Interesting observation during our visit to Prague: very few dogs wore leashes. They followed their owners obediently and submissively, displaying little interest in other dogs or people.
As we watched this day after day, I wondered about the differences in culture.
Why do American dogs seem so exuberant and curious about their surroundings? Out of control, some might say. Do American owners indulge their dogs or treat their dogs differently? Do we lack the training skills, as a people, to bring our dogs into submission? Are we an excessive society that allows our dogs free rein?
On one occasion, we followed a tiny noodle dog (I’m a cat person) as a larger dog approached. The noodle dog jumped off the sidewalk and tumbled onto the cobblestone road to get around the other dog. The larger dog noticed the noodle dog stumble, then turned his attention back to the sidewalk and kept moving forward. Once the larger dog passed, the tiny dog scrambled back up onto the sidewalk. The owner was already around a corner and out of sight. The little guy could barely keep up.
How can all these dogs be so well-behaved? Why do they show so little interest in their surroundings? Why do they keep to themselves? What can this mean?
Can it be possible that dog-behavior reflects an Iron Curtain mentality? I know that seems a stretch, but work with me.
Let’s look at Czech history. World leaders sliced and diced Czechoslovakia during World War II — way too complicated to summarize. The Czech Republic of today is a democratic republic, born from a heritage of brutal suppression under Communist rule from 1948-1968, and Warsaw Pact invasion force in 1968 through 1989. A few gory details: in 1969, student Jan Palach torched himself in Prague’s Wenceslas Square to protest Soviet occupation. Horrified, I googled Jan Palach. He survived for three pain-filled days before he died from third degree burns over 85% of his body.
Jaroslava Moserova, Czech burn specialist who treated Jan Palach, relayed his desperation in the crushed human spirit of his fellow citizens:
“It was not so much in opposition to the Soviet occupation, but the demoralization which was setting in, that people were not only giving up, but giving in. And he wanted to stop that demoralization. I think the people in the street, the multitude of people in the street, silent, with sad eyes, serious faces, which when you looked at those people you understood that everyone understands, all the decent people who were on the verge of making compromises.“
In his last words, he discouraged others from following his example!!!
“My act fulfilled its role. But no-one else should follow me. Students should try to save themselves, and devote their lives to fulfilling our goals. They should fight alive.”
Fast forward 20 years to 1989 and the non-violent Velvet Revolution which led to Democratic elections in 1990, the first in 60 years. January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia split peacefully into two states: the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
I, for one, feel incredibly thankful that I lead a very safe life in the land of the free. I’m thankful for the peaceful shift in political power every four to eight years. I’m thankful for the freedom to express my opinions and disagree with the leadership of my country.
But, what if I didn’t have the democratic freedoms I take for granted? How would handle the pressures of oppressive rule — the real life-and-death kind — not the bureaucratic red-tape kind I deal with daily in the federal government. How would I react if my life (or the lives of my daughters) depended on it? Would I submit or resist? I’d love to imagine myself as a freedom fighter, hiding families in my attic, and smuggling people to safety. But is that just wishful thinking? In reality, would I survive by:
- keeping my eyes on the ground,
- minding my own business,
- following the rules, and
- not making waves?
Hopefully, I’ll never have to make these choices.
So back to the story of the dogs.
Prague dogs keep their noses forward, eyes to the ground — indifferent to stimuli around them. Can we attribute this good behavior to superior training techniques? Or…do these pets mirror Iron Curtain survival traits?
Can the crushed human spirit from oppressive rule manifest itself in pet behavior?
Granted, this is all pure speculation. But, as a political scientist, I’m curious.