Note: Thank you to one of my readers, “KL,” for contributing this essay.
“I’m really nervous about the German Shepherd.”
I was walking with my dog at our favorite off-leash hiking area, and from about ten feet away, I heard a woman say this to her husband. Oblivious, my dog trotted along with her nose to the ground, tail waving slightly as it does when she is enjoying herself. I called to her, and we walked off in the opposite direction.
The path is constructed as a circle, so we crossed paths with these people a couple of more times. Each time, we turned around and went the other way, my dog promptly and obediently responding to my call. Each time, the woman made a nervous comment that I overheard. We weren’t doing anything wrong, but it was clear that this woman was afraid of my dog and wished we would leave the park.
This was far from the first time things like this had happened.
As my puppy grew out of the floppy-eared fuzzball stage and into that distinctive black and tan saddle pattern and pricked ears, people we met began to keep their distance. Parents started crossing the street with their kids when they saw us coming. Teenagers would call out warnings to their friends: “That German Shepherd will bite you!”
This avoidance confuses my dog from time to time. She doesn’t know she is a German Shepherd or what that means to people. I may laugh privately at someone’s overreaction if it’s comically over the top, but the reality is that some people have deeply rooted fears of this breed. The wolf-like silhouette and trademark stance are practically iconic, and they are a powerful symbol.
My dog and I are a data point. She didn’t ask for this role, but she’s a breed ambassador anytime we are out and about. We’re in good company with the responsible owners of pits, Rottweilers, and Dobermans, to name a few, and remembering what this means is important: It means some people will notice my dog, and a subset of those people will judge an entire breed by how she handles herself. It is essential that I am prepared to recognize fear and respond appropriately.
Being aware and sensitive to this requires an extra layer of alertness when we’re out in the community. It means that I can never give the impression that I am not in control. I have to uphold high standards for her public manners; behaviors that are normal at home and that would communicate playfulness or frustration may be perceived as more aggressive than the same behavior in other types of dogs. It means that my dog would ideally look friendly (luckily, she is generally outgoing). I must be a courteous handler who is aware of the presence of others and allows them their space. It might even mean altering a planned walking route in order to avoid looking like we’re following someone who seems nervous.
I’m not here to say that the kind of prejudice that comes from fears of particular breeds is a good thing, or something to enable. It exists, it’s often understandable – perhaps based in past trauma – and it doesn’t strike me as constructive to point fingers at people for feeling that way; fear isn’t rational. The best thing I can do is show my dog as a positive counterpoint. So I can’t complain about being a breed ambassador. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate that this breed I love so much can be an excellent pet and sport or working companion when appropriately socialized and trained. My dog is a pet and will never be bred, but every time she wins over someone new, I see her contributing to the future of German Shepherds as a whole.
Do you own a type of dog people tend to be afraid of? How do you work with that?
(Buckwheat flour is wheat and grain free, despite the name. It is a seed!)
[quote_center]My dogs Ace and Remy are big fans of Fruit Nibblers. Obviously I prefer to give them healthy treats whenever I can.[/quote_center]
What is the cost of Fruit Nibblers dog treats?
Fruit Nibblers are $4.99 per 4-ounce bag, and you can order online HERE.
This is a good value! There are lots of treats in each bag.
What’s unique about Fruit Nibblers?
Fruit Nibblers are grain-free, fruit-based treats made with USDA organic ingredients.
The treats contain the company’s proprietary flax, which is fortified with three Omega 3s (ALA, DHA and EPA). Fruit Nibblers also contain a proprietary fish roe that is non-GMO and 100% organic.
Pros of Fruit Nibblers dog treats:
Made with USDA organic ingredients
Affordable price – Just $4.99 per 4-ounce bag
My dogs love them!
