Against Dog Ownership

Link post

This es­say about dog own­er­ship helped me em­pathise with dogs, and also caused me to up­date against get­ting a dog; if these ideas are ac­cu­rate, it’d ei­ther be much more self­ish and cruel than I pre­vi­ously thought, or else would re­quire a lot more fo­cused effort in or­der to give the dog a mean­ingful life.

Most of the es­say is do­ing valuable and in­ter­est­ing work star­ing into the abyss and try­ing to help you see whether there is a dystopian hor­ror oc­cur­ring around us. But I’ll mostly take away from it a clearer sense of what it looks like for a non-hu­man an­i­mal to have pur­pose and mean­ing; it feels like a con­cep­tual up­date that I won’t eas­ily be able to for­get or ig­nore. (It has helped me think more clearly about an­i­mals and their val­ues much more than most of the philo­soph­i­cal dis­cus­sion I’ve seen on the topic, and I found it more use­ful than much ex­tended dis­cus­sion about con­scious­ness and plea­sure/​pain.)

Here’s three quotes to help you un­der­stand the post and en­tice you into read­ing the whole thing.

After about three days, the dog started fol­low­ing me ev­ery­where. If I sat on the couch to watch tv, the dog would curl-up un­der my out­stretched legs rest­ing on the coffee table. If I sat at the din­ner table, it would sit beside me, and watch me through­out the en­tire meal. If I went to the bath­room, it would fol­low me to the door and wait out­side. At night, the dog curled up in my bed and slept beside me. The dog started walk­ing more, and she would al­most always perfectly fol­low my lead; she walked at just the right pace so she stayed beside me, nei­ther lag­ging be­hind my fast stride, nor pul­ling ahead. On the rare oc­ca­sions she got dis­tracted by a smell or other dog, I gen­tly tugged on her leash and called her name, and she scur­ried over to me.

I found it kind of creepy.

Yes, I know, it’s a dog. But still… I felt like I had been granted a level of sub­mis­sive­ness from a sovereign be­ing which I hadn’t earned. All I had done was feed and walk the dog – and I ap­par­ently did this so badly that the dog was mas­sively de­pressed – and yet she wor­shipped me.

The fol­low­ing sec­tion is some­thing the au­thor is them­self quot­ing from a red­dit thread:

The most ac­cu­rate thing I can say about dogs is I feel sorry for them. My im­me­di­ate fam­ily didn’t own dogs grow­ing up, but my ex­tended fam­ily had farms or large acreage plots with 3-5 dogs run­ning around all day. They eat, sleep, shit, and run around ex­plor­ing with their pack hours a day when­ever they want.

Com­pare to city dogs. Mostly live in match­box apart­ments. A typ­i­cal week­day is likely 9-12 hours home alone. You can’t run. You can’t shit. You are bored out of your fuck­ing mind. Your hu­man comes home and walks you for 15 min­utes on a leash. It’s the high­light of your day. Hu­man is tired and eats din­ner in front of the TV while you get scratches. Maybe you sleep in the same bed as your hu­man. You’re prob­a­bly pretty tired af­ter an en­tire day of mostly not mov­ing.

Week­ends if you’re lucky, you go to a dog-friendly park. Maybe you get off leash. Maybe you never get off leash be­cause you’re too spazzy around other dogs/​hu­mans. It’s com­pletely un­der­stand­able to be spazzy. You are chron­i­cally un­der­stim­u­lated. One of your only op­por­tu­ni­ties to get en­ergy and ac­tion in life is by “mis­be­hav­ing” or ha­rass­ing strangers.

When I walk past some­one with a dog and the dog is just pul­ling as hard as s/​he can at the leash to pounce on me, you can’t think that’s in­stinct. No an­i­mal in the wild thinks it’s a good idea to go fuck with some­thing 3-30x it’s body­weight. It’s pure bore­dom. The dog is just try­ing to stim­u­late it­self be­fore it’s forced back in front of the TV to watch The Office again.

There’s a laun­dry list of other top­ics like neu­ter­ing, diet, train­ing, etc that I won’t elab­o­rate on. There’s enough grey area for peo­ple to get away with jus­tify­ing what­ever hap­pens to be eas­iest for them, ob­vi­ously, but I hope it’s also ob­vi­ous that there are many many ways in which the life of a dog is diminished com­pared to…. other nor­mal liv­ing or­ganisms…

And from the sec­tions on needs, plea­sures, and mean­ing.

With the ex­cep­tions of abu­sive or neg­li­gent own­ers, owned dogs get their needs met. In fact, dogs get their needs met bet­ter than pretty much any non-pet an­i­mals in the world. Un­like wild an­i­mals, dogs aren’t faced with the daily life-and-death strug­gle for sur­vival. They don’t need to hunt or scrounge for food, they don’t need to worry about a tainted wa­ter source, they don’t need to evade preda­tors, etc. And un­like farm an­i­mals, their deaths al­most cer­tainly won’t come at the hands of their own­ers, es­pe­cially not in the first 25% of their max lifes­pans.


I’d say most dog own­ers have a mixed record of fulfilling their dog’s plea­sure (ig­nore the in­nu­endo). On the pos­i­tive side, owned dogs will usu­ally get lots of treats, toys, and pet­ting… Dili­gent own­ers will de­vote sig­nifi­cant time to tak­ing their dog out of the house to run around, fetch, and hope­fully in­ter­act with other dogs, but plenty of own­ers won’t and will leave their dogs per­pet­u­ally un­der-stim­u­lated at home… Where dog own­ers fall the short­est in pro­vid­ing for their dog’s plea­sure is in – again, ig­nore the in­nu­endo – sex. By the 2010s, 83% of Amer­i­can dogs were neutered, and pre­sum­ably most other own­ers do ev­ery­thing they can to dis­cour­age their non-neutered dogs from hav­ing sex (which is ar­guably a worse fate for the dog). I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that de­priv­ing an an­i­mal of an act for which it is biolog­i­cally pro­grammed to de­rive the most ex­treme of plea­sures is likely detri­men­tal to the an­i­mal’s wellbe­ing. Ask your­self: for what other gains would you be will­ing to give up sex for the rest of your life?

Third, mean­ing is ac­tivity and goals which provide long-term value to the be­ing. Ad­mit­tedly, it’s hard enough to iden­tify mean­ing in hu­mans, so it’s even harder to do so in dogs, but I’m go­ing to take a shot any­way.

Read the es­say here.