Just because an event or a store or a place is pet friendly doesn’t mean you should bring your dog. Being ALLOWED to do something doesn’t mean you should. It is the season for large outdoor and indoor canine expos and fundraising events that can draw massive crowds and the season for large and rowdy gatherings. Between Canada Day and Independence Day (USA), Dogs across North America are dealing with those big booms of fireworks and potentially boisterous celebrations for the next week and while we know that the incidents of lost dogs increase during these times, I wonder if incidents of bites do as well.
My lesson of the day is inspired by an event I went to this weekend with Rio. It was a large Pet Expo that welcomed in thousands of people with their dogs. I was only there for a few hours helping a friend at her rescue’s booth but during that time I saw hundreds of dogs and their owners. There were a lot of things I saw that will inspire this blog for the next little while but I wanted to start with the biggest observation. There were so many dogs at this event who were absolutely miserable–their owners really didn’t think about their dog before bringing them.
I’m the first to admit that Rio wasn’t in love with having to be on his mat during most of the event while I walked in and out of the booth but he was more bothered by having to stay on his mat while I worked than being stressed about the event itself. He had lots of opportunities to greet some of my human friends, some of his canine friends, and a bunch of visitors and he was happy to get the attention. He liked the short bursts of time out from behind our booth but he would definitely NOT have loved to be out in the thick of things for extended periods of time.
These events really are just not for every dog and it’s important for handlers to recognize this and not set their dogs up to fail. I saw dogs who who trembling, who were heavily panting (in the A/C) and scanning, whose ears were tightly pulled back, who had pupils the size of saucers or who had whale eye, who tried to hide under tables and behind owners, dogs who were barking incessantly, dogs who were doing “tap outs” when people went to pet them (and the people just kept petting), dogs slinking across the floor, and dogs who had their jaws absolutely clamped shut with short panting moments when they couldn’t contain how hot they were. There has GOT to be some accountability and responsibility when people bring dogs to these type of events.
Before bringing Fido to an event like this, owners really need to evaluate if it the type of environment where their dog would be comfortable at and whether they want to take the time to focus on their dog during the event. Though, this is a topic for another post, so I’l move on.
This same “think before you bring” extends to other types of events as well. It is pretty well known that there is a noticeable increase in lost dogs around this time of the year because of the potentially scary environment for dogs. Dogs left outside in yards during fireworks/loud celebrations, dogs brought to fireworks events, dogs visiting unknown environments (friends or family’s home), and dogs in the presence of wild and crazy activities/people are more likely to get spooked and run (or get spooked and bite). Last year there was a dog-bite incident at a local fireworks display. The owners thought it was a fine idea to bring their rottie to a fireworks display and the dog got so stressed out that he ultimately bit a child that was seated next to him. Not only did the family make a bad decision to bring him in the first place but then didn’t pay attention to this stress level. It didn’t have to happen–had the owners considered whether or not their dog would have WANTED to go to this event in the first place they could have prevented the bite.
There are better ways to get a dog desensitized to potentially scary things than flooding them. You don’t have to take your dog to a fireworks display to get them used to that noise–you can now purchase CDs to start and go to places miles away from the blasts where you can still hear and feel the noises with out the dog getting overly stressed. You don’t have to go to the busiest dog event to get your dog used to being in crowds–how about an open park on a nice saturday to start. Until puppy Rio was comfortable with the loud train noises away from the train station, I didn’t take him on the platform but after we did some work with the train noises (and the train itself passing at a distance), he was comfortable enough to take on the train platform.
I just wish people would think about their dogs and what their dogs want and what their dogs are capable of handling with limited stress before taking them to any number of stressful places/events. Remember, dogs with increasing levels of stress are more likely to bite and more likely to panic and bolt (and stress mixed with heat can be an even more deadly combination).