Whole Dog Journal's Blog July 19, 2011

Preaching to the Choir

Posted at 09:15AM - Comments: (19)

I had this thought on Tuesday, July 5, and I’ve been thinking about it on and off since then: Is any progress being made at all in the world of dog ownership?

This was prompted by my brief custody of two small stray dogs, the ones I found trotting down my street the morning after fireworks were going off all over town.

Assisting Stray Dogs

Fortunately, Otto was with me in the yard as I watered our roses and azaleas, and the dogs came in my gate to greet him; I was able to close the gate behind them. They wouldn’t come to me at first; once they realized the gate was closed, they trotted up and down the fence line a few times, to confirm they were, in fact, trapped in my yard. They also raised their legs on every bush and fence post, allowing me to see that they were both males. Both dogs appeared to be American Eskimo Dog- or Pomeranian-mixes.

After 10 minutes or so of exploring the yard, the smaller one approached me, wagging his tail. I was able to feel underneath his thick coat to ascertain that while he was wearing a collar, there were no tags on it. His coat was matted and dirty. Then the larger dog came up to me. He, too, was matted and dirty. He did not have a collar on.

I called my local shelter, and the receptionist took my address and said she’d send an animal control officer to pick them up. When he arrived, he scanned both dogs; no microchips. He also determined that both males were intact. He was kind enough to call me later to tell me that he had found their owner; the dogs live about 10 blocks away, and had supposedly escaped the night before during the fireworks.  I say “supposedly,” because I saw the same two dogs trot by my house a few days later. When I went out my front door, they bolted in the direction of their home.

I just keep thinking: No ID, intact, matted, and free to wander (and be hit by a car).

And I think about WDJ’s readers: involved, concerned, educated owners, who surely have ID on their reasonably groomed dogs, who are, if not neutered, are at least minimally trained, well-socialized, and safely enclosed. In your letters and comments, I see ample evidence that there are many owners who are aware of the need to both vaccinate their dogs and limit those vaccinations; to train and socialize their dogs; and to provide more than the minimum of care.

I’ve been wondering: How can I help to reduce the “class” differences between dogs like the ones wandering my neighborhood and the ones owned by WDJ readers?

I’d love to hear about things you do to help educate, guide, and inspire owners to improve their dog care practices.   

Comments (19)

I am old enough to remember the days of the "neighborhood dogs". Dogs would roam the neighborhood by day mixing and matching with their various doggie and children pals and return to the comfort of food and family by evening - definitely the "good life". Dogs could also accompany their owners anywhere - in some communities, you can still see dogs in restaurants and taverns. They seldom had dog food - too expensive - usually table scraps. They were well socialized by virue of their lifestyle and led physically and mentally active lives. In todays more careful society, with health laws, leash laws, etc, confinement is the norm. I feel badly for today's pets. They live in relative isolation MANY hours a day and then are expected to "settle in for a relaxing evening" when owners finally do show up. To confine an energetic or working breed to indoors (possibly kenneled) and a six-foot leash for their entire lives (what is now considered "the good/proper life") could be considered by some as abusive. I am also guilty. I work long hours and I am sure my dog lives for those all-too-brief three walks a day. I am occassionally ticketed and often chastised for allowing my dog off leash for some good hard run/fetch time. I can't imagine not doing that!

Please don't take me wrong. I have been an avid wdj reader and follower since its origins. I just worry sometimes . . . have we become "responsible" to the detriment of a dog's life?

Posted by: lsabatini | July 24, 2011 7:16 PM    Report this comment

Sometimes leading by example and talking about your OWN ways, thoughts or "challenges" can go a long way because it is completely non-confrontational. As much as most (probably all) readers here - me included - want to shout it from the rooftops, people generally are on the defensive. Especially those that may already have a clue what they are doing isn't quite right, or the best.

