Cultural differences (and what are we doing wrong?)


Last month, my sister-in-law and my almost-13-year-old niece, Ava, spent two weeks in France, visiting my sister-in-law’s mother and stepfather, who live in Paris. Ava has been a dog lover since before she could walk, so I gave her an assignment, to take photos of dogs in Paris.

I’ve always been interested in the cultural differences between how dogs are handled and treated in different countries and I discussed this with her a bit; she and her mom stopped at my house on their way to the airport, because I dog-sat their little dog, Alice, while they were gone. But, in truth, I wasn’t actually concerned with the photos that Ava might get for me; I had an ulterior motive. Mostly I was trying to give Ava a photography job that would (I hoped) keep her engaged with the living scenery when traveling, to keep her eyes open. Ava has an artistic eye, and as someone who studied photojournalism, I know that being given an assignment to take pictures can sharpen and focus your awareness on your surroundings.

Ava did take and send me some pictures of dogs and dog owners. We’re going to be looking at them and discussing her trip to France at the end of this week, when our family will get together again to celebrate her 13th birthday. But here’s the funny thing: Ava must have told her grandmother that she was taking photos of dogs for me. This morning I received a photo and email from her grandmother, Olivia.

dog walker in france
© Whole Dog Journal

“I heard you need pictures of dogs in France,” Olivia explained. Well, I guess my covert mission needed to be exposed, and I’ve written back to Olivia to recuse her from the assignment and sharing the actual purpose of my assignment for Ava with her.

But after writing the email, I looked at Olivia’s snapshot again. She had actually captured several very interesting things. The longer I look at this photo, which she captioned as “a dog walker in Paris,” the more I see. Look: What do you see?

dog walker with several dogs
A dog walker in Paris. © Whole Dog Journal

Here are the things that are most interesting to me:

Of the seven dogs visible in the photo, only one (possibly two) is leashed. Despite this, they are all just hanging out in a relaxed fashion, waiting for their walker, who appears to be taking a snack break.

The two dogs on the right may or may not be with the walker; they are slightly removed from her, whereas the other dogs are arranged in a circle around her. So those two unleashed dogs may simply be waiting for their owners to come out of the store or restaurant. They are unleashed but perfectly safe and comfortable waiting on the sidewalk.

All but one of the dogs resemble purebreds. The dog on the far right might be, too; I’m not familiar enough with all the bully-type breeds to know what she is or might be.

All seven of the dogs are in good weight and look fit. Even French dogs look more slender than their American counterparts!

The white dog on the right appears to be a French Bulldog – but he or she has much more of a nose than the French Bulldogs you see here. I love that the dog’s face isn’t as smushed in the exaggerated way the dogs here often appear.

How do dogs become so habituated and well-behaved that they can safely be taken out with a dog-walker off leash in the middle of a busy city? Are dogs being lost and hit by cars at a rate we Americans would find unacceptable? I’m fascinated – and I just might have to go to Paris to find out! I’m pretty sure I could stay with Olivia…

family in london
Olivia, Leslie, and Ava took a day trip to London. ©Whole Dog Journal


  1. Unless this has changed, one of the biggest differences between dogs living in the USA and those living in France is that dogs in France are permitted to enter stores selling food, supermarkets, etc, and restaurants with their owners. So it would be unlikely that any of the dogs in the photo, standing out in the street, are out there waiting for their person to come out of a store selling food!

  2. Unless this has changed, one of the biggest differences between dogs living in the USA and those living in France is that dogs in France are permitted to enter stores selling food, supermarkets, etc, and restaurants, with their caretakers. So it would be unlikely that any of the dogs in the photo, standing out in the street, are out there waiting for their person to come out of any store which sells food,

  3. Thank you, I always remarked how controlling we have became to our canine friends. In some countries it’s simply not allowed to have dogs of the leash. I leave in the small village in UK and most dogs are leashed. I do get strange, apprehensive looks from passers by. Dogs cannot learn and became comfortable about life, while being constantly restrained. It’s a sad life for most of them. Even golden ‘cage’ is still a cage…
    We do want to share our lives with animals but cannot be bothered to learn about their needs, it’s all about us.

  4. I am totally interested in this too! I have relatives in Europe and I always wonder how their dogs get so well behaved in public! I’m also interested in culture differences about crate usage and housetraining process too. Looking forward to reading the results of your project!

      • I have a crate at the foot of my bed, and bring one along when traveling with my dog. I can’t remember the last time I closed the crate, but it is definitely one of her preferred spots. Two of my previous dogs had orthopedic injuries and needed to be confined post-surgery. I was glad they loved their crates because it made that healing time comfortable for all of us. I will always crate train my dogs, and allow them this comfy, quiet option as resting spot.