Made in USA
All natural, no artificial ingredients
Wheat, soy, corn and dairy free (buckwheat flour is made from a seed)
Contains three Omega-3s
Too small for stuffing into Kong/puzzle toys
Not for you if you’re looking for a soft treat (these are biscuits)
Difficult to break in half
Would I buy Fruit Nibblers treats?
No. The reason is because I prefer larger treats I can stuff into Kong toys or softer treats I can rip into smaller pieces. The Fruit Nibblers are pretty small.
I would be more likely to buy some of the other brands from Pipeline Pet Products such as Droolers (soft treats) and Organicfuls (larger biscuits).
Would I recommend Fruit Nibblers to others?
I would recommend Fruit Nibblers dog treats for anyone looking for small, dry dog biscuits made with organic ingredients. The cost is also affordable. The treats are made in the USA and they are grain free.
Responsible pet ownership is defined by how you love and care for your dog or cat. It is not defined by how much money you make.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen some disappointing comments appear recently on my older posts related to spaying/neutering. These comments were not written by trolls or animal rights nutjobs. They were written by dog lovers I respect.
“I mean really, if you can’t afford to spay/neuter, you can’t afford a dog,” one of my readers wrote.
Another responded: “I agree. If you can’t afford to have the pet s/n then you can not afford to have the pet.”
The problem with this mindset is it shows both a lack of compassion for people and a lack of creativity.
Have we forgotten how to help one another?
In order to make a difference for animals, it’s important to support their caregivers.
This support can happen in all sorts of ways (donating to a low-cost spay & neuter clinic would be a start), but the very first step is to stop viewing someone as an undeserving pet owner due to not making a certain amount of money.
Rather than suggest someone is “undeserving” of her dog because the dog is not spayed, why not connect her with an organization that can help?
PAWS San Diego
In San Diego where I live, we have the PAWS program through the San Diego Humane Society.
PAWS San Diego is there to help people keep their pets by providing essential pet services to low-income families all over our county. The goal is to keep pets in their homes and out of shelters.
From the PAWS website:
Our clients include seniors, people who are chronically ill and/or disabled, veterans, members of the military, and homeless individuals. As the largest pet safety net service in San Diego, the goal of this unique program is to keep pets in their homes and out of shelters.
Compassionate, dedicated volunteers are needed to assist the PAWS program. Our volunteers assist PAWS clients in a variety of ways, including delivery of pet food and supplies to homebound clients, transportation to vet appointments for clients who are unable to get there on their own, and dog walking for homebound and hospitalized clients.
Another organization I’ve followed for a long time is Beyond Breed’s “Ruff Riders,” a grassroots project supporting pet owners in underserved neighborhoods of Brooklyn.
From its website:
Our team delivers free pet food/supplies, facilitates basic veterinary care and spay/neuter, provides transportation, and shares pet-related information with individuals who have trouble accessing and/or affording these services.
Brooklyn is the most populous borough in New York City, home to 2.5 million people and approximately 1.1 million pet dogs and cats, according to the Ruff Rider’s website.
Almost 25% of Brooklyn residents live in poverty, according to Ruff Riders. Some of the neighborhoods there do not have access to affordable pet care resources such as veterinary services, training or supplies, and 56% of Brooklynites don’t have cars.
Ruff Riders created the map below to show the “resource deserts” some pet owners are trapped in. The map shows areas with poverty compared to the areas where veterinary services are located.
The Ruff Riders project is focused on supporting the people in the communities most in need.
How arrogant to think that just because someone can’t afford to spay or neuter her dog she doesn’t deserve to have that dog.
If only life were predictable; it’s not.
Life can change in an instant for any one of us for all sorts of reasons – serious illness, natural disasters, divorce, domestic abuse, death, losing a job.
Every single one of us will run into our own version of hardship at some point, some more difficult than others.
For example, my husband and I both chose the path of self-employment a few years after college. Working for yourself has its benefits, but it also comes with financial ups and downs, especially when you’re 25 and just starting out.
