As we move past Thanksgiving and barrel toward Christmas and the New Year, I hope dog owners everywhere will take a few moments and reflect on what would enrich their dogs’ lives in the coming year. Dogs do so much for us that it’s only fair that we think about how we can make our dog’s lives be the best for them, too. It’s not an either/or situation: Both humans and dogs can have a great deal of fun together, and we should be enjoying the sharing of lives with our “best friends.” To get to the fun part of dog ownership, you first have to address the responsibility part.
Here are my top five wishes for dogs for 2014:
See the word “daily”? It means MondayTuesdaysWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturdaySunday. Sometimes I feel that dogs are a bit like prisoners in our homes and backyards. It gets boring. Seriously boring. It gets so tedious for some dogs that they start doing things we don’t like, such as nuisance barking and digging. You may be a couch potato but your dog is not a potato of any kind. This means walking outside on leash with your dog just about every day. How many of us really do that? How fair is it to the dog that we don’t?
Most of us have day jobs. Do you think about what your dog is doing while you are away? Do you assume she sleeps all day? How would you really know? You could put your dog in a separate room each morning before you leave and then hide frozen Kongs with yummy treats inside (such as peanut butter) and release your dog and let her search and enjoy while you are away. I love Kongs and so do most dogs. You could also leave behind mind puzzles, such as this one. Or how about hiring a professional dog walker who has stellar references and will treat your dog kindly?
I wish there were serious punishments enforced on those who abuse dogs. It’s too easy to leave a dog chained outside with zero stimulation in all kinds of weather, even when chaining is illegal in the town or city. Abuse can come in the form of neglect, and –- of course -– it can get much worse. It is unfortunate, but abuse can come from the “trusted” hands of your veterinarian, your pet sitter, your dog trainer, your groomer or even a family member. It’s up to you to do your homework and ensure no one inflicts harm upon your dog.
Don’t wait for the dog to be six months to take it to a puppy class. Get one round of shots and if the trainer is okay with this (many are –- I am), enroll in well-organized and pain-free puppy classes. Putting a solid foundation of training on your dog opens up the world for you both. A well-behaved dog can go out in public with you and you could then even participate in dog sports or go hiking if you wanted to. Really investigate what it means to socialize a puppy, because all new experience must be positive and affirming for the puppy. Throwing your vulnerable dog into an unsupervised room full of other dogs is NOT what socialization is about.
Dogs get dumped with a terribly high rate at shelters by their “loving” owners all over this country, often because the owner neglected to be a quality guide for the dog and fairly and effectively teaching the dog what behavior is permitted around humans and what behavior is unwanted. If you have a dog, the onus is on you to train it. The dog does not arrive in this world already trained.
Dogs can do so very many things that we humans cannot do, and we need dogs. They can detect cancer and illegal drugs, among many other things. They can alert owners about health emergencies that the owner can’t yet sense, such as an impending seizure. They can save the lives of children with peanut or other allergies. They bring calmness and peace to hospitals, nursing homes and elementary schools. They help ranchers move livestock, usually better than any human helper can. They find people after natural disasters. They find people who have gone missing. They protect us. They make us smile. They love us, unconditionally.
For all of these reasons and many more, dogs deserve our respect. Seeing yourself as the dog’s kind but effective coach is showing the dog the respect he deserves. Being kind to dogs and teaching them the meaning of “yes” (instead of only telling them “no”) equals respect. Setting your dog up for success early in his life with clear communication shows respect.
I hope these things come true for dogs everywhere in 2014. I hope we humans use our powerful brains and big hearts to teach dogs instead of disparage them. I know it’s a lot to ask for, but I intend to keep on asking on behalf of dogs.
What are your wishes for dogs in 2014? Tell us in the comments!
About Annie Phenix: Positive-reinforcement dog trainer and author Annie Phenix never met a mountain she did not love. This explains why she lives in Colorado, where she’s surrounded by mountains, and why she is always smiling. She delights in the snowy season here, as do her five dogs, two horses, and six adorably cute donkeys.
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