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Your Dog Is Not An Accessory

Your dog is a sentient being.

According to Google, sentient means "able to perceive or feel things."

If you have ever loved a dog, you know this to be true.

I was recently away on vacation during which we visited various state and national parks. I loved seeing the natural beauty and all of the different people who come from all over to visit these places. But because of my line of work (or maybe just because animals are my favorite people), I always notice the dogs first.

Over the years I've learned that everything I ever thought I knew about dogs was wrong in one way or another. For example, I know not to go sticking my hand in dog's faces for them to smell me. I know not to touch a dog without explicit consent from the dog. I know a wagging tail doesn't always equal a happy dog. And I've learned that going up to someone and asking if I can pet their dog is not unlike me walking up to a person and asking if I can touch their small child. Creepy, right? So creepy.

What I'm trying to say is that I noticed the dogs on this trip but I didn't interact with them or ask to pet them. I was content to simply watch them experience Acadia National Park in Maine and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Mackinac Island and Tahquamenon Falls in Michigan. I'm always curious to see what dogs think are the interesting parts of these kinds of places.

But I learned that to truly experience one of these places as a dog is to be dragged around by the neck or harness, in the heat of summer, all day long. There aren't breaks for you when you want a break, whether it's to cool off or smell something interesting. There's pretty much no consent for anything at all whether it's which path to take or who touches you and when. As a dog, your options seem to be limited to either follow and march with your humans like a good soldier or be dragged along against your will.

It made me really sad.

When I saw dogs with e-collars and prong collars (which was most of them) it made me disappointed, too. Not only do these dogs get dragged around to all these cool places all day (which they're mostly forbidden from investigating), but they're being physically hurt, too. Then that makes me sad for the owners because I wonder who advised them to use these inhumane tools. Was it a popular TV show? A YouTube or TikTok "trainer"? Someone who touts themself as a professional trainer yet holds no certifications from credible organizations?

I'm pretty positive that these dog owners didn't intend to hurt and frustrate their dogs. In fact, I bet most (if not all) of those dogs are truly loved, spoiled and cared for by their humans. But the humans seemed simply unaware of the fact that their dogs have feelings too (and necks as sensitive as our own).

This isn't necessarily anyone's fault. It's the way our culture has functioned for generations. Modern, humane, and ethical dog training has been slow to catch on for many reasons (though it's catching on faster with the dawn of social media). But just because we can manhandle our dogs, and force them to do things they aren't comfortable with, doesn't mean we should. I mean, we're supposed to be the smarter species aren't we?

One particularly disturbing situation that I witnessed was a dog being repeatedly shocked because its e-collar was malfunctioning on the ferry boat. The dog kept crying out in pain and the humans couldn't understand what was wrong. After about 4 zaps, they finally figured out what was happening. The dog was terrified to be on the ferry to begin with and I'm sure the physical pain didn't help. This family also had a young child with them and I couldn't help but wonder if they'd ever considered putting an e-collar on their child's neck during a visit to the pediatrician for shots (my attempt at a human equivalent for the ferry ride to the dog).

Think about this: After you've made the arrangements, paid for and traveled to Disney World with your child, would you then walk around the park dragging them along by the hand and telling them they can't do anything? They can't ride the rides. They can't see the shows. They can't visit with the characters. They can't window shop at the stores.

No! We wouldn't do that because the whole point of the trip is for the child to have fun! Yet we do it to our dogs all the time. We take them to these awesome places and we don't let them have their fun.

Going to new places can be like Disney World to your dog. In fact, simply going for a walk around your neighborhood can be like Disney World to your dog. There are SO MANY cool and interesting things to see, smell and investigate outside! But humans are utterly unaware of most of them (or we take them for granted). Our noses can't pick up on the same things our dogs' noses can. And that world of smells? It's Disney World to your dog. Please don't drag them through the park without letting them go on the rides or visit with the characters.

All I know is that the majority of these dogs that I saw were simply accessories. Those dogs were there because their people were there. Those people were not there because they wanted to provide their dog with a once in a lifetime experience. The dogs were just there. Like a backpack. Or a purse. Going wherever the humans dictated they go. What a drag (pun intended).

If you've read this blog, will you please be an advocate for change with me? I desperately want to make this world a better place for our dogs but I can't do it alone.

Will you leave your dog at home if you don't have the time or energy to let him/her explore the places you go? Or if it's too hot? Or will be too overstimulating, noisy, crowded, etc.? Will you treat your dog with the same respect you would a child or elderly person? If they don't want to go somewhere or be somewhere, please listen to them and adjust your plans. Or if they're just going to be a bother and get in the way of your enjoyment, please adjust your plans so they don't have to be dragged around all day like an accessory.

Choose to stop and smell the roses or the tall grass with your dog (metaphorically speaking of course). Take a few deep breaths and be present in the moment. Watch how much your dog enjoys being a curious dog. I assure you, it can restore your soul.

Our dogs give us so much. I don't think giving them some control over their experiences is asking too much. Do you?

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