What have these to do with my dogs, I hear you ask !
Well, lots of us enjoy taking our dogs on family days out, and often we like to go to events such as those in the title. I’d like to encourage you to think about these events from your dog’s point of view.
Undoubtedly, there are many dogs who relish such days out with their human families, and we see many on the Cotswold RAW stand at events (and very welcome they are, too!). When I attend such events myself, I see many, many dogs who are very clearly not enjoying the experience at all.
Although I don’t know that particular dog anything like as well as its family do, I spend an awful lot of time watching dogs, discussing dogs with colleagues, reading and watching videos to hone my skills in interpreting body language because much of my work involves teaching these skills to people whose dogs are having problems.
I find it fascinating that the general public (not necessarily even dog owners) are very good at matching pictures of dogs with words expressing emotions and yet so many people aren’t very good at reading their own dogs.
What can happen when a dog is uncomfortable in a situation and cannot make the choice to do something else (usually because he is on his lead attached to a person whose focus is somewhere else entirely) is that the dog will try to express his discomfort in several ways, and then just shuts down. This might be described as how we feel if we use the expression “resigned to our fate” – nothing we can do will change the situation, we simply have to get on with it. Not a nice situation to be in as I’m sure you can imagine. However, there is no obvious “red flag” to say that that dog is unhappy, so people just carry on.
One of my real passions is educating people about dogs and their emotions, and so I’d like to share this information far and wide!
How do you know if your dog is happy to be at a village fete or other event?
Well, I would suggest you imagine what your dog does on a normal country walk – maybe bouncing along enthusiastically sniffing at lots of things, perhaps playing with you with a toy from time to time? Tail loosely wagging? Does he look the same at this village fete? Or does he maybe have a very tight face? A stiff body? Is he licking his lips? Does he respond to requests as normal (body positions like sit, or being asked to wait, for example)? Is he seemingly obsessively sniffing at the ground? These are all signs that he isn’t comfortable.
It’s a really good idea to learn as much as you can about dog body language – it’s their main form of communication and we humans aren’t naturally very good at reading it, but we can and should learn and practise ! There are lots of really good on-line courses, this one is excellent:
And this is an excellent book, if you prefer your learning on paper:
I would always ask myself a number of questions before considering taking my dogs with me on a day out, the main one being “if my dog isn’t happy, am I willing and able to leave the event and take my dog elsewhere?”, closely followed by “what pleasures might my dog gain from this outing?”. If we are brutally honest with ourselves, the answer is often no to the first question and very few to the second, so better for him to stay at home and you ask a friend to pop in to let your dog out and maybe take him for an enjoyable walk or games in the house or garden. Then both you and your dog can have a great day.
I made a big mistake years ago with a puppy, I took her for a day to a fair and carried her about (she was little enough to do this!) thinking I was doing a very good thing, lots of socialising. It was very, very wrong for her, she was always anxious in any busy environment for the whole of the rest of her life (17 years) so we had to avoid such places as far as possible. I now know that socialisation is about lots of short, repeated and happy experiences, not a numbers game of how many experiences can I squeeze in in a short time – think quality, not quantity – quantity can be gained over the whole of a dog’s life. Perhaps this is why I am so sensitive to the dogs I see unhappily plodding around noisy, busy events.
Please do enjoy days out with your dogs, but please think very carefully about whether your dog would pick the venue or event that you have in mind!