Ensuring Our Dog’s Mental Health & Well-Being
Does Your Dog Enjoy Public Events, or Would They Rather Stay Home?
By Don Hanson, PCBC-A, BFRAP
< A version of this article was published in the September 2023 issue of Downeast Dog News>
< Updated 2023-09-01 >
I recently discussed how each dog has their own need for personal space and that the size of the space can vary depending on the environment and many other factors [Respecting Personal Space & How to Interact with a Dog]. I also explained that people, through ignorance or arrogance, will often violate a dog’s space, causing our dog to become afraid, angry, or hyper-excited. The more strangers in your dog’s environment, the greater chance this could happen.
Now it’s September—that time of year for various walks to benefit one non-profit cause or another. Several of you will undoubtedly participate, running or walking and doing your part to help others. Thank you!
Some of you with dogs will even bring your dogs to this mass gathering of humanity and semi-organized chaos. Based on my many years of experience at these events, many of your dogs will proclaim in various ways, “Why didn’t you let me stay home!“
Please recognize that all the people, the frenetic activity, and the tight spaces may be just as stressful to your dog as a thunderstorm or fireworks. If your dog easily gets anxious or is typically shy, please, for their sake, let them stay home. I had one dog who loved these events and another who immediately made it clear she wanted to go home. In that case, we returned home. Sadly, I have seen so many unhappy dogs at these walks that I no longer enjoy participating in the event. I chose to support the organization by just mailing them my donation.
Dogs enjoying these events will let you know with their body language. If their body is loose and wiggly, their ears are in a neutral position, and their tongue is lolling out of their mouth, they are happy to be there. You can see some examples of relaxed and comfortable dogs in this graphic.
However, understand that the behavior of any individual organism can be affected by every other organism in the environment. At these events, there may be the potential for your dog to be exposed to hundreds of people and hundreds of other dogs. Thus, the happy, content dog can become upset very quickly. If your dog exhibits “Stay Away” signals, as shown in the graphic, please consider taking your dog home.
Dogs under extreme stress will typically be very reactive, lunging, barking, and growling to keep a threat away. These dogs should not be brought to public events as they threaten public safety and have a higher probability of biting due to their high level of arousal. These dogs are also experiencing severe emotional trauma, and keeping them home for their mental health is in their best interest.
People often think their dog is “ok” or “fine” because they are not offering any behavior. These dogs are so terrified they appear as if they are frozen. They are motionless, avoiding eye contact and interacting with everyone and everything. If you see your dog frozen like this, please take them home.
If your dog frequently shows extreme stress, I encourage you to speak to your veterinarian immediately. You may also want to consult a veterinary behaviorist or an accredited Professional Canine Behavior Consultant.