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Office Setup
  • Writer's pictureLori Nanan

Hot take: your dog isn’t having as much fun as you think

I have long held what is clearly an unpopular opinion: your dog does not need to go everywhere with you. Because I've lived in a tourist town and worked as a dog trainer (I'm retired from the biz) for years, I've seen more than my fair share of dogs who are uncomfortable, overheated, ignored and pushed and pulled around. I know this is an unpopular opinion because in my little town, where the sidewalks are narrow and crowded, dogs abound.

It's not uncommon to see dogs happily hanging out at the local brewery, where they get their own bowl of water and typically have some shade. When I see a happy dog there, I'm relieved. When I see the owner proactively providing some treats for good behavior, ensuring the dog can't rush at others passing by, I'm thrilled. All this takes most of the time is a wee bit of environmental awareness. But, just as often, if not more, I see dogs whose leashes are wrapped around table legs, dogs who are panting, dogs who are shaking off the stress of an unwanted interaction whilst the humans involved blithely nosh on French fries largely unaware of what might be happening for their dog.

I remember once a few years ago watching a woman approach a man outside on a 100 degree day. They had a very civilized discussion, yet the man insisted it wasn't too hot, that his dog was used to being outside in the heat. The man ultimately left and I commended him for being so open to what had been said to him. He said it was okay, he was leaving because he didn't want to make anyone uncomfortable and all I could think was "what about your dog?". I felt like a walking meme when I mentioned that the concrete was several degrees hotter than the air.

Image from Google, via Daily Paws:

On summer weekends, the streets here are packed. I've seen straining frenchies with their tongues curled from breathing so hard while their people navigate the crowds without so much as looking down to see how their dog is doing. I've watched people yank on the necks of dogs who, to my eye, simply seem to be trying to get out of the way of oncoming throngs or sniff a tree stump or the butt of another dog. I've seen them pushed into the down position, their leashes stepped on so they can't move an inch. I've watched dogs get smacked for barking. It's exhausting.

Have I encountered happy dogs? Of course. My own dog has enjoyed time at the brewery. She's gone on quiet days in spring or fall. Weekdays that aren't nearly as busy. I've never forced her to interact with anyone or punished her for doing dog things. We simply decide time's up and move on. Here she is with her buddy Ron on a fall Tuesday when the crowds were minimal, but she got lots of lovin' and a burger patty. And while I love the idea of bringing my dog out to enjoy a sunny summer Saturday, I don't think she'd enjoy it. In fact, I know she wouldn't. She's sensitive to loud noises, has a tendency to bark when she sees other dogs, is sometimes fearful around new men. And she's allowed to be those things. She's a dog. A being with preferences just like you and me.

All this said, with the years and years worth of information available to us about dogs and heat, dogs and behavior and dogs and their overall needs, I know people will always choose to have a day out with their dog because they think it will be fun for everyone. The idea of a patio dog is awesome and I have definitely seen people who put in the work, pay attention and have a great time and so do their dogs. That warms my heart more than pretty much anything else.

Pre-pandemic, my husband and I would see this good looking crew out on the town fairly often. They always had treats available to them, their people were mindful and even took them each on solo dates from time to time. I loved seeing them. There's just so many more tangled leashes and panting and being held tightly or pushed down for me to be able to say that it's a good idea for any dog. People misread body language, they get frustrated, they get embarrassed, they hit, they pull, they yell.

I've loved living in my little tourist town for the past 15 years. I love it most on weekdays when I feel like I can go out without encountering what often adds up to abuse. And if abuse is too strong a word, call it neglect, lack of awareness, whatever. But please, don't assume your dog is having a good time just because you want them too. Also, in terms of body language, a lolling tongue isn't always a smile. It is often panting from heat or exertion.

Disclaimer: if your dog suffers from something like separation anxiety, I get it, this creates a different picture. And if you can read your dog's body language well enough to see they are having a good time, have at it. But those memes about dogs and heat are true. The advice that not all dogs like other dogs are true. And some dogs don't like crowds. Some don't like loud noises (my small town is full of motorcycles on the weekends and we have a historic steam train that's pretty noisy). And just like some of us are introverts, so are our dogs. Our good time is not necessarily theirs.

And that's okay.

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