Dog Lovers: This Has Got To Stop.
We love our dogs. Americans keep upwards of 90 million dogs as pets, and they’ve become a huge part of our families, our cultures, and our lives. I know from experience that a pet can become part of the family, and what’s most important to me is my dog’s health and wellbeing.
I sat down with resident dog walker/sitter/lover + mobile vet nurse, Allie Stephens, to talk the one huge thing all us dog-lovers need to quit doing immediately. And to be honest, I was surprised!
We lovingly refer to our 10-year-old German Shepherd mix as “our son”, and she’s become just like one in the last year-and-a-half of being ours. As Allie wisely pointed out, however, we tend to anthropomorphize our pets and can treat them too much like humans. If you must think of your dog as a human, Allie said over Sky Coffee and the roar of a passing Rail Runner, think of them as a toddler.
Where our affection for our pets can turn dangerous is almost always when we leave the house. I hesitate to leave my dog at home, not because she’ll mess with anything in the house, but because she’s so attached to me and I think she’ll always be happier by my side.
Allie points out that there are many places where humans thrive, but where dogs are more likely to experience fear and stress. And I won’t dwell on the obvious — don’t leave any living creature in a hot car. Instead, Allie emphasized several popular summer activities here in Santa Fe.
Don’t bring your dog to a protest, festival, or public market. The combination of crowds, heightened emotions + potential for unexpected weather changes is far from ideal for your pet.
Know your dog. There are some environments that aren’t great for any pet, and others that may or may not be acceptable for yours. I call to mind the Railyard movie nights here in Santa Fe — with a picnic blanket to designate our own space, Josie is as content as she is at home. Other dogs may feel frightened by the noise from the movie, or stressed by the presence of so many other people and dogs. In order to know your dog, you have to pay attention. Signs of anxiety might include excessive panting, trembling, a refusal to sit or lie down, constant looking around, raised or back ears, barking, excessive drooling, etc. Your pet is never just being a “bad dog” — if something is causing your animal stress, it’s your job to figure out what the stressor is and minimize or eliminate it from their life! On that note — don’t continually expose your pet to something they dislike or fear in the hopes that they’ll “get used to it”. Instead, make the necessary changes to keep them safe and comfortable — even if that means hiring a walker, sitter or trainer.
Never try to pass your pet off as a service animal. Not only could your un- or poorly-trained pet harm people and property, their very presence may cause an actual service animal to lose focus and affect their ability to assist the person in need. Allie told a story of a person with a legitimate service animal being refused at an event because there was already another “service animal” present that didn’t get along well with others. Ask yourself: is my desire to hang out with my pet more important than the needs and wants of a person with a disability? Hint: no. It’s not.
But what if my dog can’t be left at home? Well, fix that. Your dog is a dog, Allie reminds us, and pets must be able to be left at home sometimes. There are things to be done if it currently seems impossible: work with a skilled pet trainer for behavioral issues, or make changes to your home to make it more appropriate for an animal left alone. And don’t leave your pet outdoors without a way to get inside. Here in Santa Fe we risk coyotes, predatory owls, and more by leaving an animal outside, but anywhere in the country pets are at risk of being stolen out of yards and sold or used as bait. If your pet can be inside but needs to be able to go outside to relieve themselves, there is a doggie door with an automatic sensor to let only your pet go in and out available here. If you’re prone to worrying about your pet, a smart collar can provide you comfort as well as safety for your dog. And if they tend to chew when they get bored, try puzzle and treat toys to keep them occupied longer.
Just like toddlers, dogs need to learn to cope when you’re away. An appropriate balance of independence and supervision will keep your dog (and you) safe, sane, and happy at home.