My Baby, My Child, My Shadow

Recently i was doing my weekly groceries, and i was first amused but then concerned by the new packaging on a popular supermarket dog food. They now advertise in large print sentiments like “My Baby” and “My Shadow”. While i’m sure the marketing division means no harm, i’m worried by the underlying attitude that is being fed by such advertising.

my child my baby

I’ll start by being upfront in admitting that i utterly 100% adore my own dog. I often call him my “baby” and i refer to myself as “Mummy”. I hug him and kiss him all the time, and he loves the social attention. But i also exercise him, provide him with as much enrichment as i am able to, and i train him to succeed in our home. He might be my “baby”, but he is also a dog and he is treated in such a way that allows him to be the best dog he can be.

So why am i so worried about these dog food labels?

Too many dogs that i visit are suffering from very real behavioural problems that stem from them being treated like a human baby. They receive all the cuddling and love in the world, but no training or mental stimulation that is appropriate and necessary for a dog to have. They eat human food, and they follow their owners everywhere (even to the bathroom). It is in our nature as humans to love this sort of attachment to another living creature, but then we wonder why our dogs are behaving in ways we don’t like. They could be fearful of anyone new to the home, fearful of other dogs, terrified of being left home alone, and otherwise incapable of coping in our world.

My fear is that labeling popular brands of dog food in such a way is both supporting owners who treat their pets in such a manner, but also encouraging it. Wouldn’t it be great if the influential companies in the pet industry were instead promoting responsible dog ownership, nutritious feeding options, dog-friendly training options, etc. We need to help people learn how to raise their dog to be the best dog they can be, not a substitute child who will never quite cope. Prevention goes miles to avoiding common behavioural problems, and we want to help people to learn to train smart so they can love their pet – not just as their “baby”, but because they are an awesome dog!

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Little Dog Syndrome

off the leash cartoon

I saw this cartoon on one of my favourite Facebook pages, Off The Leash, and it got me thinking. Small dogs often have a bad reputation in the pet industry. We hear people describe them as dominant, spoilt, snappy, rude, uncontrolled, and a whole range of other unsavoury things. So what leads to this “little dog syndrome” that people talk about?

Look at the above cartoon, and imagine that Alexander is a Labrador or a German Shepherd. Suddenly things get a whole lot scarier, and the cartoon is much less of a joke! Small breed dogs often miss out on very important training and socialisation, simply because their size makes their behaviour less annoying or destructive. If your 30kg dog is pulling, barking, lunging, and growling on walks, that is more than just embarrassing! You get physically tired, and passers by get frightened. If you lose control of the lead, then things get quite dangerous. When your dog weighs just 5kg you might feel embarrassed, but you won’t lose control of the lead, and you might even laugh at how “tough” Alexander is trying to be.

Unfortunately for 5kg Alexander, what he is experiencing is just as real for him as for his larger doggy friends. It is just as important to figure out why your small dog is behaving a certain way, and looking for ways to help him behave differently, as it would be if your dog weighed 3-4 times as much. Often when small (or large) dogs are acting really tough and aggressive, they are actually very scared and are simply trying to increase the distance between themselves and the scary thing by going on the offensive. Most people would rather their pet not experience life as something to be scared off!

Positive reinforcement and other force-free training methods can be used with any small dog to help them to adapt and cope better in a world where everything is bigger than they are, and some extra training can really help create a happier bond between canine and human family members.