Whole Dog Journal's Blog February 28, 2014

What would you do?

Posted at 02:09PM - Comments: (35)

A number of people commented on last week’s blog to say, in essence, “Why didn’t you straighten out that irresponsible dog owner?” All I can say is that it goes against my nature to give advice to people who aren’t asking for some – especially random strangers. I was deeply exasperated with him – but he wasn’t asking me for advice. I may have been negligent in failing to help the dogs . . . but what would you do, really? And what would you do if some stranger in a store told you what you were doing with your dog is all wrong?

This is actually something I’ve struggled with for ages. When my son was a baby I became newly aware and observant of other parents and babies in public places, and sometimes I wouldn’t like what I’d see, such as when (as one example) a parent would yell at or threaten a screaming baby or toddler at the end of his or her rope. I’d think, geez, that baby looks tired and hungry and probably shouldn’t be getting dragged through a supermarket right this second, and yelling at him certainly isn’t going to help anything. But would I go up to a nearly out-of-control parent and tell her that she is just making things worse? Ask her to please not yell at the baby, because there is a better way? Ack! Maybe a person should do that, but I’ve never been able to. I’m always too afraid that the attention will just unhinge the person even more.

And, haven’t most of us been on the receiving end of unsolicited advice? It’s often unappreciated, if not resented. And sometimes, it’s just plain wrong! Not long ago, a supermarket checkout person asked me what I was going to do with the chicken necks I was buying. When I said I was going to give them to my dogs, she reacted strongly. “Oh my goodness, that’s so dangerous!” she gasped. “Dogs should never be given bones!” I smiled and said my dogs eat and chew bones all the time and are no worse for wear. I didn’t resent her, not at all, but neither was I going to try to discuss a complex topic like the BARF diet (bones and raw food) with a stranger.

Finally, where do you draw the line? There are other things I do with my dogs that would horrify other dog owners, such as feed dry food (actually, I feed every type of food – raw, canned, dehydrated, dry, home-cooked, etc. – but mostly they eat kibble) and allow them to ride in my car without being buckled into a seat belt or crated. I know a home-prepared diet is healthier, and yet I choose not to feed it daily. I know it’s dangerous for them not to be crated or seat-belted, and yet I take the risk of them being flung out of my car if I get in an accident.  Should I be admonished – and equated with the guys who drive with dogs in the back of their trucks completely untethered? What about those who let their dogs drive down the highway with their heads (and shoulders and front paws) hanging out the car window?

I don’t have any answers here, but I am interested in what you think. When would you admonish a stranger for “doing it wrong” with their dog? And how would you do it? What would you say?

And how would you respond if someone approached you and your dog in a public place and told you, “You know, that’s not a great idea to do with your dog . . .”?

Comments (32)

I really enjoyed this blog. Even if you didn't offer the man advice, your relaying some of his mistakes will help us readers not make the same errors.

Regarding unsolicited advice to strangers, I just wanted to add my two cents. I've been the recipient of a lot of unsolicited advice, for which I'm extremely grateful. I've made so many mistakes, and thank goodness someone cared enough to point them out occasionally. Often not starting with "you should..." but rather, framing feedback as question.
For instance, regarding a naive plan to get a given vaccine, someone (a virtual stranger) simply asked, 'oh, is that disease common in our area? I didn't realize that...' Which prompted me to realize, geez, I don't even know how common it is; maybe I should find out!! when I fed a commercial kibble that wasn't so great, someone simply asked me what the meat source is. Another case, of, ummm, I guess I should find out! It can think of dozens of examples when a thoughtful question prompted me to re-think my logic behind a certain choice, realize it was flawed or incomplete, and find a better way. Another approach that I've been grateful for is the "hmm.. I don't think that would work with my dog..." For instance, I was using a poorly fitted, front-clip harness on my dog, which put any pressure at the front shoulders, and someone mentioned that she couldn't use that style on her dog, because her dog had quite sensitive joints. It was a wake-up call, framed as a reflection about her own dog, gentle but very effective!

In other words, while no one likes to be told "you should do this" unless they've asked for advice, I'm very grateful that people have taken the time to offer me 'unsolicited' advice, framed in a nonjudgmental way.

I love your blog posting, and I'm glad you relayed what you witnessed at the store.

Posted by: Jency | March 8, 2014 11:08 AM    Report this comment

I really enjoyed this blog. Even if you didn't offer the man advice, your relaying some of his mistakes will help us readers not make the same errors.