Josh and I definitely had our moments where we were eating potatoes, putting $1.75 of gas in my car and wondering how we could buy a $30 bag of dog food.
But … we made it work, and we never once thought of giving up our dog or our cats.
We were lucky because we had each other, we could always pay our rent, were able to keep two vehicles and we made it beyond 2008 just fine.
Some families might make the decision to re-home their pets for whatever reason, but that is their own decision to make and they should certainly have the option of keeping their family members without judgement.
It’s rare that I would truly know the details of someone else’s circumstances.
How could I possibly judge someone while knowing so little?
If I want to support dogs and cats, it’s important to support their owners too. It’s the easiest way to keep animals out of shelters and with the families they know and love.
Do you have any examples of organizations making a difference for pet owners?
Why does my dog want me to hold his bone while he chews?
My weimaraner pup likes to shove his rawhide bone or toy into my arm so I will hold it for him while he chews. It’s both cute and rude.
Do you think it’s something a dog owner should allow?
In general, I don’t think the behavior is anything to be concerned about, but it’s sometimes hard to interpret.
Is it, God forbid, dominance? Is it for security? Or just a normal way to seek attention?
It’s hard to tell sometimes, especially if your pup is generally right in the middle as far as assertiveness goes.
Why does my dog want me to hold his bone?
Here are some possibilities:
1. To get better “leverage” while chewing. This is the case with Remy, especially while he was teething. It just seemed easier for him to chew if I held the bone or if he propped it against something.
2. It’s a way to get attention.
3. It’s a nice way to bond and receive affection, especially if the dog tries to crawl into your lap while you’re holding the bone.
4. It can also be a way to show possessiveness over the bone by keeping it away from other dogs or by keeping YOU away from the other dogs.
5. Sometimes it’s even a way to keep the bone away from YOU. For example, sometimes Remy will crawl into my lap with his bone and then put his back into my chest with the bone facing out. He’s obviously trying to prevent me from grabbing it (he runs off or snatches it if I try) so I don’t allow this behavior.
This is normal dog behavior (some dogs do it and some don’t), but just take a look at your unique dog and consider her personality and overall behavior.
For example, if she’s constantly trying to get you to hold her bone maybe she needs more exercise and interaction in general. Or maybe she just needs to learn some manners and self-control (right, Remy?). Either way, it’s a good idea to set some limits. See my post, How to teach my dog the word off.
Is your dog generally shy or fearful? She might be engaging with you in order to feel more confident, which is a good thing (within reason).
Does your dog have any issues at all with possessiveness? If so, then you want to be extra aware of her behavior. It’s great if she’s offering you the bone. It’s not so great if she’s trying to guard it from you or from the other dogs in the house.
So, as with anything it’s just good to be aware of what you’re reinforcing with your dog.
Ways to set limits for your dog around toys or bones:
1. Work on “drop” and “leave it” with your dog so you can always be in control of the toys and bones. Teach your dog that you can take away a toy at any time.
2. Rotate which toys and bones are available to your dog so “new” things are always coming from you.
3. Use a phrase like “that’s enough!” when you’re done engaging with your dog. You can use it to end games of tug or fetch or to end a training session.
4. Limit games of tug and fetch to five minutes or so.
5. Work on the basics like down and stay for overall self-control.
6. You get to decide the rules about dogs on the furniture. Your dog does not get to decide.
7. Don’t allow your dog to constantly invade your personal bubble. If he paws at you, see if you can block him with your legs or by turning your body or simply standing up and leaving.
8. Sometimes naughty puppies just need to go into their kennels for a 20-minute break. 🙂
What are your thoughts on all this?
Do you generally agree with me or do you think I’m way off?
Do you have a dog that likes to “offer” you a toy or bone?
Blogger Lindsay Stordahl Lindsay Stordahl (with her mutt Ace) is the blogger behind That Mutt.
Blogger Julia Thomson Julia Thomson (with her mutt Baxter) writes regularly for That Mutt.
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