Spoil your dog? Well, it’s a life choice – with consequences

I was sitting in my office earlier today talking to a new client of mine, Cheryl, with a dog that had recently bitten both of her legs badly enough to require stitches and quite some time off work. The dog was a Labrador named Jimmy aged two. He was as wide as the average coffee table and looked as though he was about sixteen years old. Cheryl told me she knew why Jimmy bit her; it was because he was spoilt. She told me she loves Jimmy and can’t help but lavish him with cuddles and enough treats to sink a ship (my words…not hers!)

It got me thinking, thinking about spoiling our dogs. What does that mean? Well, the definition of spoil is:

  1. to damage severely or harm (something), esp. with reference to its excellence, value, usefulness, etc. The water stain spoiled the painting. Drought spoiled the corn crop.
  2. to diminish or impair the quality of; affect detrimentally: Bad weather spoiled their vacation.
  3. to impair, damage, or harm the character or nature of (someone) by unwise treatment, excessive indulgence, etc.: To spoil a child by pampering him.

So, yes Cheryl did ‘spoil’ Jimmy. A perfectly nice dog, who is lavished with attention and affection and fed at his every whim. A grossly overweight, unhappy and aggressive dog.

Cheryl meant, of course, that she gives him whatever he needs, whatever he desires. The most expensive collars, the best food, a lovely house, a new dog bed every six weeks . . .

. . . but what is it that dogs want, what is that they need and what keeps them happy and content in their life with us?

I have been thinking about this a fair bit lately. Last Sunday, an unusually hot day for this time of year, I set off on a walk with my dogs following a new circular walk of about twelve miles, (passing, of course, a gorgeous county pub on the way!) walking is a hobby of mine, something I have always done from a very young age. It’s not that I particularly enjoy walking per se, but I have always had two, four or sometimes up to seven dogs in tow and I have always realised the enjoyment that the dogs get from exercise and particularly exercising in new places. I guess that without dogs in my life, I would rather sit and watch movies all day, but dog ownership is in my view a lifestyle choice . . . a choice that I made and so I must honour. I also realise that tired dogs are good dogs.

On Sunday my dogs were hanging about watching me pack my rucksack, filled with bottled water, a few fishy treats for the dogs, a sandwich for me and of course the obligatory nappy-sacks and a map. The dogs have an uncanny (or conditioned) way of knowing when things are about to happen that involve them!

I left the congestion and bustle of London and drove to the location indicated on the map, a picturesque little village in Oxfordshire. With my best walking boots I strode off to explore. The dogs were released from their leads and immediately began sniffing the new location, relishing in spreading their scents to mark their presence.

I exchanged pleasantries with two horse riders and a jogger, but the dogs were so busy investigating the fresh smells they hardly even noticed their presence. After a steep incline and a short road walk we entered the forest, managing to observe deer in abundance before dropping down into another village and through the other side into more unspoilt countryside.

After about seven miles, I spotted a tree in the distance and decided that would be a nice place for a sandwich and a rest. Nearing the tree, I realised it was in the middle of a small stream. The sun was shining as I unpacked my lunch and poured the dogs a bowl of chilled water (of course they did not want that, they drank from the stream). The dogs went and lay in the water to cool off before relaxing on the grass watching people and their dogs walking past.

That is the moment I looked at them and saw complete happiness and relaxation. That was what life is about for them, satisfied and basking in the sunshine.

We continued the next five miles back to the car, all tired nearing the end of our walk and passing more people reading maps with their excited dogs just setting off on a walk, my dogs had managed to reserve enough energy to have a quick game with a couple of spaniels before the homeward straight. Back in the car and off home. Once at home, my working German Shepherd needed a little game with his toys before crashing out, but then we had peace for the rest of the day. A quick walk before bed later on and its all good in the pack.

So what do dogs really want, what do they need?

If we want to treat (as opposed to ‘spoil’ and ruin) our canine chums what do we need to do? Well, we don’t need the latest Versace handbag to put them in, nor do we need expensive dog beds . . . we just need to let them be dogs. Let’s not pretend they are furry children or little people, let’s respect them for the amazing creatures that they are . . . to treat a dog like a dog is the kindest thing that one can do . . . is it not?

I believe that we, as dog owners, have a duty to feed our dogs correctly (a natural, clean and species-appropriate food) to provide enough exercise to keep them in optimum physical and mental health, to make available the opportunity to play and interact with their own kind and others, to afford them with adequate mental stimulation through games, feeding regimes, interaction and training. We also need to provide leadership, rules and boundaries of behaviour. Dogs need obedience training so that they can free run with other dogs, enjoy the stimulation of new environments, people and situations.

If we don’t train and socialise our dogs, we can never allow them to experience the life that they should. To go to the city, the country, the beach, the forest, the mountains and whatever else life has to offer.

If you live in the middle of nowhere or in the centre of a city, we can still provide new environments for our dogs and as long as you do your ground work with training . . . the world is Rover’s oyster!

Whether you have a Boerboel or a Chihuahua they are dogs…they like rolling in fox poo, eating horse poo and laying in streams…of course we hate all of that, but we can overcome our human fears and responses and give them a little of what they fancy!

Dogs don’t make ‘life choices’ and decisions, we do that for them, so be fair to your loyal companions and make the right lifestyle choices for them . . . it’s not hard, value your dogs and treat them like dogs!

Edited by CCT for The Guild

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