Adventures are always better with the dogs, whatever the temperament. However, it’s important to ensure that the ‘adventures’ you have together are suitable for your dog. Modern day expectations include a boom of dog friendly places, but what happens if your dog doesn’t like visitng these places?
We’ve invited Nelly and her dog Penny (@pennymovestoyorkshire) to share their experiences of living the modern day lifestyle with a reactive dog, and what to think about before visiting a dog friendly place. Take it away Nel!
The debate of the moment is whether there are more reactive and bite risk dogs than ever before?
If so is it lockdown to blame, bad breeding or a change in training styles? Alternatively, maybe the dogs haven’t changed that much, maybe our expectations have. Life for a dog in 2022 is very different to the life of a dog in 2010. In only 2 generations we are asking far more from our dogs than genetics can keep up with.
In 2010 there were 9.4 million pet dogs living in the UK. I had a family dog back then, a 4 year old labradoodle. Thinking back to our families lifestyle with him, I can count on one hand the times he came on days out to pubs and cafés. This is because it wasn’t the norm. It was rare to see a dog in a town centre café. Our days with him were spent walking or enjoying time together in the garden instead of the high street.
In 2022 12.5 million pet dogs are estimated to live in the UK. This is an increase of 3.1 million. I have my own dog now, a 6 year old springador.
She has come on days out to pubs and cafes about 50 times but only enjoyed a handful. Why did I put her through that even though she gave me every indication she wasn’t enjoying it?
Because this is the lifestyle we think we should give our dogs. I wanted to ‘fit in’ to this. Everyday my social media is full of dogs in cafes, pubs, shops or at festivals. This is the new ‘normal’ for our dogs.
However, there is a problem with this new level of expectation. In only 2 generations we expect our dogs to be better suited to busier and nosier environments. We expect their temperaments to accept the level of sociability that comes with those environments from both humans and other dogs.
Reactive dogs run in the family!
Our dogs are still pretty identical to their grandparents genetically. However, the environments they are exposed to are different. This is causing the rise of dog reactivity.
Genetics play a huge part in behaviour. In a paper published in 2018 on the temperament of working dogs it was stated that working dog breeding programmes have ‘approximately 50% success rate in achieving a qualified working dog in relation to efforts to improve temperament and health issues of dogs over several decades’
Only a 50% success rate even with rigorous multi generation cherry picking of suitable candidates for breeding. That means even under the strictest of guidance only 50% of dogs bred in those circumstances were able to adequately deal with environments. This includes coffee shops, restaurants, schools, workplaces and every other environment they need to be able to work in.
Consider our modern expectations for pet dogs. The environments we expect dogs to fit into are completely different. Going to shops cafes, restaurants and offices may be similar. However, our pet dogs won’t have had the starting benefit of perfectly health and temperament tested parents.
When I first realised my girl couldn’t handle the modern expectations of cafes, pubs, and dog festivals I felt frustrated. I’d go to these places with friends and see other dogs and think, why is mine not like this? Why can’t she be here?
At first I felt frustration at myself for feeling unskilled at handling her. Then, frustration at her for her fears and stress. Finally, I felt frustration at others because these places would be great for us if others weren’t there (I realise that last one is entirely irrational).
Then I stopped and started looking, at first for clues on how to help my dog in these environments but that’s when I started hearing the other dogs around, the excessive panting, the tails between legs, the wide eyes, the pacing, the barking and I realised, so many of these dogs also didn’t want to be here.
The heartbreaking part of these modern expectations is where it sees dogs end up. In my spare time I volunteer for the charity Spaniel Aid UK as a member of the relinquishment team. Within the first 6 months of this year our breed specific charity has seen over 550 requests to surrender dogs. There are many reasons people reach the decision of surrender to a charity. However, one is rapidly increasing: ‘They don’t fit in with my lifestyle’.
Reactive dogs are being given up because they aren’t coffee shop or pub dogs. They don’t want to be at a toddlers birthday party or spend a day shopping on the high street. These expectations break my heart. These dogs would have been perfect companions 10 years ago.
Instead, these reactive dogs are finding their time cut short in their family homes. Simply because they are being asked to do things way outside of their genetic capability because of societal expectations.
It’s lovely that the modern world allows us to have our canine companions with us more. However, most dogs don’t want to do the things we want to do. Places are set up for them to fail.
