You see someone having a tough time with his or her dog and you desperately want to help, but you don’t want to come across like a meddling know-it-all. Even though it can feel uncomfortable, giving the right advice the right way can help to ease tensions and strengthen the relationship between a pet parent and his or her dog.
Ground Rules for Advice Giving
When you’re offering advice you obviously you don’t want to trigger embarrassment—or worse yet, anger—so try to approach the other pet parent with empathy and an open mind. Often, people are making mistakes because they don’t realize that there’s a better way to get the job done, or they’re caught up in “the way things used to be,” not realizing that our understanding of how dogs learn has changed.
Try to frame your advice as a way to lessen the frustration the pet parent might be having with his or her dog, and stress the efficiency of your suggestion. You can also point out how your suggestions can make life smoother for the pair in the future. Tailor your advice so it’s about the dog and not the person. Instead of saying “You’re doing it wrong,” say something like, “Fido will probably respond really well if you try this instead.”
The following are situations where some pet parents can benefit from timely, well-phrased suggestions.
Not Socializing a Puppy
Long ago, pet parents were told to keep their puppy sequestered from the world until after completing his full series of vaccinations. However, organizations like the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior have recognized that the risks of behavioral problems stemming from missing the critical window of early socialization far outweigh the risk of communicable diseases. The organization states, “puppies can start socialization classes as early as seven to eight weeks of age. In general, they should receive a minimum of one set of vaccines at least seven days prior to the first class as well as a first deworming.”
Unfortunately, many pet parents haven’t gotten the memo and stick to the outdated no-socialization policy. The best way to encourage a pet parent to start socializing their puppy early is to frame the advice as a surprising turn of events (even though the revised policy has been in place for years). Saying something like, “Have you heard about the updated approach to socialization? Veterinary associations now say … etc.” A brief overview of the importance of socialization, and the problems that can develop if a puppy doesn’t get enough, can help illuminate the crisis nature of the situation. This allows the pet parent to fact check the information and hopefully opens the door—literally—for increased puppy socialization!
Using Choke and Prong Collars
The choke chain, also known as the correction collar or slip collar, was once the go-to equipment for dog training. Despite some advocates saying that the pinch of the metal prongs is the equivalent of a motherly correction, these collars achieve results through painfully tightening around the dog’s neck. Pet parents who still use them might not understand the true impact of training with pain, or they might believe that their dog is too big and unwieldy to be walked without this type of intervention.
You can help people that still use these types of collars that there are more dog-friendly options available. If your dog wears a no-pull harness or head collar, take a moment to show the other pet parent how it works and let them know how easy it is for both you and your dog. Explain that the tools are pain-free and work just as well. Introduce the concept of using treats to encourage their dog to walk closely. Showing the pet parent that there are other options might be enough to encourage the person to reconsider their equipment choice and methodology.
Being Overly Harsh
It’s difficult watching a fellow pet parent scold his or her dog. When someone resorts to yelling, or worse yet, hitting a dog, it’s usually because they’re dealing with an ongoing problem and the person believes that all other options have been exhausted. Or perhaps they don’t realize that alternate training solutions (that render harsh methods unnecessary) exist. This scenario requires you to approach the other person with caution. If you’re witnessing the harsh treatment it’s likely that the pet parent is feeling overwhelmed and angry. Your input might seem like criticism instead of a helpful suggestion.
Try to offer your advice as a fellow harried pet parent, acknowledging the underlying problem as a challenge you’ve faced yourself. Say something like, “My dog used to bark at other dogs too, and it drove me nuts. I’ve been using treats to help Fido refocus on me instead of the other dog, and it’s really working!” Then briefly explain the basics of the technique and how much easier your walks have been since you’ve been doing it. Focusing on the positives of the suggestion can help to take the edge off a stressful situation.
Leaving Dogs in Cars
While patience is a virtue when doling out most advice to pet parents, this scenario warrants swift action and exposure to the facts. Ask the business associated with the parking lot to make a loudspeaker announcement to find the car’s owner. Or if the dog is in imminent danger, call the police non-emergency number for assistance. Taking matters into your own hands by breaking into the car can actually make the situation worse, as the dog inside might be in distress and could negatively react to a stranger “saving” him. Also, the legal implications of breaking into a car vary by region, and you might find yourself facing criminal charges for trespassing or burglary for your act of heroism.
If you spot a dog in the car on a warm day and the owner comes back to the car quickly, let the facts speak for you. Consider printing a few free flyers from MyDogisCool.com that outline how quickly parked cars heat up (the temperature inside a parked car can rise almost 20 degrees in just 10 minutes, even if the windows are rolled down). Sharing these flyers with pet parents lets them know that people like you are watching out for their dogs.