed by bacteria and what not, but also because 2 million dogs in Korea are destined for human consumption each year, and it's very likely that dogs are eaten in different parts of the world on a regular basis. In Sri Lanka, on every Poya Day (full-moon Buddhist holiday), the TV shows the same program on meat consumption, which details the results of an inquiry that found out that stray dogs find their way into the plates served at food joints, with clients being unaware of it.
On top of all this, the pet food industry employs a lot of people and accounts for $11 billion per year in the U.S. alone.
So to put it simply: dogs are no waste, or at the very least not for everyone.
c) Ok, so dogs aren't any more wasteful than we are, food-wise, but are dogs really useful anyhow, frankly what good are they?
Anyone who attemps to answer this silly question can try to apply it to human beings first and see if they can come up with a good answer for that too (What the hell are we human beings for anyways?).
2) And now the deal ...
a) the Western dog
In India & Sri Lanka, domestic animals are anything but domestic. Animals that are not feral, are linked to a home and get fed by people in that home, but roam around outside, never entering the house except on specific occasions (pregnancy, ...). They are rarely or never patted, and are often never even given a name, "dog" being a commonly acceptable way to call them. This arrangement seems satisfying for both the pseudo-owners and the dogs (nb: the input of the dogs I surveyed was tailored to meet my needs).
Throughout much of Africa, dogs roam around freely and are likely to be despised, seen as disease-ridden and dangerous parasites.
In contrast to this peaceful yet distant arrangement in the East, and this violent disposition in the South, the Western world's relation to pet dogs appears more complex and not as evenly satisfying for all owners and all pets.
The Western world has somewhat pioneered a whole new way of relating to dogs. From largely anthropomorphic attitudes, via somewhat overweight, inactive and sometimes obese dogs (obesity affects approximately 25 percent of the Western world's canine population (5)), to plain perversions like zoophily (which however may not be particular to the West), we have made our dogs something unique, and maybe that's not such a bad thing despite the mistakes made along the way. Mobile phones for dogs are a fine example of how far some are willing to go (bar their use for guide dogs).
b) the Urban dog
i) dogs poop, and poop and poop and poop
|Dogs deject 16 tons of poop into Parisian streets every day, or 5,840 tons annually, for a clean-up cost of 11 million euros per year. Let it thus be said that each kilogram of dog poop in Paris costs the municipality 1.88 euros. (6) Maybe urban dogs should be taxed ...|
Other trivia, in no particular order:
Dog poops cause 650 accidents every year in Paris (I can already see your mouths curling into a "wow!").
UK dogs land 900 tons of poop every day.
|A friend of mine once told me a simple anecdote. He had walked out of his house, and nearly stepped in a steaming pack of dog poo. He had narrowly escaped spending a half hour scrubbing his shoes, and was slightly angered. Not too far away, he noticed this old man holding a dog on a leash, and looking the other way while his dog was concentrating on taking a crap in the middle of the sidewalk. My friend decided to take his anger out on the old man: "Sir that's really disgusting, can't you make him crap where he's supposed to??". Old man, in a proud, offended, and defiant tone: "huh! those who don't like dogs don't like human beings!". My friend snapped back immediately: "Hitler had several dogs".|
ii) urban vs countryside dogs
Now pointing back towards the title of my diary, sparrows are thought to have "dialects" (7), well I wonder if dogs do too. Does a dog from Paris chuckle silently at the bark of a dog from Marseille? Do dogs in more permanent and promiscuous ear contact with human beings (ie. dogs in towns), groomed exquisitely in the parler of our noble species, look down snobbily on hick dogs from the countryside who say "woufyabetcha"?
(follow-up, done quickly - with a mention that urban dogs living in homes with a garden fall closer to the countryside dog category)
While we're on language differences, but this time looking at the other side of the leash, one thing that I always find difficult in English, is calling some animals "it". I haven't checked to see if I've done it in this diary, so you may not get to see it firsthand, but the basic idea is that even though I'm fully aware that "it" is the proper pronoun, I keep on calling dogs and various other types of animals "he" or "she", like we do in Frenceh. Does this predispose me and French people in general to anthropomorphism?
Anyhow, bar dog dialects, what does differenciate urban and countryside dogs?
For starters, the amount of space available for roaming, and consequently the amount of exercice that they get (though it must be said some countryside folk are cruel enough to confine their dogs). It should come as no suprise that 25% of our dogs are obese, when most of them live where most of us live, in towns, in which they are more likely to fail in the exercice department. As I had mentioned in the part I've now erased, several surveys show that 40-50% of dog owners respond that their dog(s) are a motivation for the owner to do exercise too. Which is good, as it guarantees that many urban dogs get proper exercice ... it's indeed no rare thing to see a person strolling or jogging inside a city park with a dog. But what about the other 50%? What do they do with their urban dogs? I've seen so many times a person exit his/her building with a dog, walk 50 meters, wait for the dog to poop in front of another building's entrance, and then go back home.
|Next difference: the degree of contact with people. Urban dogs share the living space of their master(s), while countryside dogs generally do not. Depending on the home setup, urban dogs may be in frequent close-up contact with a stay at home partner, or children. In setups that generally require reinforcement of the pack master concept, which the urban dog must accept. I have no time to look for studies on the topic, but my intuition would be that urban dogs have a better opportunity to develop cognitive skills. In contrast to this, countryside dogs are generally free to do their stuff, as they see fit. This doesn't exclude them from being in close frequent contact with humans too, but they can stroll away whenever they want, which brings us to the final difference I will be discussing here: the leash.|
The leash is a necessary monstruosity in towns, at least on the way to the park. But how do urban dogs feel about getting the leash? A dog survey by CSA-Sofres, gives the following figures: when asked how they feel about the leash, 80% of urban dogs responded "arf", 18% responsed "wouf", and 2% ran off to chase another dog.
A previous dog diary here on ET:
Street dogs issue in Southeast Europe
(1) Dog @ Wikipedia
(2) Why we do what we do around dogs
(3) Mapworld (weak), CIA Factbook, and INSEE's latest population projections for France
(4) Dog calorie requirements
(4a) What's really in Pet Food
(5) National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, quoted by The National Academies
(6) Paris Municipality's guide to Good Animal Husbandry (PDF)
(7) Sparrow dialects