Stu Bykofsky: Web's dog-shaming fad should apply to humans, too

Some little pooches (top left) are forced to own up to cowardly behavior. Others (bottom left) think they can push others around and are forced to confess their loutish behavior. Some confessions are clearly coerced (above); this rebel could wind up with a face full of pepper spray if he doesn't control that temper.
Some little pooches (top left) are forced to own up to cowardly behavior. Others (bottom left) think they can push others around and are forced to confess their loutish behavior. Some confessions are clearly coerced (above); this rebel could wind up with a face full of pepper spray if he doesn't control that temper.
Posted: January 29, 2013

IF YOU AGREE that there is no better animal in the world than the dog, how do you explain dog-shaming?

Dog-shaming?

According to Wikipedia, dog-shaming began on the blogging platform Tumblr in August. Wikipedia defines the fad as "the activity where a dog owner creates a sign to describe a negative activity that the dog has participated in."

While most dog lovers haven't heard of it - I asked around - it was a hit on the blog, with loads of pictures of dogs next to, or wearing, hand-lettered signs explaining their bad behavior. The messages are sometimes written by the dog's "Mommy" or "Daddy," sometimes written from the dog's perspective. Many are funny; some are hysterical.

Dogs are man's best friend because of their social nature, which since their domestication has driven them to seek the approval of humans. Some think dogs might have chosen a better role model, but that's already baked in the cake.

In addition to protecting the home, herding the livestock, guiding the blind, playing with the children, detecting the explosives, rescuing the skiers, aiding the soldiers and finding the missing, dogs make excellent companions - patient, forgiving, loyal and rarely argumentative.

As in any species, among the vast majority of dogs' wonderful traits are a few that cause nothing but frustration, sometimes driven by natural instincts or innate habits.

Some common dog behaviors are mildly destructive (scratching doors, chewing shoes), or socially unacceptable (farting, humping), but loving guardians tolerate the minor minuses as balance to the plentiful pluses.

If you live with a loving but crazy dog and you can't turn it into a gold mine, as former Inquirer columnist John Grogan did with "Marley & Me," cyberspace provides an escape valve.

That's where dog-shaming comes in, allowing you to share your frustration or embarrassment with the world.

Since dogs were a success, people started adding cats and other animals, but it's harder to get a cat to sit still for a picture, much less feel shame, since, as the title of my book says, Cats Are Supermodels. Has Naomi Campbell ever felt shame?

Then the website dogshaming.com emerged, technical sophistication increased and hand-lettered signs, which still exist, morphed into formal captions and deftly crafted, illustrated labels, some looking like posters ready to be downloaded. (If dog-shaming doesn't turn into a movie, I'll be surprised. I know a book is in the works.)

You can also visit the rival shameyourpet.com, which offers cat-shaming, bunny-shaming, ferret-shaming and more. That brings me to this: How about people-shaming - I mean other than on Maury Povich's show, which makes me ashamed that I share a species with "guests" from the shallow end of the gene pool.

I think many of the problems America faces today flow from an absence of shame, a deficit of character, defined by former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts as doing the right thing when no one is looking.

Whether it's financial swindler Bernie Madoff, or doper Lance Armstrong, or money-grubbing Illinois ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, we suffer from an absence of shame.

I applaud the occasional judge who orders a criminal, usually convicted of a nonviolent crime, to stand in a public place wearing a sign announcing, and apologizing for, his guilt. That parallels what the Pilgrims did with punishment stocks.

Some people think that's humiliating.

It is. That's the idea: shame.

Dog-shaming doesn't really work, because dogs can't read. It's more for the guardian's amusement.

I'd like to see it applied to people.

I think it might work. Do you?


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Columns: philly.com/Byko

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