Updated: Jan 13
There are a lot of ways we advocate for our dogs each day without even realizing it. We provide proper housing, good nutrition, daily walks and mental stimulation in the form of toys and training. Compared to other forms of advocacy, these things seem easy and effortless. What I'm interested in exploring are the less obvious forms of advocacy, the ones that feel difficult or go against social norms.
Much like when we get around our own doctors, many of us don't feel comfortable challenging our dog's veterinarian. They are the experts after all. Sometimes a bit of pushback, however, can do a world of good in terms of our dog's stress level, as well as our own. Though many vets are moving away from this model of care, there are those out there that still practice the "take them in the back" form of examinations and procedures.
My own dog does not enjoy being taken in the back. Being separated from the one familiar person in that setting does her no good. Meanwhile, I am left behind to worry about how she's coping. I am not implying that dogs are taken to the back to be roughly manhandled and mistreated. However, many routine examinations and procedures can be done right in the exam room, in the presence of the owner.
I know it's hard to contradict any sort of medical professional. If your veterinarian isn't open to letting your dog stay in the exam room with you for routine procedures, consider finding a veterinarian more open to this idea. A good place to start is the Fear Free Directory.
Another arena in which we often have trouble speaking up is in any sort of public space. Maybe your dog isn't fond of unfamiliar people or other dogs, that doesn't mean they have to be sequestered from the rest of the world. It does mean that we all have to learn how to ask for some space on our dog's behalf. Normally our dogs ask on their own, in the form of body language, but many people are simply unaware of when a dog is in need of space.
A great example of this happened to me today. I was out running with my dog in a public park near our home. About halfway through our run we came across a gentleman with two beagles. My dog immediately focused on the beagles, hackles raised. In a gesture of friendliness, they continued toward us after I tried to get off the path so they could pass. Once it dawned on me that he was walking toward and not past us, his dogs were about three feet away from mine. At this point, I said loudly, "Oh sh*t! Don't let them get near her!" He backed off and went the other direction.
I immediately felt bad about myself after this interaction. I felt I had handled it poorly, being abrupt and rude. This desire to not be rude to others is often what keeps us from making sure our dog's space doesn't get invaded. Sometimes though, public safety has to exceed politeness. I'm sure that man would've been much more annoyed with me had I allowed something bad to happen.
Again, I know how hard this is. It can feel embarrassing to ask others to keep their distance. We all want our dogs to love strangers and other dogs. We all want to go to the dog park and stroll down Main Street without a care in the world. However, for many dogs this is not a reality. The sooner we accept this, the better off we all will be.
Note: If you would like to learn more about dog body language, Doggy Drawings by Lili Chin is a wonderful online resource. If you'd like help advocating for your own reactive dog, as well as some support for yourself, check out the DINOS program - it stands for Dogs in Need of Space!