        • I have a now, 11 yo Australian Shepherd. I didn’t crate train her as a puppy because being a volunteer in three rescues, I didn’t see what I liked about working dog owners who left their dogs crated all day while at work. But then when I moved to Florida, I decided to crate train “Rain” because she loves everyone and a lot of people don’t want a dog near them. I used treats to train her, and it only took a few times for her to catch on that when I said, “crate”, she would go in. Now when people she doesn’t know come to the door, like service men etc., she automatically goes in her crate, which is next to my bed.

  5. Maybe in Europe they have not stereotyped certain breeds to be dangerous like in the US? Or, maybe the Europeans are not as quick to threaten to sue someone over a dog altercation as in the US? Or, maybe the European culture is more relaxed, tolerant, and understanding overall? I haven’t been in Europe for thirty years sadly. My recently planned trip was canceled by Co-vid. I can’t wait to go back!

    • In Europe dogs are very incorporated to their families. Most people live in apartments, no houses with a yard, so it’s a bit like in NYC, dogs are much more socially “tolerant”, they don’t get triggered but so much action around them (dozens of different voices, kids running, bicycles flying by, cars honking…). Also yes, the sue happy mentality is foreign to them (but then lawyers get paid an hourly rate and not a percentage of the carnage). It’s truly a different way of living.

    • Unfortunately in many European countries there are breed-specific laws and certain breeds of fog can only be outside and walked with a muzzle. However, dogs are much better behaved than dogs here. I think part of this is due to most western european countries being walking countries. People walk everywhere and thus take their dog(s) along.

  6. I’m not sure this a USA vs Europe thing. I’ve noticed this for years when I visit larger urban areas – Chicago, Seattle, NYC. Dogs that are acclimated from puppyhood to the urban environment and all that comes with it are going to be calmer and less reactive to people and other dogs. This snowballs in a positive way – puppies meeting less reactive adult dogs are less likely to learn or have the need to be reactive themselves.

    • This is something I’ve been wondering about myself. My first German Shepherd grew up in DC and never seemed bothered by people, other dogs, loud noises at all. Since moving to Florida (much more suburban “city”), they have been much more anxious with the above. I thought maybe it was the dog that was the anomaly, but you might be right that it was the way she grew up.

  7. I used to travel to Italy and Spain (my country of birth) with the only dog amidst my rescues that had the traveling bug, a frisky miniature Schnauzer. She could enter many places but not all of them. Restaurants only outside in the terrace, and supermarkets were a hit or miss (there are some regulations on the dogs/places with food interaction). Europeans walk a lot since many errands are done on foot and a furry one is a happy companion. It is, indeed, a different culture.

  8. As a dog walker (and trainer), I walk dogs in the suburbs. I have never been able to walk dogs in a pack. Almost every dog I walk the owner will tell me, they are “not good with other dogs”. Sometimes it’s over excitement, sometimes, fear, and sometimes downright aggression. So, the only time I walk more than one dog at a time is when they are from the same household.

    And, yes, many are overweight and neurotic!

    • This is very sad. It’s kind of the same reason I don’t go to a dog park. It appears that many Americans don’t socialize their dogs, then they toss them in with the other dogs at dog park and it’s hit or miss if trouble starts.

      I would also be interested to know if the dogs in the photo are spayed/neutered. I’d be willing to bet they’re not, which would throw out the theory that intact males are only interested in one thing. The US is the only country where people automatically sterilize their dogs without ever asking why. It’s only done for convenience because owners can’t be counted on or don’t care to keep their dog from breeding. It’s really not that hard.

      Maybe Europeans respect their dogs and don’t disregard their needs by turning them into “furbabies.”

    • Robert, it’s a sad fact but I too would not have been able to do pack walks when I was dog walking! I train dogs now, and a majority of my clients are undersocialized dogs that don’t know how to function outside of their homes!

  9. I am totally fascinated by this and by everyone’s responses that have lived there. Wow, to not have to leash my boys and be able to take them into a store or bakery!!! I better not let them know they’ll be catching the next boat/plane to Paris!

  10. I think everyone has agreed that dogs in Europe are allowed in almost everywhere. So they are taken in almost everywhere and are extremely well socialized. We’ve taken our two dogs everywhere we’re allowed to (including some local mom-and-pop stores that allow dogs in the store), but there are so many places dogs aren’t allowed here. So socialization certainly plays a part. Plus, I think breeders are different in Europe. I know their kennel club does not tolerate breeding “extremes” (as you noted with the French Bulldog that looked like it could actually breathe!) and I think they also breed for temperament–placing temperament more important than “looks”. I’ve seen some show dogs that have won ribbon after ribbon and win every show in sight, but who are neurotic, fearful, and act in an aggressive manner. Why are those dogs being bred? Because they “look good”. I wish we here in the U. S. were as forward thinking as most Europeans are!

