I recently returned from Mexico where I presented our Sirius Puppy Training methodology at an international conference. It is always a pleasure and eye-opening to visit another country and learn more about how its people view, value, and interact with dogs.
On this particular trip, I had the opportunity to speak with many professional trainers, rescuers, and veterinarians as well as observe dog owners in both urban and village environments. Additionally, most interestingly to me, I also got to watch lots of village dogs interact with one another without inference from human counterparts.
In urban environments, the dogs I encountered were almost exclusively purebred, well-groomed, well-fed, well-mannered, and leashed. I saw many a dog sitting calmly with its owners at outdoor cafes, watching the world pass by or taking a siesta. I didn’t see any dogs begging at tables. My guess is the dogs I observed were never given table scraps and therefore had no expectations of scoring a savory snack. There was no attention, alert, or alarm barking; these cafe dogs didn’t interact with or pester their owners at all while hanging out. Nor did they interact much with passersby whether human or canine. This non-interaction wasn’t cold or lonely; rather, it was casual, relaxed. These dogs seemed very comfortable in their environment and knew when things were not about them; they were without stress. Their demeanor was more akin to the vibe that I wrote about last month, when I mentioned that dogs should be able to pass other dogs on the street the same way that we humans do when we pass strangers — pretty much without any reaction whatsoever.
In Mexico City I also saw a familiar scene, but with a twist. There were lots of midday professional dog walkers, but rather than simply taking a group to a local park, many dog walkers exercised their charges either solo or in pairs by biking with them. It was actually pretty cool. The biker pedaled at relaxed pace, not too fast, and the dogs trotted happily along. Occasionally, the walker/biker would stop to let the dog sniff and have a toilet break. I saw Standard poodles, German shepherds, Afghan hounds, and Great Danes, being exercised this way. My favorite pair was a young, fit border collie with a chubby little beagle. The walker held the beagle under his arm as he rode; clearly someone was pooped and wondering why he was paired with such a mega-athlete walking partner.
Just like here in the Bay Area, after work hours, some of the gorgeous, historic city parks become impromptu dog lover meeting grounds. One evening I spent about an hour watching dogs, clearly all longtime friends, greeting each other and each other’s humans with such affection and glee. There were park bench belly scratches, games of chase, unsure newbies, trying to fit in, and old, wise canine souls overseeing the party from the sidelines. In some parts there were official designated dog park sections as well, and they were very clean and nicely planned. Speaking of clean … in a city where I saw hundreds of dogs in just a few days, I say nearly zero dog poop. Mexican dog owners appear to be very vigilant about walking their dogs. Overall, the city dogs seemed to lead a pretty good life. A lot less reactivity, lots and lots of walks, and tons of folks, especially street vendors and shopkeepers, take their dogs to work with them.
Outside of the urban city centers, however, dogs lead a very different lifestyle. There are plenty of parts of Mexico where dogs run free, appear to have no real oversight or owners, and are at best, just part of the natural environment rather than valued friends and at worst, in some cases, seen as merely pests. While this is culturally very different then what we in the states are used to seeing and a bit upsetting to those of us who adored canine companionship, I did try to reserve judgment and instead simply observe.
One may think that a dog living on the margins of human society would not thrive. Interestingly, that isn’t really what seemed to be the case. I was surprised to see how many elderly street dogs I encountered — dogs that looked to be over 9 or 10 years old. The street dogs of all ages were of a healthy and in some cases even substantial weight. Theses dogs also appeared to have a large social network. I witnessed lot of joyful, playful moments and not one dog-dog altercation beyond an ugly snarl for a young whippersnapper to stay away from a valued food resource (a street food vendor), but even that was a clear, fair, subtle communication, respectfully heeded. My favorite street dog moment was about 30 minutes spent watching four, large, adolescent male dogs frolic with each other in a town plaza, oblivious to the world around them as they affectionately nibbled, jaw-wrestled, and chased each other around in no way different then the pups I observed at the Mexico City dog park and no different then the dogs of San Francisco at Alamo Square.
Whether in the city or the country, the daily dose of dogginess warmed my heart and eased my longing for my own pups a bit, and I learned that dogs will be dogs no matter their circumstances or country of origin and that was a beautiful thing to behold.
Kelly Gorman Dunbar is director of the Center for Applied Animal Behavior where she recruits and trains for SIRIUS Puppy & Training, the family busines
Main article photo by: Paul Sableman-Creative Commons