Regarding unsolicited advice to strangers, I just wanted to add my two cents. I've been the recipient of a lot of unsolicited advice, for which I'm extremely grateful. I've made so many mistakes, and thank goodness someone cared enough to point them out occasionally. Often not starting with "you should..." but rather, framing feedback as question.
For instance, regarding a naive plan to get a given vaccine, someone (a virtual stranger) simply asked, 'oh, is that disease common in our area? I didn't realize that...' Which prompted me to realize, geez, I don't even know how common it is; maybe I should find out!! when I fed a commercial kibble that wasn't so great, someone simply asked me what the meat source is. Another case, of, ummm, I guess I should find out! It can think of dozens of examples when a thoughtful question prompted me to re-think my logic behind a certain choice, realize it was flawed or incomplete, and find a better way. Another approach that I've been grateful for is the "hmm.. I don't think that would work with my dog..." For instance, I was using a poorly fitted, front-clip harness on my dog, which put any pressure at the front shoulders, and someone mentioned that she couldn't use that style on her dog, because her dog had quite sensitive joints. It was a wake-up call, framed as a reflection about her own dog, gentle but very effective!

In other words, while no one likes to be told "you should do this" unless they've asked for advice, I'm very grateful that people have taken the time to offer me 'unsolicited' advice, framed in a nonjudgmental way.

I love your blog posting, and I'm glad you relayed what you witnessed at the store.

Posted by: Jency | March 8, 2014 11:08 AM    Report this comment

I can't tell you how many times people have waited by my vehicle (or left a nasty note) when I was running a short errand in warm weather to tell me that I should not leave my dog in a hot car on a hot day. Did they notice the vehicle was running? No. Did they notice the AC was on? No, they just wanted to criticize and make themselves feel superior. If it's okay for me and the dogs to ride around with the AC running why isn't it okay for me to lock my dogs in the car for 10 min with the AC running? Yes, I buy vehicles with this in mind - must be able to run (for AC or heat) AND lock at the same time. My dogs LOVE to ride and there are a number of parks and businesses in the area I can take them. All have been Therapy Dogs and rescues from Golden Retriever Rescue (where I volunteer). It broadens experience and gives Rescue exposure. Only once did someone call the police on me and the officer that showed up gave the woman a talking to. I usually avoid confrontation and leave the dog park, wherever, if someone's dog is behaving badly but call Animal Control or the police if the dog is being mistreated (programmed in my phone). Confrontation is dangerous when you are on the small side and older. Let the professionals deal with it; they have the resources to deal with the problem properly and safely.

Posted by: maggie17 | March 7, 2014 10:26 AM    Report this comment

The original story concerned a man who was looking for vaccines for his pups, so he did have some ideas how to care for them. There is nothing inherently wrong in buying vaccines at a feed store rather than at a vets office. In this case I would not have said anything other than perhaps saying "By the way , if you ever need a good vet for your dogs, I can recommend Dr so and so in the town here".

Posted by: elva | March 6, 2014 12:09 PM    Report this comment

Marilyn D - excellent comment!!!
Robert W - I would have taken the dog! Left a note telling her how to contact me if she wanted it back and called a shelter to discuss her treatment of the poor wee thing!!
We cannot stand by and just watch abuse.

Posted by: bobarella | March 6, 2014 6:47 AM    Report this comment

So difficult to know when and how to effectively intervene. I had an experience last week at a dog park. A woman came with 3 filthy, flea bitten small poodle-type dogs. She looked like she could have been a street person. They were in a bike buggy that seemed to be outfitted with some belongings. She was cheerful and lighthearted, chatty. Seemed to have no cares in the world. Her dogs were enjoying the park and meeting my dog. They were thin, but not emaciated. They were friendly and not particularly shy. She said she'd gotten the smallest poodle from Petland, that Santa had brought another, and the third one had just appeared. I had no earthly idea what to do, other than be cordial. Were her dogs abused? Neglected? Certainly they were not cared for the way I care for my dog. Did she ask me for money or anything? No, she did not. I was worried about them transmitting fleas or worse to my dog, so a little while later we left. I felt sorry for the dogs. I'm not sure how I felt about her. A little put off, certainly. What should I have done? To this day, I don't know.

Posted by: azogal | March 5, 2014 3:22 PM    Report this comment

I had this exchange with a new neighbor today....


