Reflections on Hungary and Dogs

What we’ve seen from my previous post about the symbiotic domestication of cats is the obvious fact that animals have been kept around and bred for different purposes. This can be the case within species as well, and what I’ve seen particularly exemplified with dogs around the world. I’ve seen them used as fashion accessories and status symbols, herders and hunters, companions - basically the gamut.

My time in Hungary was spent more with children than animals, but that didn’t prevent me from trying to engage with the dogs of the village. This was at times difficult, because dogs in rural Hungary are not thought of as the fluffy, cuddly, beings we let inhabit our beds at night; instead, they are taught to be aggressive and possessive, often kept in crates or fenced for the majority of their lives.

The view from home in Hungary.

This attitude is not ubiquitous around Hungary. Indeed, during my weekends in Budapest, I’d see a man walking a soft white dog in a harness and letting it sniff at spots on the road. In the villages, though, suspicion permeates even though crime rates are actually quite low (an indicator: I often left my basement bedroom door unlocked, and nothing happened even while we lived across the street from a man who’d been arrested several times).

Thus every almost every house had a dog standing sentry - the most popular breeds being pitbulls and other large dogs reputed to be aggressive. My presence passing any fence almost always caused a ruckus, but there were some dogs I managed to win over.

I’d start by just talking to them. A quick warning on this: don’t overestimate your charisma here, because some dogs will only bark harder. In that case, cut your losses and move on quickly. But those I took by surprise stopped and looked at me. I’d continue talking and slowly approach, extending my hand to make contact. And it worked.

The thing about guard dogs is that they often don’t receive a lot of training or affection, and my attention went a long way toward building a positive relationship. They’d recognize me later and stick their noses through the links for me.

The differences between city and country.

This culture of dogs as defense made the community generally view dogs with trepidation. Once, my supervisors and I snuck away from a training into the village, with the intention of meeting a man and his truffle-hunting dogs. The dogs clamored to see us, and I knelt down in greeting, amidst warnings of, “Those dogs are dangerous. Don’t get too close.” Had these warnings come from the owner himself, I would have heeded them. As it was, the dogs rolled on their backs for attention and presented me with licks. Likewise, my supervisors’ hyperactive vizsla calmed for a few minutes while I stroked him.

The reality is, sometimes it is hard to travel and see how animals live in other places - as I know it can be for visitors to the United States (my mind always goes to our factory farms, or how we eat beef, or pork while certain religions and countries condemn the killing of cows or pigs). It’s harder at times when I realize that, though dogs around the world may have different functions, they often react the same to loving attention and an offer of companionship. We’re learning a lot more about animal psychology and how to maximize camaraderie. It’s different and innovative, and, of course, innovation takes time to catch on.

So my question for you is, how have you changed training methods for your animals over the years? What have you learned about animal behavior?

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