I have read before that many people say animals don't have distinct personalities and emotions. Well, I guess that is because they don't own pets. Take our dog, Bella. She is a scruffy mutt, medium size, and looks like she has been put together by a cartoonist, with pointy ears and a long body, somewhat stocky, mostly brown and black in colour with a few white patches, and intelligent eyes. She plays at being a puppy for attention, though is fully grown, and gets jealous and asks for extra attention when I pat the rabbit..
Bella reminds me of a recalcitrant child. She learns her lessons hard. Take house training. She used to urinate indoors, but seemed to know it was wrong, as she waited for me to be out of sight before she did her business on the fluffy carpet. Maybe she thought I wouldn't notice if she was sneaky, and the carpet does have a way of hiding wet spots. One day I caught her in the act, and gave an almighty scream and chased her outside. She has not messed inside again. This time she could see I was serious.
The same does not apply to barking. No matter how much I moan at her, she will bark at the neighbour's dog when I am not around to call her away. Temptation seems too much for her fragile self control. She has become really good at coming immediately when she sees me appear, and she will leave off her frantic barking and chasing, following the neighbour's dog out of sight up and down the fence. But here's the point. Bella never used to bark at the neighbour's dog. Until Baxter appeared that is. Baxter was a beautiful German Shepherd mixture. We didn't have Baxter for long unfortunately, but Baxter taught Bella bad behaviour. He taught her that barking outside means someone will appear and bring you inside. He taught Bella that barking and chasing the neighbour's dog alongside to the fence is fun. Before Baxter came along, Bella seemed oblivious that there was a dog next door.
Bella never used to bark when she was outside, or at least she needed a good reason to bark. She used to patiently spend some time outside on her own, seemingly content. Now she barks aimlessly if she is outside on her own for only a short time, barking almost half heartedly at times, and when I open the door to see what is happening, she is staring happily at me wagging her tail, waiting to come inside. If aimless barking doesn't work to open the door for her, then she runs around to the front of the house and barks from there, something Baxter used to love to do and she seems to have followed his example. Likewise, Bella used to ignore the neighbour's dog, until Baxter made the discovery that there was a dog next door. When Baxter was interacting with the neighbour's dog, he either used to squeal like a stuck pig, or it sounded as if he was in the middle of a highly aroused dog attack, and was quite scary to listen to. And this with a dog he could not even see.
If dogs can learn bad behaviour from each other, then how much more will children learn bad behaviour from their peers? It is a worrying thought. Once learnt, it's difficult to unlearn behaviour, as one has seen the possibilities. The upside is that if bad behaviour can be learnt, so too can good behaviour, so it is important to provide good role models for children and people.