Finding Your Dog’s Comfort Zone

Just in time for Halloween
Dog wearing sunglasses

Our dogs are such accommodating creatures. They tolerate our erratic hours, cross-country moves, late meals, skipped walks, and unpredictable moods. And if all this weren’t enough, sometimes we ask them to do things that conflict with their inherent nature. For example, we take our introverted dogs to the dog park so that we can socialize, or we force our water-phobic dogs into the pool because we love to swim. When do we cross the line, asking too much of these wonderfully adaptive and forgiving creatures?

The tolerance of dogs
Some recent observations prompted this blog. The first was a day spent at a combined all breed and Pharaoh Hound specialty dog show where I was the invited speaker. As I watched the dogs compete, it was abundantly clear that some dogs downright loved the show process. They pranced around the ring, wagged furiously, showed excitement as the judge approached and clearly enjoyed being with their handlers. Watching these dogs made my heart swell a bit. I appreciated their jubilant and showy canine energy and the judges clearly felt the same — invariably, these were the dogs in the ribbons.

I also observed dogs in the show ring who were reluctant participants. Tails that should have been flagging were tucked between hind legs and I saw resigned expressions on these canine faces. They wilted a bit when the judge approached, and the only things these competitors seemed to enjoy were the intermittent treats served up by their handlers. My heart sank a bit watching them. I suspect that, for these dogs, their above average conformation was a curse rather than a blessing.

Another observation that provided blog fodder came in the form of a photo I happened upon while sorting through my computer files. The photo features my own two dogs, Nellie and Quinn sitting in a helicopter. I purposefully positioned the pose, leaving the two of them with a double dose of, “Stay!” The expressions on their faces tell exactly how they are feeling about the experience. Yuck! When I rediscovered this photo, I asked myself, “What in the world was I thinking?”

What is reasonable to ask for from your dog?
Dogs tolerate so much based on the needs of their humans. Apart from sleeping, most get to participate in their favorite activities likely no more than an hour or so every day, if that. How then, can we turn around and ask them to do something they really don’t enjoy?

My dogs have, for the most part, taught me well. They don’t enjoy the dog park, so we don’t go there. They love hiking, and we do this together almost every day. Quinn is a canine Mikhail Baryshnikov, yet he told me, “No thank you” when I introduced him to agility. Nellie would rather be re-neutered than wear a Halloween costume.

Costuming dogs for Halloween
Speaking of Halloween, before costuming your best buddy, I hope you will consider his or her degree of affinity or aversion to dressing for the occasion. Perhaps you’ve created the greatest canine costume ever — a slam-dunk contest winner. Perhaps the Facebook posting of your dog in costume will undoubtedly score lots of “likes.” Or, maybe, just maybe, you will look back on the photos a year from now, note your dog’s expression and body language, and wonder to yourself, “What in the world was I thinking?”

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Reviewed on: 
Tuesday, October 28, 2014