Cultural differences (and what are we doing wrong?)

55

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

55 COMMENTS

  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!

    • To be honest I’ve never seen a crate in Europe other than for professional use. I understand they may have their benefits but a big no for me.

      • 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. I was in France with my dog and she was allowed almost everywhere. Cafes, grocery stores, bakeries. It was wonderful!

  6. I have wondered the same. Dogs in Europe are allowed everywhere ( on trains, in restaurants). They are certainly well socialized!

  7. 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.

    • England has a ban on Pit Bulls, not Staffies, Pit Bulls. And the only criteria they use to determine if it is a Pit Bull is visual. If it looks like one, it is one and is humanely euthanized.

    • 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

      • If I had a dollar for every client after talking to them I heard sirens in my head that their dog is from a backyard breeder or puppy mill!

      • 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

  19. bonjour,
    i am an ex-new yorker living in paris for many years. i have a standard poodle. i have never seen a group of dogs without leashes with a walker. my dog goes to a large wooded area with a walker outside of paris. dogs are not allowed in most green spaces in Paris. People are not so great about picking up their dogs poop. officially all dogs must be on leash in Paris. not everyone obeys the rules. i am not surprised that the dogs dont seem overweight in Paris. Most people in Paris are not overwight either, just as in Manhattan most people are not overweight. Manhattan is not Amercia and Paris is not France.

    The main difference I have noticed between parisian and Manhattan dogs are that here in Paris most male dogs are not castrated.
    Dogs are not allowed in supermarkets…small neighborhood shops may let their regular ckients bring their dogs.

    i could say more but i will end here.

    if any of you comes to Paris with or without your dog do not hesitate to contact me.

    brenda

  20. We can’t apply what’s happening in France goes for all of Europe. It’s a big place with lots of different attitudes. Dogs in Germany are way more socialized than in the USA as they are allowed in most public places, even public transportation. They are not allowed in establishments selling food but are allowed in restaurants, go figure. They are well behaved and often you don’t even know there is a dog under the table. People take their dogs everywhere for that reason. Most grocery stores not in high traffic areas have hooks in the wall outside to keep them while the owner is in the store. I personally observed one owner in a department store taking the escalator to the downstairs food area where the dog was not allowed. She downed the dog at the top of the stairs and left and when I looked 30 minutes later, the dog was in still there watching for her. I saw a lot of dogs off leash and not even wearing a collar when the owner took them from the apartment to the park. They were always under control, looking back at the owner. Spaying and neutering is only done for medical reasons so most are intact. My take is, early socializing makes for a fun pet and possibly the fairly heavy yearly dog tax keeps slob owners at a minimum.

  21. I wasn’t in France, but in Italy a couple months ago and saw lots of dogs. What astonished me was that most of the males were ‘intact.’ Obviously I couldn’t tell whether the female dogs had been spayed or not.

  22. I’m pretty astonished at the amount of “america bashing” going on in the responses to this story. All dogs in this country are not under-socialized, neurotic animals and all dogs in France (substitute wherever) are not perfectly socialized, happy and free animals. Many are living on the streets, not receiving adequate food or medical care and sleeping in trash bins. Really folks – get real! No place is paradise for animals and no place is hell – there are many circumstances which are far less pleasant for animals than those mentioned in this story – just go to almost any country in South America and see what I mean. 🙁

    • Actually you just need to come to Houston……nobody spays or meuters their dogs and many many strays.
      And yes, there are many places that are hell on earth for animals. In Germany certain brerds are now only allowed outside with a muzzle….when i was a child in Getmany that was never the case…
      However, many Americans sadly think that animals are disposable….not so much in Europe…

  23. We lived in the UK for three years and traveled widely with our dog. Dogs in Europe are certainly allowed in more places, and they are far better behaved than their US counterparts, likely because it is essential to have good behaviour. A UK friend commented that “Americans don’t really love dogs, because the dogs aren’t allowed to go anywhere.” That WAS a bit tongue in cheek, but there is truth in it. Americans love their dogs dearly, though not enough to understand the dog and figure out how to teach the dog what behaviour is appropriate. I can’t count the number of people who approach me saying their (obviously stressed) dog is friendly and would like to play with mine, when casual observation shows this not the case!

  24. In my estimation, this comes down to cultural issues. I have traveled to many countries around the world, and each has their own attitude towards dogs and pets in general. For better or worse, the American attitude seems to be much more controlling and much less relaxed, and has become that way over several decades.

    As a child growing up in the seventies, my best friend was a huge white German Shepard and we would go everywhere together. The only time he was on leash was when he was pulling me on my skateboard. We would go up to the grocery store and he would wait outside, mostly. A couple times, as I was waiting in line, he would come in the store (auto doors), and someone might say “oh, look at the beautiful dog” and then lead him back outside to wait. No fearful cries or outrage, no shocked gasps or calling of authorities. It was a non incident. I payed for my goods, left the store and we went home.

    This would never happen today. There are many more neurotic dogs and owners (which came first ;). I have my dogs leashed when appropriate and when required, but when we are out walking trails and in places with no car traffic, they are rarely on leash. They are well behaved, heal when asked, etc… the vast majority of people are fine with this as long as the dog is well behaved. There is a small minority however that come unglued at the sight of an unleashed dog and become so outraged and do their best to shame you and make sure you know you are a bad person. What could have been a brief pleasant exchange, or simply two ships passing, suddenly becomes an ugly incident fueled by outrage. Most people enjoy interacting when out for a stroll, and my Great Dane is a people magnet and gets lots of attention, and everyone is a little better for it. If there is no interest, my dogs are heeled and we simply pass on by. But I tell ya, those few people… those squeaky wheels love attention.