A dog friendly sign and some biscuits on a till point isn’t enough to help our dogs feel comfortable. If your dog genuinely loves being with you 24/7 and visiting these places with you, you’ve won the genetic temperament lottery and this is not about you, keep doing what you and your dog love!
However, if your dog gets stressed, frustrated and reactive, it isn’t you and it isn’t your dog being difficult. They aren’t bred for the coffee shop, no amount of training will make it enjoyable for them. It might help them tolerate it but it’s unlikely they will love it.
This doesn’t mean they don’t want to spend time with you. They just want to do it in a way that works for them and their genetic needs. This means that you may need to adjust your expectations on dog ownership.
Many businesses advertise as dog friendly. Unfortunately, a sign and a jar of treats isn’t enough to help many dogs feel comfortable in public. So are we truly seeing a rise in dog friendly businesses? Or are we seeing an increase in places that accept friendly dogs?
Dog sociability is a spectrum. Most sit somewhere in the middle, tolerant of some people and dogs, sociable with others and unfriendly with the rest.
Dog Friendly Business or Friendly Dog Business
Are dog friendly businesses really creating spaces for our dogs or are they just welcoming friendly dogs to human spaces? The rest of this blog includes a few of my thoughts about what sets apart a dog friendly business from a friendly dog business.
A true dog friendly business is a place that respects all dogs boundaries. Somewhere that understands the stress a new place can cause a dog.
A big indicator of whether a place is dog friendly is how staff greet your dog. Do they go straight in for a fuss or a talk? If so the business is likely after friendly dogs. A business focused on a dogs well-being prioritises asking the owner how their dog likes to be greeted. This small step doesn’t mean staff can’t cuddle and say “hi” to the dogs that want attention. However, it does mean dogs that need longer to get used to new people and environments are granted space. This also sets the tone of how they’d like other customers to interact with the dogs onsite. If you hear it first from staff you are likely to repeat the action when there as a customer.
Dog socialisation and mingling
If I walk up to a ‘dog friendly’ location and see dogs off lead walking from table to table I leave quickly. This level of uncontrolled environment clearly states ‘we only want dogs that are super sociable here’. Just because a business accepts dogs doesn’t mean that all dogs should be socialising while there. That’s not to say there aren’t ways for businesses to set up these zones. However, a dog friendly business should be able to guarantee space away from other dogs if needed. A dog friendly business to me should be a place an owner can go with their dog. As opposed to a place for dogs to socialise.
Quiet areas or times
For many reactive dogs settling into a new place can take a bit of time. The less distractions, the easier this will be for the dog. A place that always has loud music, lots of movement and colours everywhere is a challenging environment for dogs. Only dogs who are super social and used to busy environments are likely to succeed. Small areas without music would create a truly dog friendly environment. You could even up the game with these areas and create barriers to block lines of sight. This would create ‘safe bubbles’ for those dogs that need space.
Sitting or lying still on a mat in a busy environment is not a natural behaviour for any dog. It takes work and training. Even with that reactive dogs will still find this difficult for longer than a quick coffee. So how can businesses make their environments welcoming and stimulating for longer visits from canine companions and their owners? Harnessing a dogs natural desires to sniff, lick and dig can all be good options to have available. Dog friendly herb walls for dogs to take in new smells are a great option. Any environment geared up for a dog to just sit underneath a table for hours on end is not an enriching or enjoyable dog friendly environment.
These things may seem a bit far fetched. However, I can guarantee I have experienced all three in various formats. Dog friendly places are out there, but there are fewer compared to businesses that welcome friendly dogs!
Is Your Dog Reactive?
Has this guide helped? Click here to read our top tips on etiquette when visiting dog friendly places Let us know in the comments below.
About The Author
Penny (@pennymovestoyorkshire) is a rescue Springador who came to Nelly as a short term foster from the charity Spaniel Aid.
After 3 weeks of fostering it was clear she was going nowhere and we officially adopted her. Penny is a funny, driven, beautiful and playful dog. She also happens to be territorial, aggressive and nervous/reactive of touch and interactions from new people and dogs.
Nelly and Penny share their journey together on Instagram and TikTok as they manage their lifestyle around Penny’s needs. Nelly is also a dog trainer and member of the admin team for the charity Spaniel Aid UK.