Tue, Mar 4, 2014 at 8:00 PM8:00 PM

I checked this guys water this afternoon and took a couple of pictures....the house is plastic carrier with not one thing to insulate it. He poor thing did have a bit of water...I gave him a treat and moved the carrier closer for him. The man came out of the house..and I told him I felt the dog was being neglected...he begged to differ until I pointed to my kitchen window and said I had watched him for some time. He said it was his nephews dog and he didn't want it. Said he was tired of feeding it. I told him to have his nephew come over here and talk to me about the dog...he said he would. I will keep you posted.

I work with a local animal rescue and am an advocate for animals...he did add I could have the dog...so I have arranged for him to go into the rescue..he will find a great home that won't chain him to a darn tree. Go me!!!

Posted by: kat27406 | March 4, 2014 10:12 PM    Report this comment

Very provocative subject. I feel strongly both ways! I can only say in the long run it is maybe best to just ask "would you be receptive to a few new ideas?" or something similar. Then be able to walk away if the answer is no.

Posted by: Becky and Buddy | March 4, 2014 7:15 PM    Report this comment

The beauty of giving advice on a blog, or on line is that it isn't in the heat of the moment, so I don't believe the comparison of being in a grocery store with a crying child and angry parent is a fair one. As a dog expert, which I believe you are, and anyone visiting your site must assume, I actually believe it is your responsibility to give unsolicited advice, if you see harm is a possible outcome otherwise. There are caring and kind ways to share opinions without it being demanding or rude! Simply stating "I have found what works best in this situation is..., however doing it this way (aka the 'bad' way) often results in this outcome..." Whenever we take on a role as expert and address the public, like it or not, we take on great resposibility.

Posted by: Karin B | March 4, 2014 6:05 PM    Report this comment

> And how would you respond if someone approached you and your dog in a public place and told you, "You know, that's not a great idea to do with your dog . . ."? >

After one VERY unpleasant episode, I now carry a Bloggie, so I can get the abuse on camera, and my mobile phone.

If caught again this way, I will dial 000 immediately and ask for Police to come.

Unfortunately such unpleasantness means that my dogs don't get to go out very often :-(

Posted by: Jenny H | March 4, 2014 5:26 PM    Report this comment

One trouble with offering unsolicited advice, is that you, a casual observer, do noy know the 'full story'. Years ago I had a dog with serious eating problems, as well as behavioural problems. This involved many visits to the vet. But worse was the 'unsolicited advice' and abuse I got from onlookers. Threats to 'report' me for abuse, or for not worming my dog.

Not one person spoke to me politely. Not one person 'asked'.

Posted by: Jenny H | March 4, 2014 5:17 PM    Report this comment

Firstly, I don't understand your opening statement that " you don't like to give advice" Goodness!! You write a column about the subject...it's what you do and you do it well.
Secondly, wisdom is everywhere..I have received it from sweet little old ladies waiting in a check out line when my babes were young. I'm was always grateful and receptive.
It's the medium, not the message. Are you kind? Do YOU listen to their thoughts and concerns? We are all spinning on this planet together. If someone knowledgable advices me on tending to my pets, my child, my landscaping, my roof or my car. You can bet your bottom dollar, I'm gonna listen.

Posted by: Rebecca L | March 4, 2014 3:26 PM    Report this comment

I too am a veterinarian and have had people leave notes on my car when I've gone into a store for a maximum of 10 minutes, leaving my dogs in the vehicle with windows rolled down just high enough to keep them from jumping out and with window fans going while parked under a shade tree. I've had another leave a note on my car while I was out walking my golden retriever and sheltie around a lake. They had seen me discipline my golden (harsh words, not physically) after he knocked me down in the parking lot. He was not a puppy, nor was he untrained, and had been told to stay in the vehicle while I attached his leash, but he ignored me and jumped out instead, knocking me to the pavement. Of course, he was excited to go for a walk, but that doesn't give my dog the right to ignore my commands and put himself or others in danger. This note threatened to call animal control if they ever saw me treat a dog like that again. Believe me, I was NOT amused nor impressed with this unsolicited reprimand.

If the animal or a person is in danger, I absolutely would intervene, but not otherwise. We often don't know the circumstances or don't investigate to see what the situation really is before speaking what we THINK we are seeing and that will get you at the least ignored or yelled at and at the worst killed.

