Even Dogs Get Culture Shock
Posted on April 27, 2010 at 10:32 am
Upon returning to the states after living in Thailand for four years I expected a little reverse culture shock. What I hadn’t expected was that my Thai dog would experience culture shock. After 1 1/2 years in the states she is just now adapting to the new culture, but she has yet to become comfortable around American dogs.
My dog, China (learn from my mistake and never name your dog after a country they’ve never been to, it causes a lot of confusion) is not alone in her culture shock. All of my friends that adopted Thai dogs are facing similar issues. None of us can take our Thai dogs to American dog parks.
For a Thai dog being around American dogs can be a confusing and scary experience. There’s no starting out at a cautious distance as the dogs size up each other. Instead American dogs are immediately violating their personal space. The Thai dog tries to communicate that the American dog needs to stay back by raising their hackles and baring their teeth. Both of these signals are completely missed by American dogs. If there is more than one dog violating her personal space China feels surrounded and trapped. After a few attempts at socializing my dog at dog parks China now refuses to move once she realizes that we’re in the parking lot of a dog park.
My sister’s dog has spent a lot of time a my house since I moved back to the states. When my dog realized that she had no choice but to be near my sister’s dog she set out to determine the pecking order. This show of dominance so cowed my sister’s dog that he now refuses to have anything to do with my dog. The few times China has shown interest in making friends with other dogs there have been similar bad endings because American dogs and dog owners are unprepared for the ritual of establishing dominance.
China may have learned from her social faux pas because she has not tried to establish dominance with my brother’s dogs. If she is with just one of them she’s ok but she cowers under the table if both of them start shoving curious noses at her. On the few occasions when she’s been brave enough to try playing with the dogs, neither of them have picked up on her Let’s Play postures. She eventually stops trying to interact at all.
Although my dog was raised around lots of other dogs and had many dog friends back in Thailand, in all the times she’s been in the states she’s not had a single game of tag or a wrestling match. Despite my best attempts, she’s not been able to adapt enough to dog culture here in the states.
Luckily, there is one habit from her days in Thailand that China can still indulge in – laying stretched out in the middle of the street. I don’t know why Thai dogs like this but it’s her biggest hobby. As soon as the weather warms up enough she’s out there on the blacktop. Luckily we live in a small culdesac and the neighbors all like China and are willing to let her be. We’ve nicknamed ourselves Dead Dog Circle because of the number of people that have come into the culdesac asking if my dog is dead. Unfortunately, even this cultural habit will have to come to end when I eventually move out of the culdesac.
I feel for her, I think she must be lonely. It reminds me of my time as the only foreigner in rural Thailand. Although I lived in Thailand for six years and speak fluent Thai I never felt I could just relax and be myself in social situations. I generally sought out other westerners for my personal friendships.
I wonder if my dog will ever be comfortable with American dogs and American culture or if I’ve sentenced her to lifetime of social isolation. I find myself often thinking that couples from different cultures must face similar problems where one of them feels at home while the other is struggling to adapt.
Forgive yourself if you’re having troubles adapting to a new culture and know that it’s not just you. Even dogs get culture shock.