Posted by: doglicious | July 21, 2011 2:46 PM    Report this comment

So what is the definition of a responsible dog owner? Ask a 1000 people across the country from different backgrounds, different socio-economic groups, and different geographical areas and you will get a thousand different answers. There is no set definition. Case in point: A homeless man panhandling on the street with his dog. The dog is tied up next to the man, has no shade on a very hot day, no microchip, no shots, no collar, a few ticks, but is well fed, and the man just gave the dog that last of his water and it is clear that the two of them adore each other. The man decides that it is no life for the dog and even though they love each other dearly, the man rehomes the dog to a friend of his. His friend has a securely fenced yard, shade, food and water for the dog at all times. The dog is vaccinated, microchipped and tagged. The new owner is rarely home so the dog is by himself a majority of the time. I think that sometimes society judges people too harshly about the "level" of care a dog gets and what is considered responsible. Is a person considered an irresponsible dog owner because it is not vaccinated and licensed, simply because the owner is working with all of her might to keep the house that her and the dog live in? The dog is healthy, gets enough to eat and ok, maybe it's Walmart's generic brand, but how many of you existed on Ramen in college and you are not the worse for wear are you?
Sue Sternberg has got it exactly right. Educate, but also provide some tools that the owners would not normally be able to afford to help them become better dog owners. As one of the most respected, knowledgeable trainer/behaviorist out there, she actually gets the whole picture. Good for her and good for the dog owners in her area.
I have seen very responsible dog owners at wit's end when they have a fence jumper. They have tried everything short of kenneling the dog 24/7 and sometimes the next thing they try does not work and the dog gets out again. You see this dog on several occasions during the year running down the street and you assume that the dog owner is irresponsible. Really? These are animals and sometimes stuff happens, is this dog owner more irresponsible than his neighbor whose dog never gets out, but is never licensed and the vaccinations expired three years ago? I don't know, you can debate this forever. I sympathize with people that are low income and renting their homes, love their dogs and would die for them, but can't seem to get the landlord to fix their fence and they do not have the money to do it. They refuse to tie their dog up because they know that it is detrimental to the dog's social well being, so their dog escapes. The dog is harmless, has never attacked another dog or person, just runs the neighborhood and goes home. In the eyes of the Law, this person is irresponsible, but the dog is well cared for otherwise. How do you judge that person? So much emphasis is put on education and that is correct, but economic issues can sometimes hinder an owner from doing all of the right things. Does this mean that this person should get rid of the dog and not have dogs? Really? I just wanted to add some food for thought to this blog.

Posted by: azlowlongdogs | July 21, 2011 2:47 AM    Report this comment

While it may be difficult to suffer the willful ignorance of best practices of caring for pets, it is also difficult in regard to children. There are no fixes. For thousands of years life has been and is hard. It is only the last couple hundred years that civil society has been able to elevate the human standard of living so that we can focus on education over starvation, entertainment over hardship and companionship of animals over laboring to survive. The quality of life that we enjoy in the free world is not normal. This choir knows the tune about better well being for pets. Do you also know the song of liberty? In return for the education on dogs, I offer reading the book The 5000 Year Leap.

Posted by: ELIZABETH S | July 20, 2011 7:14 PM    Report this comment

While it may be difficult to suffer the willful ignorance of best practices of caring for pets, it is also difficult in regard to children. There are no fixes. For thousands of years life has been and is hard. It is only the last couple hundred years that civil society has been able to elevate the human standard of living so that we can focus on education over starvation, entertainment over hardship and companionship of animals over laboring to survive. The quality of life that we enjoy in the free world is not normal. This choir knows the tune about better well being for pets. Do you also know the song of liberty? In return for the education on dogs, I offer reading the book The 5000 Year Leap.