Posted by: ladydoc314 | March 4, 2014 2:10 PM    Report this comment

I have received unsolicited and unappreciated advice in the past about my dogs, and even when it made me mad,it always made me sit up and THINK! I usually commiserated with my friends about how I disagreed with the advice, and then I often received a bunch of different opinions from my friends and became "enlightened" about the topic against my will! My point is, I suspect that a large percentage of other dog-owners who think they are doing right by their dogs will react the same way I did when approached with advice, even about things they think they are "doing right" with their dogs. I think it may appear to you that the advice is falling on deaf ears, but I think that the advice really sticks with the person you give it to longer than you think. I think giving your advice is the first step toward creating a better life for that dog.

Posted by: Marilyn D | March 4, 2014 2:09 PM    Report this comment

DO NOT STAND BY IDLY. I know it is hard, but as we age, we also find a voice, like the kind grandmother with whiskey! It is not just the message, but how it is given. Please always point out the dangers to the animal, IF they are real.
Unfortunately, peeps may not always Listen..or care, but you will feel better and may save a dog or enlighten a soul.

Posted by: MARY M | March 4, 2014 1:48 PM    Report this comment

You were right to keep quiet. The guy clearly believed he knew what he was doing; there was no possible benefit to anybody by you saying anything.

*If* somebody believes you to be an expert, and *if* they ask you, then you can maybe lay out some options. But a stranger telling me what I should do with my dog? I wouldn't punch them in the nose -- but I'd sure want to!

Posted by: MARY D | March 4, 2014 12:41 PM    Report this comment

When I was a young mother, long ago, and was holding a crying infant, an older mother came up to me and confidentially told me how she kept her babies quiet: "I just put a little whiskey in their milk bottle."
Why should anyone think that I know better than they???

Posted by: donna v | March 4, 2014 12:21 PM    Report this comment

I was horrified the other day when I passed a man riding his bike in the bike lane on Pacific Coast Highway with his small dog tethered to his handle bars. The dog didn't weigh more then 15 lbs and was on the traffic side. He did not run with courage but with fear, as the cars raced by within feet of his side .... speed limit being 45 miles per hour and most travel faster.. This is to me a life threatening possibility. I, like the author, was frustrated with myself for not saying something in defense of the dog ... but I didn't ... I did worry the entire day that I was wrong and should have at least shared the potential of harm with the young man. Many a biker has been killed on this bike path and the dog was so very vulnerable.

Posted by: Peggy M | March 4, 2014 10:27 AM    Report this comment

I speak up in a polite way, because even if the person is not receptive at least it gives them something to think about.

Posted by: addictedtolabs | March 4, 2014 10:00 AM    Report this comment

In this day and age, with all the gun toting idiots, I would not give unsolicited advise to anyone about anything.

Posted by: Unknown | March 4, 2014 9:43 AM    Report this comment

I pretty much try to mind my own business - a lot of times saying somehting can end up in a heated discussion - unless the dog is in real danger - best bet then is to call 911 - you don't have any idea of what that person's reaction is going to be.

Posted by: Elaine J | March 4, 2014 9:29 AM    Report this comment

I used to work at a hospital, went outside for a break and inside a small car was a small dog in a carrier really short of breath - very hot out, window only cracked 1/2 inch - alerted the Security Police at the hospital and they announced the license plate and when the owner did not come out within like 5 minutes we contacted the fire department, they opened the door, took the dog out of the carrier and gave him a drink of water and announced again on speaker in hospital and finally owner came out - and he was written a citation for leaving a dog in a hot car - so glad he was okay, and I would not hestitate to do it again. I just don't understand why some people own a pet - if you don't have common sense then you should not own a pet. That little dog could have died had he been there any longer.

Posted by: Unknown | March 4, 2014 9:24 AM    Report this comment

Unsolicited advice is rarely accepted, considered or followed. The "have you considered..." approach can sometimes work with friends and family, but a stranger will not be receptive. I agree that it's pretty much pointless.

Posted by: VERONICA M | March 4, 2014 9:11 AM    Report this comment

I live in New England with an Australian Shepherd. We walk every day unless it's icy or the temps are too low, 10 or below. Now Aussies have these nice thick coats of hair and don't mind cold weather as long as they are moving as in when out for a walk. But I did encounter a woman walking a little dachshund on three separate occasions when not only was it quite cold but there was also 6" of fresh snow on the ground. The dog's belly was dragging in the snow so he was wet and shaking quite a bit. We talked for a few minutes during which I said 'you're dog looks a bit cold'. Her comment back was 'so am I, it's winter". Yep, it was winter alright and she was wearing a full length down coat, boots, a hat and big mittens. Quite a contrast from the little dog with short hair + a low slung belly dragging in the snow. That poor little dog brought tears to my eyes.

