The Biggest Changes in the Dog World of the Past 20 Years

So much is different for dogs: diet, pet products, health care -- and simply how we treat them.


Dogs today are not the dogs of yesterday, this much I know is true. Thinking back to 1992, which seems a lifetime ago, dogs were not privy to so many of the things affecting their lives in 2012. Heck, the same can be said for humans: The times they are a-changin.

From the annals of “then versus now,” here are eight of the prominent changes in the dog world over the past 20 years.

1. Diet

As a kid, I distinctly recall my mother buying canned dog food from the grocery store and mixing it with whatever leftovers remained from supper: This was the dog’s diet, and Candy lived to a ripe old age. We never walked the aisles of a pet-supply superstore because, of course, they did not exist.

How we feed and what we feed (and greater attention paid to the ingredients found in Fido’s food) is one of the major changes to hit the canine scene since 1992. In the 19th century, meat started being fed to dogs, and in the 1860s, dog food found a niche. It was after World War I that horse meat made its way into commercial dog foods.

The variety and types of foods we feed Fido have evolved — dry food, canned food, soft-moist food, rehydrated/raw diets, home cooked, natural/organic, the list goes on. Where we purchase the food is evolving as well, with pet supply stores, veterinary prescribed, mail order, and online. There’s also custom diets, canine cookbooks, and rotation diets.

Having had a dog with irritable bowel disease (who heard of that 20 years ago?), I am more cognizant of what my dog eats and the ingredients the food contains. No doubt, throngs of Dogster readers read a dog food label with the scrutiny of a Sherlock Holmes.

2. Health care

One of the major changes in canine world over the past 20 years resides in the health care domain, from specialists to over-vaccination awareness and everything in between. In 1990, not many dogs were getting MRIs, lining up for canine acupuncture, or taking a nutraceutical, such as glucosamine for improved joint mobility.

Dogs are living longer, thanks in large part to owner-veterinary communication and advances in veterinary medicine. Laser surgery and laparoscopic procedures enable vets to more seamlessly heal Fido’s ailments with quicker recovery times.

My previous Cocker Spaniel was affected by a mast cell tumor, a potentially aggressive form of canine skin cancer. Because our vet was able to use laser equipment, cleaner margins were obtained, a quicker recovery time resulted, and she lived to be one week shy of 15 years young.

My present dog, Dexter, was neutered via laser surgery and was able to come home the very same day. In fact, I waited at the vet while the surgery occurred and had Dexter in tow, driving home with me a few hours later. Talk about nip, tuck, and go.

3. Verbiage

Yesterday’s Rex is today’s Romeo, as everything from what we name our dogs to the lingo applied to dog food has evolved and changed. Here are few terms with a fast-forward update.

Then — Now
Dry food — Kibble
Dog coop — Dog bed
Mutt — Designer dog
No Dogs Allowed — Pet Welcoming
Owner — Dog Parent
Animal — Furkid
Kennel — Doggie daycare

4. Dog-friendly everything

Pet-friendly vacations are becoming a staple in many families, and hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts are rolling out the red carpet to this rising trend. Websites and books devoted to the topic are now commonplace. Growing up, however, the family dog stayed behind when we hit the open road.

Traveling with Your Pet: The AAA PetBook, released the 14th edition this year. As someone who has not taken a vacation without a dog in close to 20 years, I can attest to the joys of finding destinations that welcome dogs.

5. Products

For those of us who grew up with dogs, do you recall the family dog having toys that talked, treats in a bevy of flavors, placemats, leashes to match the season, clothes, and his own bed? Me either.

Of the nearly $52 billion the American Pet Products Association expects people to spend on their pets in 2012, supplies (including over-the-counter medicine) account for almost $12 billion of that.

Having walked the show floor of industry shows like the Global Pet Expo and Superzoo, I’ve seen the products that will soon hit store shelves. In the early 1990s, who ever would have imagined a GPS tracking collar, programmable water and feeding systems, or earth friendly eco toys would be offered to dogs?

6. Resources

The Internet has changed the face of how we obtain products and services for Fido, but also how we obtain dogs in general, for better or for worse (i.e., puppy mills). Betsy Banks Saul changed the face of pet adoption when she co-founded Petfinder, the largest online database of adoptable pets.

When I interviewed Saul last year, she revealed she never could have imagined the impact the idea formed in 1996 would have on pet adoption overall. With its 15-year celebration in 2011, the pet-adoption giant marked close to 18 million adoptions, a number they have since surpassed.

The resources available about dogs are immeasurable. I never thought I would be walking through the doors of a pet bloggers’ conference, but there I was in 2009 at BlogPaws pet bloggers’ conference meeting hundreds of others with a similar purpose in mind: Affect the care and well-being of our non-human family members.

7. Role changes

How to best utilize the many facets of a dog’s personality has come into its own, with dogs used for pet therapy, search and rescue, seizure alert, arson, emotional support, service, the list goes on.

As a teenager, I recall the fascination I felt when I saw a woman with a German Shepherd (her seeing eye dog) walking into the town’s True Value store. Dogster’s own Maria Goodavage writes of military dogs and their handlers in the bestseller Soldier Dogs.

And in his Hero Dogs of 9/11 television special, Kenn Bell shared the stories of the 300 dogs who came to the site of the World Trade Center tragedy to scour for survivors and comfort those who needed a friend.

8. Humanization of dogs

Perhaps one of the biggest non-tangible ways dogs have evolved in our lives is in the way we treat them. For many, dogs are the new kids. No longer are we the “crazy dog people” when planning a birthday party for Chico, attending a pet wedding for Romeo, or setting up play dates with a local group of friends (or is that fur-ends?).

Our furbabies enter costume contests, walk the fashion runways, and eat in restaurants with us. The definition of “family” has evolved. We have the white picket fences, but dogs are behind them. We go to work, but pet-friendly jobs are a part of our culture. It is said that every dog will have its day, and luckily for the more than 72 million of us who embrace this philosophy, it seems as though our time has arrived.

Dogster readers, what do you think is a big change in the dog world over these past 20 years? Bark back at us in the comments!

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