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Dogs are not Barbie dolls

If I hear one more person say, “People should stop treating their dogs like children that’s why dogs are so messed up these days…”

I think I am going to lose my mind! However, people do need to stop treating their dogs like dolls! Dogs were born with four legs for a reason. Dogs that get carried in purses instead of walked don’t get enough physical or mental exercise, and are often terrified when they are finally set on the ground – everything that used to be at eye level is suddenly ten times taller than they are. On more than one occasion, reactive “purse dogs” have tried to launch themselves at my quiet, non-confrontational Corgi-German Shepherd who was paying them no notice.

Dogs are canines, whether they are a Maltese or a German Shepherd.

They need to be taught to and allowed to explore the world as a dog. Don’t shelter and coddle them, socialize them! (Be sure to contact me if your dog has “floor anxiety” or if you have any questions about how to properly socialize your dog safely, and look out for the topic in future blog posts).

Does this poor dog look happy to you?

Among other travesties, dressing your dog up like a princess (I have even seen dogs in wigs!) is not making your dog happy, and even worse, it may very well be damaging your dog’s joints as you continuously move their shoulders in directions they are not meant to move. Admittedly, I have dressed up my dogs for Halloween once or twice, but I made sure to choose costumes that could easily be draped over their back and would not impede their movement, the costumes were only worn for the duration of taking a photograph, and the dogs both got plenty of love and treats for putting up with my human nonsense. Most importantly, I made sure the dogs were not stressed by it.

Sometimes functional clothing may be necessary for inclement weather.

One of my good friends (also a trainer) has an Italian Greyhound with almost no body fat and very little hair. He gets COLD. During the winter, he wears a sweater or coat that does not restrict his movement nor require him to move his legs in unnatural angles to be put on. He is happier with it on than without it. But that is the important part of it. His clothing is to serve his needs, not his owner’s wants (though I won’t say she doesn’t ensure the clothes are also fashionable). However, my other friend’s dog prefers his built-in fur coat to any purchased one when he romps in the snow.

So what would treating a dog like a child actually look like?

Giving clear and consistent guidance with reasonable expectations of polite and socially appropriate behavior? Setting your dog up for success and encouraging him to stay on that path instead of waiting for your dog to fail and then punishing him for not reading your mind? Is that really such a terrible thing to do? Think about it: telling a child “Don’t touch that!” does not teach them what you would like them to do, and it only serves to make “that” even more interesting to touch. Slapping their wrist for it will only make them think that slapping (or, in our case, nipping) is an acceptable behavior and that touching “that” should not be done in your presence (but seems to be perfectly fine if you’re not there!). Why not leave out the scolding and just tell the child (or in our case, dog) “Hey! Check this out!” instead? It is a far less confrontational tactic, and a far more successful one at that! Dog owners need to focus on what they do want versus what they don’t.

As with children, rules and consistency are key.

You can (and should) have the same expectations for dog as you have for a 2- to 3-year-old child: no screaming tantrums (barking fits) to get what they want, no climbing (jumping) on people, no tugging (nipping) at people, waiting politely for things that they need/want, playing only with appropriate toys, saying hello politely to others, playing nicely with others…. My mom runs a child care in her home and I can tell you that my dogs are actually more reliable in their politeness than the 2- and 3-year olds. This is not to say that the children are necessarily poorly behaved, just that they have the impulse control of, well, toddlers and my dogs have had more practice at that level of impulse control. And my dogs may not be perfect 100% of the time either (really, who is?), but they are polite family members, not robots.

So the next time you hear someone complaining about people “treating their dogs like children,” think about it: are they truly treating the dog like a child (as they should), or are they treating the dog like a doll?

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