Posted by: Barbara W | March 4, 2014 9:10 AM    Report this comment

I was recently at a Starbucks and saw a tiny little something (Chihuahua or some such) tied to a stroller and shivering. It was not 5 below outside but it was maybe in the 30s and the dog was clearly very cold and gave me such sad eyes. I went to the back where some people were and asked if anyone had a dog tied to a stroller. The mom with 3 kids identified herself and I said, "your dog is shaking with cold." She rolled her eyes and said "yeah I'll get her" but showed no signs of movement. I walked out with very mixed feelings. I actually had screwed my courage up to say something and I was just dumbfounded that she did not seem to care much. Should I have yelled at her and said "you get up and get your dog right this minute!"? Not sure.

Posted by: Robert W | March 4, 2014 8:48 AM    Report this comment

Excellent article!! You're so right that going up to someone, anyone, at the end of their rope -- be it parent, pet owner, what have you -- probably isn't going to be received well and could, in fact, make the situation worse for the child, pet, etc.

I've often been appalled at seeing a well meaning seasoned mom offered absolutely unsolicited advice to a new mom/frantic mom in a store. After all, who is that seasoned mom to offer her advice? What or who says HER way is the best or even proper way to do something?

It's nice to imagine that we could make life easier on others by offering the benefit of our experience. Sadly though, it seems we don't live in a world where that kind of (often sage) advice is welcomed. That's on us, really, because imagine how nice it would be to hear someone out, take what we can use from their experiences, and leave the rest. Maybe someday ...

Posted by: Unknown | March 4, 2014 8:44 AM    Report this comment

Whenever I see dogs left in cars on hot days or even warm days with the windows either closed or only rolled down a little, I always tell people they should not do that. They are clueless. My sister tried in vain to find the owner of a car with 2 dogs on a very hot day and tragically, one of the dogs died before the owner could be located and before the police arrived. It is not a priority if the police are busy with more urgent calls. People need to be educated about the dangers. Dogs die all the time from being left in cars. I never hesitate to point it out and most people thank me.

Posted by: Unknown | March 4, 2014 8:43 AM    Report this comment

I think the only time to get involved is when the dog (or animal) is in danger. i.e. locked in a closed car, tied so tight they cannot move, being kicked (all of which I have seen!) etc. And then, unless the owner seemed very receptive, I would think to call animal control.

Posted by: karen e | March 4, 2014 8:28 AM    Report this comment

I work in a pet supplies store (we do not sell animals) and staff and customers bring their dogs in...we also have a resident cat or two... the only time that I ever give advice is if I'm directly asked by a customer (which is often) or if the behaviour of their dog is damaging to somebody else's experience in the store or upsetting the other animals.

Posted by: Angela H | March 3, 2014 11:04 PM    Report this comment

If I see a dog with a prong collar, I may ask the owner why they made that choice which sometimes allows me another lead in, such as...."have you heard of or tried a Gentle Leader". The only time I get harsh is if someone's unrestrained, untrained, and rude dog threatens me or my dogs and the owner won't call his/her dog to heel. Then, I can get downright rude.

Posted by: Michelle F | March 3, 2014 8:34 PM    Report this comment

I'm a dog trainer and I see a lot of things people do with their dogs. I don't want someone telling me that I'm doing something wrong with my dogs because they don't know that my one dog suffers from severe anxiety and I do the best I can to control him and train him.
I refrain from telling people what to do with their dogs unless they ask me. Sometimes but not to often if I really see a person struggling with their dog I approach them nicely and let them know that I'm a dog trainer and would they mind if I help them. The few times I have done this the other people were so grateful. Only 2 people flat out turned me down and I respectfully said ok and left them alone.

Posted by: janinesk9crazy@gmail.com | March 3, 2014 5:42 PM    Report this comment

I'm a vet and I travel everywhere with my dogs. It might be hot, or cold, and they are with me. I have warming discs, cooling mats, fans, blankets, and strategic parking maneuvers to keep it safe for them. On the occasion when a person tries to warn or admonish me for being negligent, I first check my dogs - who are always comfortable - then I thank them for their concern. And I move along.

I have made it a policy never to offer unsolicited advice, except in life threatening situations. It's just not my place! I don't appreciate it from others, and I doubt they would appreciate it from me.

Posted by: TessaLooVet | March 3, 2014 4:14 PM    Report this comment

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