5 Owner Bones to Pick
Here are my five current nitpicks about dog owners:
NEWSFLASH: When you consistently feed your dog much more food and treats than she needs (not wants), SHE GETS BIG. And the most bizarre thing is that owners just don’t see it. Let me ask: how can you not see the calluses on your dog’s belly?
I’m constantly amazed at how many overweight dogs I see these days, as opposed to twenty years ago, when you usually had to search retirement homes and butcher shops to find a fat pooch. Possibly it’s due to today’s unstoppable trend of treating dogs like indolent, needy children, instead of purposeful canines. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that, like people’s dogs, nearly half the kids you see today look more Churchill than Pitt.
The beautiful thing is that most dogs can’t open the fridge. YOU are in charge of the distribution of food. So, if your dog is obese, it’s your fault. You’re either simply feeding way too much, giving too many treats, placating a beggar, or else buying attention. STOP.
Many owners can’t even see that their dogs are fat. But if your vet and your good friends mention that your pooch is carrying a bit extra adipose tissue, then you should pay attention. And the solution is simple: if you care, TRULY care about your dog, stop bribing, placating and buying love. Instead, cut her food by 15%, including treats, and stick to it. In a month, you’ll see your dog’s waist, maybe for the first time. Remember that dogs who are consistently kept at or slightly under their perfect weight, live years longer than obese dogs, who almost always develop a myriad of diseases and joint problems.
I have a neighbor three doors down who keeps her five dogs outside, 20 hours a day, in what used to be her yard, but is now a miniature game farm. Big Shepherd mixes, and a terrier mix or two. And for about five hours each day, usually in the mornings and late evenings, the dogs bark. And bark. And bark. I’m convinced that, at this point, they don’t even know they’re doing it. Barking in their minds is a normal biological function, like thinking. And I’m also convinced that she doesn’t- cannot- hear her dogs’ baying, barking, gruffing and whining, the way everyone else within four blocks can.
Incessant barking is a foregone conclusion when you leave a dog outside, in an enclosure that allows the pet to see activity, but not have the ability to engage in any way. For instance, if you keep your Sheltie in the fenced front yard when school is out and kids are walking by on their way home, your dog will see a group coming, bark a bit, then see that the group is in fact now walking away. She will reason that her barking made the strangers leave- that her vocalizations protected the home. And so, she will keep doing it with each group, until, within just a few days, she has effectively self-reinforced the behavior, and become a career barker.
A dog left outside may also begin to bark out of sheer boredom. There are just so many holes she can dig. Or, when groups of dogs are left in a yard, barking can commence simply from competitive zeal, or from argument. Also, a "pack" of dogs in a yard will develop a group mindset that makes them all fixate more on possible invasions to their territory; they in a sense develop a "mob" mentality, conducive to barking and defensive behavior.
Don’t let your dog become the bane of the neighborhood. First, train your dog. Teach self-control and obedience, and focus. Dogs who feel comfortable with the mentorship of their human pack members rarely bark, not only because they feel safe, but because barking is seen as a dominant behavior, something a leader shouldn’t long tolerate in a subordinate.
Next, try to get your dog in the house, instead of outside all day. After all, what good does that Shepherd do locked up in a yard? Don’t you want him IN the home when you’re gone, protecting your belongings? This requires a housetrained dog, and one who won’t destroy things indoors. Again, that means training. And it means setting the home up so that your dog cannot look out a window or glass door all day and see people and cars coming and going constantly. A dog who sits on the sofa and stares out the window WILL bark, so deny her that privilege.
Simple one: your dog’s poop is gross, stinky, and potentially infectious. Pick up your dog’s darned poop.
I don’t care how well-trained your dog is, or how well-trained you think he is: when out in public, clip a leash onto your dog. Any manner of unexpected events- a backfire, thunder, a loud car horn, a crazy person- can cause your dog to momentarily panic and possibly run off, or get hit by a car. Or, your off-leash dog might run over to a leashed dog who might not be the friendliest of souls, leading to a fight. Your off-leash lummox of a Rottweiler, Pit Bull or Newfoundland, no matter how friendly, might scare the heck out of a kid, causing him or her to run out into the street. So just leash up, everybody.
I cannot keep my dogs physically clean enough to lie on my bed, sofa or chairs. They get baths when needed, but certainly not often enough to reflect human hygiene standards. If they did, their skin and coat would dry out and potentially become chapped, infected, unhealthy. If you are washing your active dog often enough to let her sleep with you, you’re doing her a disservice.
For those who rarely let their dogs outside to enjoy healthy play, and who can keep their dogs’ coats clean enough to lie on furniture, you still have the issue of perception. Elevation in a dog’s mind equates to status; when you allow your dog to sleep with you, you convince her that she has parity. Sometimes this works out, but often, it can result in a pushy dog who will become protective of the bed, chair, or sofa, especially when a stranger or child tries to lie on it. I’ve seen it hundreds of times, so trust me on this.
Your dog isn’t a baby, sibling, or mate. She’s a dog. You know- woof, woof? If she is leading a full life, she probably won’t be hygienic enough to sleep in your bed, unless you over-wash her. But if you don’t mind the occasional flea, tick, or dirt pile in your sleeping spot, or the occasional bitten toddler who makes the mistake of lying down on your dogged bed, be my guest.