The Dark Side Of Pampered Pets: Is Your Kindness Harming Your Dog?

Shirin Dhabhar is India’s pioneering Canine Behaviourist and Trainer. For the past 25-plus years, she has worked hard to ensure that dogs in India are trained using humane, reward-based methods. 

Many years ago, a lady came to meet me with her Chihuahua in tow. I listened intently as she proudly explained the dog’s indulgent mealtime – the dog would be carried to a special table, fitted with a special high chair; there was a napkin and tablemat embroidered with the dog’s name on it, placed on that was a silver bowl and a silver spoon! Two liveried staff stood next to the dog, one would put a spoonful of food in the dog’s mouth and the other would wipe the dog’s face!

When she completed the story, she looked at me with anticipation, expecting me to say, “How cute, how adorable, what a wonderful dog mummy you are!”

Instead, what I blurted out was – “Oh no! How cruel!”

As I explained to her that doing this would destroy the dog’s natural relationship with food, she was extremely upset.  Needless to say, she never returned for another consult. She thought I was mean.

In our world today, we treat dogs as family and whilst there is nothing wrong with that, some people take their love and supposed kindness a bit too far… to the detriment of the pooch. A lady came in with a magnificent German Shepherd – I watched as he jumped on her, tore her clothes, pulled her hair and rummaged through her bag. And she sat there slumped over, I watched aghast. After a few minutes, when I asked her why she wasn’t stopping the dog, she said, “I don’t want to hurt his feelings.” In order to avoid hurting one thick-skinned dog’s feelings, she ended up with a brat of a dog. When I told her she could say, ‘No’ and she should, she heaved a sigh of relief.

I see so many pets today who are complete ill-behaved brats, barking at people, jumping on guests, lunging on the leash and the pet parent is just watching! Their belief is that a dog should be allowed to express himself however he wants and so these dogs have zero manners! No one likes dogs that behave like brats. It’s our responsibility to teach manners and discipline to our dogs.

On the parallel note, I once had a senior Parsi gentleman visit me with his sweet little female dog. He wanted to know how to get her to be more social. Mid-way during the consult, the dog got bored and then turned around and nipped the man on the ankle. He winced and then carried on talking. For a minute I wasn’t sure whether I saw what I saw, because he didn’t react. A minute later the dog nipped him on the calf. This time I was sure about it. Again, the man winced and kept talking. Minutes later, another nip came on the other calf, and then again on the thigh and it kept happening. Finally, I told him that his dog was biting him and it’s not alright – we need to do something about the biting.

And he replied that since dogs are religious animals in the Zoroastrian religion, they should be allowed to do what they want. As he said that, the dog nipped again! And no matter what I said, he refused any help. As he left the consult, I saw the dog nipped him on his posterior, he skipped a step and he kept walking!

People often ask me if dogs have a sixth sense that humans don’t? And I always answer – Yes! And it’s called common sense! In India, the language of love is equated with food, and plump dogs are all around us. Pet parents think it’s cute to overfeed their dog and then show off how well loved the dog is. In reality, research shows that obese dogs live a shorter life. So, if you really love your dog you will try keep his weight and all the kebabs, dhansak and fried eggs he eats, under check. Just keep in mind that good intentions are not a substitute for common sense!

And speaking of things that need to be kept under check, we also need to control our naughty dogs’ behaviours. It’s not uncommon today to see dogs lunging at people in building societies, barking at delivery people, or chasing children or knocking down people on the pavement as they run around unleashed! And what do the pet parents say? Oh! He only wants to play, or don’t worry he won’t harm you (and the dog is snarling), he only barks, he doesn’t normally bite; or even worse – my dog has a right to be free in public, leashing him is cruelty!

Are we really serious about this? Are pet parents wearing blinders that don’t allow them to see how much damage their dogs are causing to neighbours, general public and often, even property? It’s such people who cause the municipality to ban dogs in public places. While kindness is undoubtedly a virtue to be cherished, it must be tempered with wisdom and discernment, especially when it comes to our canine companions.

We need to remember that being kind to our dogs isn’t just about blindly doing anything for them and loftily thinking how kind we are. It’s about understanding their needs and providing them with the right care and guidance. We’ve seen how spoiling them too much or ignoring their training can actually hurt them in the long run. So, as pet parents, let’s aim for a balanced approach – showing love and affection while also setting boundaries and making sure they get the care they need and are not a nuisance to society at large.

Shirin Dhabhar

About Shirin Dhabhar

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