My dog comes everywhere with me, pretty much. When I got him, that was the deal. I am lucky – my dog gets to come to work with me everyday, and for the most part, I am going to doggie places, in and out of my job. If I wasn’t this lucky, I might not have a dog.
With this on the cards, I do lots of work to prepare my dog for inclusion in these worlds. He can settle on cue, he can be with people and work with them, but also be confined from the action and be comfortable with that. He doesn’t care about other dogs, or getting to interact with them. He travels and waits quietly in the car, in a crate, in an office or conference room. He needs to be quiet and amuse himself, and also be ready to work and demo when called upon. That’s a tough job!
It is becoming trendier and trendier to include dogs in lots of human-environments, with restaurants and cafes, dog social events, expos and doggie-days, even outdoor movie events to which you bring your dog, encouraging pet owners to participate in these traditionally human activities, with their pets.
I can see why this appeals to pet owners. We love our pets, and want to spend time with them. As society, in general, becomes less tolerant of dogs and dog owners, we want to show ’em that our dogs are special, and loved family members.
I want this for pets and their people too.
But, are we stopping long enough to ask, what our dogs might want?
Dogs are living a life that is less and less like the life dogs would choose. They are living more and more like humans; that’s a pretty boring life for a dog.
We’ve just been talking about how it’s becoming harder and harder to provide for our dogs’ behavioural needs lately – In my day…
The expectations we have for dogs are becoming harder and harder for dogs to live up to; this continues to be fueled by our social media, Disney informed impression of dogs and dog behaviour.
Not only that, but we presume that our dogs are enjoying something, when actually their signaling and behaviour might be telling a very different story.
Now, THAT is truly a tough job for dogs.
Of course there are dogs who do well at such events, but we can’t expect all pets to enjoy or even tolerate such interactions and activities. And certainly not without preparation.
Just because something is enjoyable to the two-legged species, doesn’t mean the same for the four-leggers:
- lots of people and other dogs in, usually, smaller and/or confined spaces with lots of activity, comings and goings, activity and noise can cause dogs to experience a higher level of arousal.
Arousal refers to the levels of stress experienced by the dog, and their behavioural coping strategies.
Being confined on lead and/or in smaller spaces, with little opportunity to escape social pressure is likely to cause increases in arousal, leading to decreased ability to inhibit behavioural responses.
Dogs don’t enjoy this, it can be detrimental to their health, and even stressful for their humans too – this might even present safety concerns.
- sitting around or hanging around may be frustrating and boring for dogs – this is different to them hanging around or snuggling up next to you at home
- lots of strange dogs, often on lead or in confined spaces, together, is not usually a good social outlet, and may facilitate inappropriate social interaction – this is NOT how “socialisation” works, or what it is
- because we want our dogs to love this, and presume that they are enjoying themselves, they might experience inappropriate social pressure – lots of encouraging and luring, using leads or body pressure to restrain them, being unable to escape or move away from well-meaning people and dogs, hugging and confinement can make for pretty uncomfortable dogs
- lots of food and other resources, with other dogs and people near by, can cause dogs to become more aroused, frustrated and concerned
- children, and even well-meaning adults, might find this exciting too, causing them to act in ways that can worry dogs
- normal dog behaviour, the stuff that dogs really enjoy, is generally in conflict with what is acceptable in human society
Dogs granted legal access to different human-centric environments in service and assistance dog capacities are very carefully selected and then go through years of training to be able to maintain their comfort and behaviour in public.
We can teach many pet dogs how to cope well with such environments, and that can be an excellent way of spending time with your dog. But, the skills required are not basic and will require time and effort.
At the same time, there are some dogs who just won’t enjoy such environments and activities, and that’s ok too.
There are lots of ways to spend time with our beloved dogs. The more we bring them into the human world, the more preparation they will need. That’s our job.
At the same time, however, we must provide for their behavioural needs by providing them with appropriate outlets for DOG behaviour.
There needs to be give and take here, and we are the primates with the big brains , so it’s up to us to choose appropriate dogs, prepare them and support them, if we wish to immerse them more and more in the human world.