Posted by: ELIZABETH S | July 20, 2011 7:09 PM    Report this comment

I don't think there is a simple answer to this important question. I don't think there is any one reason why some owners are proactive and responsible and others are careless. I do think that one of the primary reasons we get into conflict with other pet owners is because our ideas of what IS responsible ownership differ so greatly, but also because there seems to be a general lack of a sense of civic responsibility. When you own a dog you are not just responsible for the dog, you also owe it to your neighbors, your community, the people in your training class (if you take one), to have a true canine good citizen. But to do that, you really need to have some notion of what it takes to be a human good citizen. That may be harder to do than it seems. Free-ranging, matted, intact dogs are a pretty obvious example of bad ownership, but what about the owners whose carefully trained, microchipped, raw-fed, organic-hemp-collar-wearing dog barks all day (or night!!) in the backyard? Or races up to people at the end of their Flexi lead, because "he just loves to say hi"? What if those people don't like dogs? What if your neighbors despise the barking and it ruins their outdoor relaxation?
The barking backyard dog may be loved, but if the neighbors complain and the barking continues, what does this say about the human's attitude towards the other people around him? I think the fact that the matted dogs were running loose yet again tells you what they think about people as much as dogs. To alot of people, what dogs do once they are outside is dog business, not people business. To me, that is bizarre logic, but I hear it over and over. The owner who thinks it is fine to let dogs run loose thinks it is baffling that you would be worried about them. And not just baffling, but nosy and intrusive.
I don't know what the answer is, but sadly I have found that if the owners don't come around with one or two polite visits, they aren't going to change unless they are forced to (by having the dog seized or being visited by the police). I wish my experiences were different and more encouraging.

Posted by: Lynne B | July 20, 2011 9:17 AM    Report this comment

I too had an eerily similar incident recently with 2 "stray" dogs showing up (unfortunately not at all a rare event where we live except for unlike most, these two were social and nourished) and being that it was a Sunday I loaded them up in my van and drove them to an emergency clinic that had a microchip scanner. Lo and behold, one of them actually had a microchip and it was current. The dogs had traveled approx. 1 mile to our house possibly by way of marshes (they were not wet) and the nearby road is a well-traveled busy route. The owners of the dog that had a microchip are physicians(!!)....so much for my theory of many of our lower-socioeconomic neighbors being the the main cause for our problem with wandering and "intact" animals. Despite their dog having several ticks they clearly felt the dog is well cared for (no collar even??) and he doesn't usually wander. They were also surprised that I was trying to find where they came from because they thought eventually they would have made it back home. Very disheartening indeed....I volunteer for the local animal shelter spay/neuter clinic and gave both the dogs owners sign up info about our upcoming free clinic that includes microchips and vaccines. It takes place in 2 days and neither of them have yet to sign up. Like anything that needs to be changed.....the toughest part is having folks realize there's a problem and I'm not sure how else to get the message out there!

Posted by: Kimberly P | July 20, 2011 8:45 AM    Report this comment

When asked about my dogs Dexter(BeaglexSpaniel) and Lilith(Beagle)I take the time to respond and open up a discussion on dogs in general.Of particular interest to me is diet and nutrition and people are always interested to hear about my ideas on this subject, we should all know what is in the foods we feed our dogs and how important a well balanced diet is.I am always striving to provide my two very best friends with the best possible care, this involves lots of research and asking lots of questions,and putting in the time and effort caring for my dogs on a daily basis. I have found persistance, consistency and patience is the key to enjoying my beautiful Hounds, as well as an ongoing committment to being the best Pack Leader I can be and I think my canine companions appreciate me for it. Love your dog and look after him and the rewards are immeasurable. Janine W. VIC/AUST

Posted by: Janine W | July 20, 2011 6:55 AM    Report this comment

I think one of the challenges we all face is that some of us realize how little we know when faced with the responsibility of a pet and set out to "be all that we can be" for our new family member. But we forget that we didn't start out with the knowledge we have today. I try to remember that as I'm talking with pet owners. I think it's difficult for us not to judge others, but if we can find a common ground to start the conversation with someone (rather than preach to them) we might have some success giving them a bit of information that they did not know and improving the situation a bit for their animal. Whenever I chat with friends about their pet, I try to help them understand behaviors from the perspective of their dog and offer them something simple that they can try to change undesirable behavior. For example, a friend was complaining about her dog's behavior when someone comes to their door. I asked how the family behaves when they have someone come to the door and it turns out that family members raise their voices to have someone answer the door. Just pointing out that the dog was just joining in with them on this activity helped them to change their behavior and improve their dog's reaction to a visitor at the door.

