Does Your Dog Enjoy Public Events, or Would They Rather Stay Home?
Last month I discussed how each dog has its own need for personal space and that the size of the space can vary depending on the environment and many other factors [Respecting Personal Space & How to Interact with a Dog, DEDN AUG2023]. I also explained that people, through ignorance or arrogance, will often violate a dog's space, causing our dog to become afraid, angry, or hyper-excited. The more strangers in your dog’s environment, the greater chance this could happen.
Now it’s September—that time of year for various walks to benefit one non-profit cause or another. Several of you will undoubtedly participate, running or walking and doing your part to help others. Thank you!
Some of you with dogs will even bring your dogs to this mass gathering of humanity and semi-organized chaos. Based on my many years of experience at these events, many of your dogs will proclaim in various ways, “Why didn’t you let me stay home!”
Please recognize that all the people, the frenetic activity, and the tight spaces may be just as stressful to your dog as a thunderstorm or fireworks. If your dog easily gets anxious or is typically shy, please, for the dog’s sake, let it stay home. I had one dog that loved these events and another that immediately made it clear she wanted to go home. In that case, we immediately returned home. Sadly, I have seen so many unhappy dogs at these walks that I no longer enjoy participating in the event. I chose to support the organization by just mailing them my donation.
Dogs enjoying these events will let you know with their body language. If their body is loose and wiggly, their ears are in a neutral position, and their tongue is lolling out of their mouth, they are happy to be there. You can see some examples of relaxed and comfortable dogs in this graphic.
However, understand that the behavior of any individual organism can be affected by every other organism in the environment. At these events, there may be the potential for your dog to be exposed to hundreds of people and hundreds of other dogs. Thus, the happy, content dog can become upset very quickly. If your dog exhibits “Stay Away” signals, as shown in the graphic, please consider taking your dog home.
Dogs under extreme stress will typically be very reactive, lunging, barking, and growling to keep a threat away. These dogs should not be brought to public events as they threaten public safety and have a higher probability of biting due to their high level of arousal. These dogs are experiencing severe emotional trauma and keeping them home for their mental health is equally important.
People often think their dog is “ok” or “fine” because it is not offering any behavior. These dogs are so terrified they appear as if they are frozen. They are motionless, avoiding eye contact and interaction with everyone and everything. If you see your dog frozen like this, please take it home.
If your dog frequently shows signs of extreme stress, I encourage you to speak to your veterinarian as soon as possible. You may also want to consult a veterinary behaviorist or an accredited Professional Canine Behavior Consultant.
Don Hanson lives in Bangor, Maine, where he isthe co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) and the founder of ForceFreePets.com, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. He is a Professional Canine Behavior Consultant (PCBC-A) accredited by the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB)and a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP). Don is a member of thePet Professional Guild (PPG), where he serves on the Board of Directors and Steering Committee and chairs the Advocacy Committee. He is also a founding director of Pet Advocacy International (PIAI). In addition, Don produces and co-hosts The Woof Meow Showpodcast,available at http://bit.ly/WfMwPodcasts/,the Apple Podcast app, and Don's blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.