    • Really? How many dogs shows have you been to? How long do you think dog shows would last if they were as you describe. If a show dog shows any aggression or other negative behavior, he or she is automatically disqualified. Show dogs are not bred to “look good.” They are bred to improve the in health, temperament and structure of the given breed, and they are judged in the ring for those traits. That’s why judges put their hands on the dogs. They’re feeling for correct structure that isn’t visible under the well-groomed fur. Of course they look good! They’re the best representatives of their breed. Just like a professional baseball player is the best in his sport. I’m so tired of people condemning ALL breeders and ALL purebreds because of the behavior of a few outliers, and then making statements based on what they “think” and on seeing a “few show dogs.”

      • If only you were right, Carole.

        Sghow dogs in America are bred to meet the AKC breed standard, which emphasizes physical conformation. Obviously dogs that display overt aggression are disqualified but it is the very rare breeder that prioritizes temperament.

        • This is why we have a Newfoundland: AKC Standards: First sentences: General Appearance: The Newfoundland is a sweet-dispositioned dog that acts neither dull nor ill-tempered. He is a devoted companion. A multipurpose dog, at home on land and in water,Temperament: Sweetness of temperament is the hallmark of the Newfoundland; this is the most important single characteristic of the breed.

  11. As far as Europeans not breeding their bulldogs, pugs, etc. to not having the extreme pushed in noses (with all of the attendant problems), in Hamburg, Germany, I had a long conversation with a shop owner with a purebred pug who looked more like a U.S. puggle, in other words, he had a snout. The dog did agility work and had no respiratory issues. Why have we Americans allowed the breed standard to be so unhealthy?

    • AKC. They could put a stop to these extremes but instead, reward them with ribbons. I don’t understand why dogs are bred so that they must give birth through Caesarean section because they are unable to do so naturally. To me, that is insane. I don’t care what a dog looks like, if it isn’t healthy and cannot function naturally (I.E. birthing) then to me that dog should NOT be bred anymore than dogs with a a propensity to develop blindness, cancer or hip dysplasia should be bred.

      In this country I think the number one problem is the back yard breeders in it for the money. The dogs they produce might technically be pure bred, but they will disregard anything about healthy, fitness, etc and then you get a lot of puppies that grow up to be unhealthy dogs.

      I’d like to see a study if the dogs in Europe have longer lifespans than those in the U.S. I think I read somewhere that U.S. Golden Retrievers now average 6 years and have a high incidence of developing cancer.

      • So many of them have temperament issues and health issues. The buyers think they are buying a puppy from a good breeder because they have papers. The signs are ALWAYS there. The puppy is sickly, they weren’t allowed to meet the bitch or sire, or the one that gets me, they met in a parking lot to pick up the puppy! I WISH we could put a stop to the backyard breeding and puppy mills.

  12. I agree with the comments that living with a dog in big European cities is very similar to living in big American cities or anywhere else for that matter. Lived in Europe from 1967-2008 (UK & Germany) and had a small dog for much of that time. Dogs are permitted to go into more stores than in the US, that’s true. Other than that, not much difference – a dogs a dog and an owner is an owner, some responsible in dog care/training some not – regardless of where you live.

  13. Americans seem to want to control every aspect of their dogs lives, which is unnatural. They also dress them in ridiculous clothes, feed them junk and too much food so they get fat and sick. I do think this is cultural. There is also a lack of respect for animals in general. The dogs you see in this photo aren’t like that because they aren’t treated that way. And Americans tend to be backyard breeders resulting in unhealthy animals. Purebred dogs have gotten a bad rap in favor of mutts. Mutts are fine – I have 3 – but purebreds are necessary if we are going to have specific breeds; some who do specific jobs. It is just sad what Americans have done to dogs which are just the most lovely creatures. They deserve far better.

  14. This is fun! I haven’t read past the “what do you see” or any of the comments as I’m noting down what I see about the dogs in the picture and also how it varies from many cities in the U.S. and expectations. Thanks for the great project from a bully breed-mix therapy dog handler that is fascinated by behavior, body language and all things dog. Articles like this apply so well when I have to respond when volunteering with my dog to people who say, “I didn’t know pit bulls could be therapy dogs.” Duh.

  15. In Switzerland, a few years ago, we remarked how well-trained the dogs were, walking off-leash with their family. Similarly, the children were equally well-mannered and, of like the dogs, all were trim. It’d seem the child-rearing and canine training are another important variant in the understanding of the behavior of their furry companions.

  16. i see a fascinating article in our future (please?). interviews with several French people found on the street with their chill, well-behaved dogs, eliciting details of puppy training goals, as well as adult dog care and feeding routines (do they buy kibble/feed butcher scraps/homemade food??). a dog can readily pick up on our overall expectations for him/her, and if we can shape an attitude that will help our dogs be confident and self-controlled, i for one would love the information!