Following Our Dog’s Lead, and Not Just on Halloween

Photo Credit: Susannah Kay

Our dogs are such accommodating creatures. They tolerate our erratic hours, cross-country moves, late meals, skipped walks, and unpredictable moods. And if all this weren’t enough, sometimes we ask them to do things that conflict with their inherent nature. For example, we take our introverted dogs to the dog park so that we can socialize, or we force our water-phobic dogs into the pool because we love to swim. When do we cross the line, asking too much of these wonderfully adaptive and forgiving creatures?

Dogs tell all

Some recent observations prompted this blog. The first was a day spent at a combined all breed and Pharaoh Hound Specialty dog show where I was the invited speaker. As I watched the dogs compete, it was abundantly clear that some dogs downright loved the show process. They pranced around the ring, wagged furiously, showed excitement as the judge approached, and clearly enjoyed being with their handlers. Watching these dogs made my heart swell a bit. I appreciated their jubilant and showy canine energy and the judges clearly felt the same- invariably, these were the dogs in the ribbons.

I also observed dogs in the show ring who were reluctant participants. Tails that should have been flagging were tucked between hind legs and I saw resigned expressions on these canine faces. They wilted a bit when the judge approached, and the only thing these competitors seemed to enjoy were the intermittent treats served up by their handlers. My heart sank a bit watching them. I suspect that, for these dogs, their above average conformation was a curse rather than a blessing.

Another observation that provided blog fodder came in the form of a photo I happened upon while sorting through my computer files. The photo features my own two dogs, Nellie and Quinn sitting in a helicopter. I purposefully positioned the pose, leaving the two of them with a double dose of, “Stay!” The expressions on their faces tell exactly how they are feeling about the experience. Yuck! When I rediscovered this photo, I asked myself, “What in the world was I thinking?”

What is reasonable?

Dogs tolerate so much based on the needs of their humans. Apart from sleeping, most get to participate in their favorite activities likely no more than an hour or so every day, if that. How then, can we turn around and ask them to do something they really don’t enjoy?

My dogs have, for the most part, taught me well. They don’t enjoy the dog park, so we don’t go there. They love hiking, and we do this together almost every day. Quinn is a canine Mikhail Baryshnikov, yet he told me, “No thank you” when I introduced him to agility. Nellie would rather be re-neutered than wear a Halloween costume.

Costuming dogs for Halloween

Speaking of Halloween…… before costuming your best buddy, I hope you will consider his or her degree of affinity or aversion to dressing for the occasion. Perhaps you’ve created the greatest canine costume ever- a slam-dunk contest winner. And the Facebook posting of your dog in costume will undoubtedly score lots of “likes”. Or, maybe, just maybe, you will look back on the photos a year from now, note your dog’s expression and body language, and wonder to yourself, “What in the world was I thinking?”

What activity have you given up for your dog’s sake?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

Be Sociable, Share!

9 Comments on “Following Our Dog’s Lead, and Not Just on Halloween

  1. Spot on, as usual. My rescued Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Pumpkin, does not like costumes, and her human Dad thinks dressing pets is as ridiculous as reality TV. But then she also cringes when we bring out her harness to go out for a walk–freezing like a statue after it is on. Then, she snaps out of that mindset and is halfway across the fenced-in yard in excitement about the pending walk. What’s up with that?

  2. Sounds downright unpatriotic but my dogs and I have gone “underground” during the Independence Day madness. As a child, I was never one for sudden loud noises and both my dogs have, perhaps by osmosis, inherited my disdain for blowing things up to “honor” the birth of our nation. While living in the Arizona mountains, we simply hiked up to 7,000 feet in the National Forest and took in nature’s own nightly fireworks show and were far removed from the insanity that ensued in the valley below. Now that I’m in the city, we just “cocoon” in my apartment with loaded Kongs after a day of rigorous exercise. Then we step outside and tiptoe around paper shrapnel and litter left over from the celebrations. American the Beautiful, indeed.

  3. As usual, Dr. Kay, great “nudging” advice. How sweet it would be if all pet owners (dog owners certainly no exception) paused, from time-to-time, to “evaluate” the pet’s view of activities.

    My current “buddy” (3rd in a series of Cockers, covering last 25+ years) – “Tari” (“Tarragon”) – is a rescue from an E.Ohio puppymill (where, I am told, he “served” as a resident stud for about 6 years). If ONLY he could talk – tell me his “stories” ! He is, now, about 10.

    Anyway, he seems less than “comfortable” in long-grass, and “particularly” in fallen leaves. As he was (apparently) deprived of the puppy-life opportunity to explore, sniff & otherwise frolic in such environs (amongst other…”deprivations”). Initially, I tried to “tempt the puppy” from him (to explore & enjoy); but, several excursions resulted in little interest. Grass is (now – wasn’t initially) for “eliminating” (initially, asphalt would suffice, just fine).