  25. One difference, at least in Germany, is that owners and dogs are required to be professionally trained. So you can have dogs in restaurants and the dog will just lie out of the way under the table. There isn’t any of the I can do things anyway I want attitude one sometimes encounters.

  26. I have been told, and I am generalizing here, that Europeans can identify Americans by who wants to pet their dog. Now that I have a shy dog, I can see her stress when someone unknown assumes they can touch her. I assume just being able to be without an insistence on social interaction is a factor in European dogs being more comfortable

  27. Ok so ai know it sounds great to imagine that everything in Europe is so much better… Trust me, it’s not. I moved there 8 years ago and what I can say is that Americans are way more accepting of dogs as a people than the French or Belgians (where I am). The fact that many dogs are without a leash is actually laziness and carelessness among Europeans. I am always shocked to see this. Also the same is valid for spaying and neutering. It’s a much less responsible society. The laid-back nature is not really that great: sure it’s nice to take the dogs to more places, but that’s just because there are no laws that organize this. People in general have an outdated approach to what a dog means, thinking it should be there to guard the owner or stay in the yard etc. I think the Anglo-saxon culture is way more accepting of dogs on their beds and as part of their family.
    I flew across the Atlantic with my 2 large dogs and I still walk them on leash as I do not want to take any risks for them to cross the street if they see a cat or another dog.
    So don’t get your illusions too high about Europeans – there are quite a dew dogs that do end up being hit by cars because of careless owners. It’s each and every person’s own responsibility and there are plenty of irresponsible dog owners on both continents.

  28. Have to chuckle….the only two dogs leashed are the Basenji and Shiba Inu. The dog walker is wise!

    Thinking about this… It’s possible only the dogs that are calm or socialized are taken out together as a group when it’s busier, hence the opportunity for photo op. As such, maybe we do NOT see the reactive one, at least not at 4 pm tea/human snack time. There is something to be said about routine and acclimation to common areas and familiar individuals that live on the same block.

  29. I observed a lot of healthy looking and extremely well socialized dogs in Singapore. My husband was there for work and so during the day I traveler around on my own. People usually only have one dog at a time and take them many places. The beautiful botanic garden allowed dogs? I was amazed….. that would never happen in the US. They had fancy poop bag stations and garbage cans everywhere. It was so beautiful and peaceful with people and dogs walking quietly. I cannot figure out how they do it!

  30. I see a German Wirehaired Pointer in that group. This breed is often mistaken for a mixed breed, and of course it was during its creation in the mid 19th century

  31. When we travelled to Berlin, Germany, I was fascinated to see dogs in stores and on the U-Bann and S-Bann (subway & surface trains). Most we saw were leashed but all seemed well behaved and very relaxed in the middle of a bustling city. But then we found the entire vibe of the city to be relaxed, even in rush hour. The best experience was a lady with a GSP who went on the escalator with her in a shoe store.

  32. Very interesting article and something I have wondered about. Please post more information on dogs living in other countries. Maybe we can learn more about their lifestyles and keeping them healthy.

  33. I’ve spent some time in London and most everybody lets their dogs go off leash in the parks. Most do just fine, but of course there are some naughty ones! Like the little terrier at Furnivall Gardens who ended up in the bushes and wouldn’t come out despite its owner calling for it over and over. And the Irish Terrier at Regent’s Park who had some serious zoomies and loved harassing the other dogs. But no one makes a big deal out of it. And yes, dogs are allowed on the Underground, even when it’s packed to the gills. One man had two big pit-looking dogs and somehow made it on without trouble. Impressive. Here in the States there are such ridiculous rules, like on MARTA in Atlanta, your dog has to be in a hard-sided carrier/crate with a lock on it. Seriously.

  34. We’re dual nationals (American/French) and moved back to France from Los Angeles almost 20 years ago. I don’t want to seem like a grump, but I sometimes despair over what we term the “French Disneyland” view of France. I know Americans, Brits and Australians who either move here permanently or who have holiday homes here, and treat our small, rural village as if they are in some kind of fantasy world. We actually DO have laws and rules governing behavior of people and animals alike. Alas, as with everywhere else, sometimes these are not followed. Allowing dogs to roam free inside of a town, village or city is illegal everywhere in France, as it mostly is in every other western country. People may do it, but they are breaking the law. There are plenty of unleashed dogs who attack other dogs and people (I know of several instances). And, let’s not even get stated on those who allow their dogs to poop everywhere without cleaning it up!

    Yes, dogs are often allowed in places they are not in the States; many restaurants, hotels, etc., do permit well-behaved dogs. But I can’t tell you how many meals have been ruined in restaurants where someone brings a dog who starts barking madly at another dog who has come in with their owner. I know an American who insists on taking her dog everywhere, it is not trained at all and has peed and pooped in other people’s houses more times than I can count. She allows this dog to roam off-lead in our village, which has a major through road and one day he’s will be run over by a car because she thinks it’s ok to not leash him. He has also attacked other dogs at the local café.

    All this to say that while we do love our dogs here, we have just as many badly behaved dogs and owners as any other place. Those dogs in Paris that your niece photographed could be just around the corner from costing their owners a several hundred euro fine for being not under the control of their proprietor!

    I should also add that while there are places outside of agglomerations where it IS legal to allow dogs to be off-lead, it is also legal for a farmer to shoot a dog who comes onto their property and harasses their animals. So, many things to consider.

  35. The bark.com had an excellent article a few years back on “Why are European dogs so well behaved”. Unfortunately the link to the article no longer works, but it had something to do with them being raised more like we would raise service dogs.

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