Sue Sternberg created a proactive program called Training Wheels where a team of volunteers including those with dog training experience go out into the community and meet pet owners. They offer pet owners donated supplies (collars, leashes, ID tags, treats, etc) and start a conversation about the pet, engaging the owner in a respectful, nonjudgemental way that allows the owner to ask questions and hear what the volunteers have to say (and often interacting with the dog doing some basic training while they are talking with the owner). These encounters have helped to gradually improve the situation for many of the animals they met and allowed the volunteers to gently educate a pet owner while also helping the pet owners understand how they can improve their relationship with their pets. It opens a dialogue and gives the owners a resource for future information.

So in the situation with the dogs that Nancy encountered, maybe you could stop by and offer up a great dog brush or a furminator and ask how the dogs are doing after their 4th of July adventure. If the owner seems receptive to the conversation, explore a little about the situation. Maybe the dogs are stuck outside because they mark in the house. The owner may not be aware that neutering would help and has probably never heard of a bellyband. And maybe you could give the owner an appropriate issue of WDJ to enjoy. You might actually have a major impact on the lives of those dogs!

Posted by: PAULA C | July 20, 2011 12:56 AM    Report this comment

I agree sometimes it's frustrating, at work I am known to be e one to ask questions of. I haven't ever had a dog, but focus I think is the sa,e for cats as for dogs, RESPONSIBILITY and (un)common common sense. Pre WDJ and my allergic cat I fed supermarket food to my first cats. Quality wise reading labels is the same for both species, and I use the same brands of foods just feline rather then canine usually. One of my recent changes came with samples of a food recently in the review section, Stella and chewy's freeze dried raw, my cat lves it. All cats have been inside only, have a new neighbor who's amazed at the ideanof inside only for cats but think they are coming around. Too bad can't TNR your neighbors dogs.

Posted by: Cheryl A. | July 19, 2011 10:21 PM    Report this comment

Six years ago my dog and I moved from Berkeley, Ca to Sun City, Az. This in itself may say a lot about the different dog philosophy milieu I find myself in if you consider just the politics of these different regions. It carries over into how we think of and treat our animal companions. Forgive generalizing. Over these years I have spoken about, advocated, given out copies of articles and all but preached about positive training techniques, raw-food or homemade diets, the wonders of coconut oil, anxiety wraps, flower essences, T-Touch, probiotics to name a few. I try not to be pushy, just informative when I can. I still get the look from my colleagues like I had 2 heads most of the time. Still, I don't give up. At work (my biggest audience) I bring in my current WDJ, samples of recipes, my recently purchased Thundershirt for folks to see (appropriate for the Monsoon season here)Bach's Rescue Remedy, and photos of my happy, healthy dog.
I long for the day that someone says they tried something I mentioned or recommended and it made a positive difference in their dog's life and their own.
Maybe Albert Schweitzer said it best..."By example is not just one way to teach; it is the ONLY way."
Thanks, Nancy, for this wonderful forum. Bless you and Otto, too!

Posted by: Becky and Buddy | July 19, 2011 9:05 PM    Report this comment

As a veterinary technician in a small country town, I have found there are those who just won't listen. They "know" more than the next guy and believe nothing will happen to their dog (until it does). A very special to me Certified Applied Animal Behavior associate once said to me...People need to hear things at least 3 times before it sinks in. Unfortunately it is hard to get those people who think they "already know" to listen to you at least 3 times...Even a fellow technician (of 20 yrs experience) still argues that corrections and not using treats is the best way to train. (Did I mention that she has given up 2 dogs in the past 10 yrs because they were "wild" and didn't listen.) I can not convince my own parents who travel to microchip their dogs! It is sad that more people do not think of their pets as family members and want to educate themselves on what is best for them. YES- we must get through to the kids because the adults just are not listening.