    So, now – for the most part – our walks (multiple, daily) stick mainly to the asphalt, with periodic investigatory excursions into/onto “grassy -stuff”. Occasionally, I still take him to a nearby nature park, for opp to “stretch legs” a bit more, off-leash (perhaps even…RUN ?) – but, clearly not his “thing”, as he rarely strays more than 10 yards or so from me.

    His two predecessors ? Both very much “into” the park setting opportunity to explore & run. Their “Dad” enjoyed both the nature & their frolic. Things change – not better, or worse – just….different.

  4. I have been doing animal assisted therapy with my Berners for almost 20 years. My girl Holly who is 9 years old is very noise and commotion sensitive. I trained her, certified her as a therapy dog, and then began to see that she was not happy in the venues we visited. It was a difficult decision to pull her from the therapy dog program but I knew it was what was best for her.

  5. Terrific post! I, too, cringe when remembering what I’ve put our dogs through over the years simply because I was thinking more of what I wanted rather than their own likes/dislikes and fears. While our current terrier/poodle mix, Daisy, is the perfect size for traveling, riding in the car makes her very anxious. Nowadays, unless there is a big pay-off for her at the end of the trip (ie. romps on the beach), we leave her with my good friend/dog sitter where she happily plays with the other dogs.

    As for Halloween costumes–I do have a cherished pic of our dearly departed hound mix, Pippin, all decked out as a tourist in Hawaii (complete with flowered shirt, camera and sunglasses) after he won a PetSmart costume contest one year. He didn’t seem to mind the costume at all (though we didn’t make him wear it very long) and looks so happy it always warms my heart to see it!

  6. I compete in several dog sports. Yes, I see dogs that love what they are doing. But I also see dogs that would like to be anywhere else. Sometimes as owners we think that if WE are having fun, the dog is. Not so. I even have owners tell me, “Cookie is having so much fun,” when Cookie’s tail is down and her eyes say, “Save me.” My dogs are also therapy dogs. Therapy dog visits are hard work, and dogs burn out. They do spread joy, but at what cost to themselves? I try not to let human needs trump my dogs’ welfare. I need to be honest with myself and my dogs and do what is best for them.

  7. UM, Well do you have a full day to discuss this issue? As a trainer I see this all to often and it breaks my heart to see what people ask of their dogs. In educating people about dog body language I see people’s jaw drop or get emails after going through the Dog Decoder body language smartphone app, saying “I had no idea my dog was anxious much of the time”. Often people with multiple dogs, do things that one dog loves and the other hates but think ‘well their dogs and they should do things together’. One dog loves the dog park and the other doesn’t. Leave one home, then. The look on their face is mortifying. How can I leave one home? These things need to be sorted out b/c it’s not healthy for any dog to be anxious. An anxious/stressed dog often times develop medical issues just like us. So it really helps to teach people how to read their dogs body language so they can understand how to be their dogs best advocate. No two people are alike and the same goes for our pups.

    We owe it to them to learn how to read our dogs.

    Thanks and Dr. Nancy for bringing a very important topic to our doggie community.

    ~jill

  8. Due to our very cold winter weather and our short haired dogs..Vs and Dalmatians, they have to accept coats of varying types and warmths..most of them do not appreciate the coats. We have many show champions..some enjoyed the rings, most enjoyed the attention they got one on one at the shows and hotels. I have not had a dog enjoy basic obedience work..but then I hate it so perhaps it is me. I try hard to watch my dogs and limit the things I ask them to endure that are not needed for their health and protection and try to find the things that they really like. Nose work seems to be something my dogs enjoy and the Vs love time in the field hunting with me.
    Having watched several Halloween costume events at dog shows, it seems some dogs are fine with dressing up..mine are not keen.

  9. I HAVE BEEN THE GUARDIAN OF 3 GIANT BREED DOGS OVER THE LAST 20 YEARS. A GIANT BROWN NEWFOUNDLAND NAMED SASQUATCH AND A LEONBERGER NAMED LAZARUS AND CURRENTLY A LEONBERGER NAMED BUCK, ALL MALES. I CAN SAY FROM EXPERIENCE THAT THEY “ALL” HATED ANYTHING TO DO WIYH ANY KIND OF COSTUME NO MATTER HOW SMALL ( EVEN REINDEER TYPE HORNS AT CHRISTMAS TIME. THEY WOULD NOT EVEN LEAVE THEM ON LONG ENOUGH FOR A PHOTO.
    IN MY OPINION THESE GIANTS SEE THEMSELVES AS TOO DIGNIFIED FOR THIS FOOLISHNESS.
    GIANTS HAVE THIS AIRE OF DIGNIFIED SELF PERCEPTION. THEY ARE BIG, EXTREMELY POWERFUL AND KNOW IT !