Blog: Neurodiversity and Dogs

Updated: Feb 28, 2019

One of the themes that will always be present in my writing is the connections I will make between dogs and people. Specifically, people who are neurodiverse and dogs.

I can understand that this might offend a few people. Understand that all comparisons I make are, most likely, to do with a societal viewpoint that shares common misconceptions about the topic of neurodiversity and the topic of dog behaviour. I want to talk about both as separate entities for which, of course, they are. But I also want to talk about them together.

In order to do that, we need to discuss the actual topic of ‘neurodiversity’ and what it actually means. Annoyingly, it means lots of different things to lots of different people.

The term, at the base level, refers to people like myself with social and mental health conditions, such as Autism, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, ADHD, Tourettes etc. The goal of the ‘neurodiverse movement’ is to advocate the idea that as opposed to something ‘being wrong’ with people, it is simply that there is some ‘different wiring’ going on. This is in comparison to those without these conditions, which are referred to as ‘neurotypicals’ They are firmly against any of these conditions being viewed as negative, and reject any thought of a ‘cure’. I will go into greater detail on neurodiversity in further blog posts.

I say ‘they’ a lot, simply because I am not a major part of that community yet. I certainly would like to be, but I’ve yet to come across someone who refers to themselves as neurodiverse in my day to day life.

Despite this, however, I am a believer in the neurodiversity movement. We are all wired differently, and these are things that should be celebrated. To pretend there is not a lot of ups and downs with these conditions would be foolish and dishonest, but there are certain spells of sun in amongst the rain.

Dogs, I think, should be viewed the same way. Animals all have rich personalities and reinforcement histories which have made them who they are today. This combination of nature and nurture creates an infinite number of possibilities about who your dog very well could be.

It fascinates me, though, that once a dog doesn’t quite fit the perception of what ‘it should be’, they are immediately regarded as defective, disabled or perhaps quite simply ‘not good enough’.

Imagine, if you would, a Border Collie that didn’t herd. A terrier that didn’t love chasing rats. A Labrador that didn’t like to retrieve.

These animals exist, and I can imagine there are hundreds if not thousands of them out there right now.

But because they do not do what they are ‘supposed’ to do, does that mean they can’t do anything at all. Should these issues be ‘cured’? Because with the power of reinforcement, you can teach them do to do these things, if you so desire.

Is it ethical, though, to force a dog to do a job when you know deep down the dog wishes it was doing something different? Is it ethical to force a dog to conform to what is expected of it?

Take Assistance Dogs for example. Those that fail the exceedingly hard assessments, failures of which can come about from being too friendly, go on to live happy and healthy lives. They are not forced to do a job that, deep down, the trainers know they would not enjoy.

I wonder, then, if the same thing is applicable to people. Should we force people with neurodiverse brains into situations that they would find uncomfortable simply because everyone else does it?

There are some situations that, in order to live a healthy quality of life, you need to participate in.

But how ethical is it to assume that every person, and every dog, are all the same simply because there is an average of how society views it?

It’s a difficult conversation to have, but one I am looking forward to exploring.

I don’t have all the answers, but I love asking the questions.



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