Posted by: Lisa T | July 19, 2011 6:14 PM    Report this comment

AHHHH..this is so sad--overcoming the willful ignorance of other pet"owners". I live in the country on a dead end lane with my two dogs and two cats (all rescued). I have neighbors who recently had a dog go missing (intact male Boxer--really NICE dog!). They had been encouraged to have him neutered (by me and also by relatives) but they resisted and never even had an ID tag on his collar. I've helped them put out flyers but it has been weeks and hope is diminishing.
My dogs have tags (and microchips) out the wazoo--I've been accused of "abuse" for making them cart around all those tags (i.e. "they need a suitcase to carry all those tags").
Another neighbor has recenty gotten a puppy (mixed breed from a relative's un-neutered female of course)-she "runs free" but at least they did ask me how old she has to be before she can be spayed. She comes over to visit my dogs and I take every opportunity to teach her basic commands (she is really smart!)and to teach the "owners" kids how to care for her. I've given them brochurs and training CDs that I recieved with my last rescue dog.
I do think that responsible pet ownership starts with the kids--we need to reach out to them at every opportunity.

Posted by: PJKutscher | July 19, 2011 5:25 PM    Report this comment

I think you need at a minimum someone who has an interest or curiosity in learning and progress of all kinds. When we brought our lab home I was feeding him chain store junk food until someone on a football board told me about corn and soy and by-products etc...and ever since that day I have been refining my knowledge on all aspects of my dogs life. However, I don't think most dog owners feel this way. The problem is cultural, as was stated above, to many the dog is nothing more than an aquisition left home alone for very extended periods, which for an animal as social as the dog might be the worst neglect people inflict.

Posted by: Robert M | July 19, 2011 2:53 PM    Report this comment

Unfortunately you know the saying, "it's not the 90% who do that you have to worry about. It's the 10% who don't." I'm relatively new to the educated dog world, but I at least had enough common sense to try and do what I at least thought was right. I have found throughout the years though that the best intentions are even better when leading by example. I do my best to talk about my dog, his nutrition plan, his care, etc (it's my favorite topic anyway) and have been able to share the positive knowledge I learn from people like you. Thanks for your hard work.

Posted by: Gia F | July 19, 2011 1:05 PM    Report this comment

Great idea to start with the kids! Never forget the time I got in the car and my nephew and he said "aunt beth you need to buckle up"! I think for lots of people putting a dog in the yard and forgetting has no more significance to them than buying the latest kitchen gadget and then sticking it in a cabinet somewhere to be forgotten. At least in my part of the world.

Posted by: bethhrsn | July 19, 2011 1:03 PM    Report this comment

I do sheltie rescue. Your article reminded me that I wanted to give a gift subscription to one of my adopters. I would love to be able to give a subscription to every adopter but cannot afford it. This is a repeat adopter who is generally a good pet owner but she has a few holes in her knowledge. I'm hoping the subscription helps modify a few of her behaviors. Vicky

Posted by: Vicky M | July 19, 2011 12:11 PM    Report this comment

When I sell a puppy, I always ask if the people have a well fenced-in yard. If not, I stress that puppies and dogs should always be walked with a collar/leash and I instruct as to how to size a collar correctly for the size of the dog's neck. I believe in micro-chipping and tell new owners to have that done when their dog is being spayed or neutered. Also, if asked ( and sometimes if not asked), I tell new owners that the most important training commands are not 'sit' and 'shake hands', but rather "COME" and "STAY". These two commands can( and have) saved dogs' lives.

Posted by: CAROL B | July 19, 2011 11:27 AM    Report this comment

As a member of PAWS (Pet Adoption an Welfare Society) we speak with school children on the importance of being a responsible dog owner, believing that "the children shall lead them." It also causes them to be aware of the care of their animals and how they can be a part of that.
Bobbi Johnson, Morehead City, N.C.

Posted by: bobbi J | July 19, 2011 11:06 AM    Report this comment

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