Human-animal relationships in south-east Turkey, a behaviourist’s personal perspective

There has been a more widespread move towards keeping dogs as pets over the last ten years in some areas, interesting sociologically and behaviourally. Two signs of (relatively) greater affluence in a locality are more estate agents and the emergence of pet shops.

The introduction of trap-neuter-return (TNR) policies, animal welfare legislation and municipally-funded animal shelters have all had an effect too. When I first started coming to Dalyan 25 years ago there were more free roaming dogs and nearly all were hunting dog types because that was the only type of dog that was kept for a purpose; the unwanted or ineffective ones were turned out to fend for themselves. A common sight in those days was a man in shooting gear, gun slung around shoulder, on a scooter with a hound sat on the back or in the footwell. Strays were allowed to survive by begging at restaurant tables during the tourist season and then taken to the forest and shot or poisoned at the end of the season. Lack of neutering meant always a continuing supply of street dogs for the next season. As public perception changed this practice reduced, and now there is (in theory and mostly in practice) the option to take dogs off the street and into council-run shelters. Although the letter of the TNR policy is to return neutered animals to where they were found, that’s not always welcomed by the human community. On the other hand, there are groups of welfare-minded individuals who organise care of the community dogs by regular feeding, parasite control and other health care, and a live and let live approach is observable.

During this 25 years the ex-pat population is Dalyan has also grown, and it’s been interesting to witness the stage where there were still lots of dogs on the street (there are still some but fewer than before) and some of them were “rescued” (a whole other essay in itself) and taken to live in a house. You would then see them being taken for a walk on a lead, among the same group of street dogs that was once their “family”. Much unwanted (by the human) interaction ensued between the now pet dog and their former gang, to the distress of the new “owner”, and the street dogs would end up having things thrown at them and hit with sticks that the humans carried specifically for that purpose, to keep the other dogs away.

A specific example of how the human community cares for its dogs is the case of Rosie, a tough as old boots Dalyan community dog, you couldn’t touch her but if she liked you she’d approach you hopefully and your job then was to go and buy some food from the nearest shop and feed her. She had a medical condition that meant she carried her head at a jaunty angle. She had a boyfriend who took good care of her, sadly he was taken off the streets into a home, and Rosie was alone. She got through that loss, not without grief, and then some particular humans looked out for her, setting her up with a warm, sheltered area and providing daily food. She was a tough loner, she wouldn’t be tamed, she was as much a symbol of Dalyan as much as the tombs, the turtles or Iztuzu beach. She was found lying still in her warm bed one morning, she had died as she lived, free, independent and unbounded.

It’s also been interesting to watch breed preferences change over so many years. The hunting dog types changed to northern breeds for a period of time in the 2000s, then to golden retrievers which are still a common sight as a community dog. Across the years there has always been a ubiquitous short legged, long backed phenotype that has run alongside the breed or type differences.

There are fewer free roaming dogs now but there will always be some, they are part of Turkey’s identity; you will see water bowls everywhere outside businesses, and public information notices remind people about animal welfare laws (see photos).

In terms of behaviour, the most behaviourally aware vet I have ever dealt with has been here in Dalyan; when I first heard him discuss behaviour I thought he could give easily give an undergrad lecture on the subject. Behavioural awareness existed before it got packaged up as an applied academic subject, indeed all that the positivist science does is to test constructs or actions that already existed, and categorise them according to an accepted academic perspective. For as long as domestic animals have been used by humans, and therefore “trained” in some way, there has been behavioural awareness. The welfare effect of the application of that awareness may be positive or negative, but an animal’s behaviour can’t be systematically changed without the human element knowing that their actions will result in the animal doing, or not doing, something they want the animal to do. Understanding the theory behind it, as we do, may help or hinder according to circumstance.

I saw another example recently, which I’ve never seen in the UK, when I was riding with a group of Turkish people the other day. The lead horse spooked at something and would not move forward. You know the real conflicted dithering, back legs splaying, really fearful display? We know what we would have seen in 95% of these occasions in the UK – several repeated attempts of more leg before, possibly, someone deciding that another horse in front might help. Heaven forbid that the rider should dismount and actually reassuringly lead the horse! But that’s exactly what this rider did, she immediately jumped off, and not only that, took a carrot out of her pocket which had been brought along for this very purpose. This time, the horse was so scared that the carrot didn’t cut it, but a lead by another horse did, and then the carrot, given immediately upon walking past the scary thing (we’re still not sure what it was!), served to add an affectively positive element to the experience.

So I’d say definitely come to Turkey to develop a comparative understanding of animal behaviour and their agency; you’d need to come over an extended period of time, or repeatedly, to get a good ethnographic understanding. My experiences have certainly had a huge effect on how I understand dogs especially but also many aspects of horse behaviour by comparison (my Jordan work had a strong effect on this too). It’s given me a clearer insight into just how difficult pet dogs find it to live life as a pet dog, I’ve included this understanding in how I work with owners and one thread that runs through my feedback is that I’ve helped them to understand and empathise with their dog’s or their horse’s situation and the human-directed life they are expected to cope with, always to the benefit of the animal’s welfare, and consequential improvement in behaviour too.

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Published by animalbehaviourclinics

ABTC registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist (equine/canine), international author and speaker, expert witness, supervisor/mentor/lecturer

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