Doggone it! Who let the dogs in?



Our four-legged friends have been dogging the headlines of late: a sign of how the status of canines has changed. No longer confined to a kennel in the yard, dogs have wagged their way into our homes and our hearts and the passing of a pet can be akin to the loss of a family member.

The death of President Michael’s D’s beloved Bernese Mountain dog Brod got column inches with pictures in the leading Sunday papers. Brod and companion Bernese Misneach became celebrities with their own social media accounts and a key role in welcoming visitors to the Aras.

Dogs get a looking in on mourning too, at TV personality Paul O’Grady’s funeral in Kent, when dogs from the Battersea Cats and Dogs Home, for which O’Grady was an ambassador, formed a guard of honour.

There was mourning of a different kind when listeners called in to Live Line to protest over the fact that in some instances pets are not allowed in council or privately rented property. Faced with a choice between property and petlessness in several cases, families turned down places on offer, despite the housing crisis, rather than live without their pooches.

Treating dogs like family members has led to a whole industry for pampered pets. One pet insurance company reckoned that Ireland’s half a million or so dogs cost their owners about €1,250 a year on average.  Pet shops are awash with comfy dog beds, doggie treats and toys, never mind all the bags of kibble and canned foods and, increasingly, clothing for dogs, even including, I kid you not, dry robes.

In addition to dog grooming parlours and kennels services, there are now dog sitting firms like House My Dog and then there’s doggie portraiture. There are dog whisperers, special pet cemeteries like Heavenly Haven and dog schools which are as much about training owners rather than their four-legged friends.

One side effect of all the care and attention is that dogs are now living longer than before, as well as being treated for conditions normally associated with humans like ulcers or depression there is an increase in canine dementia. The rise in petiquette means that dogs get in on the act on all kinds of occasions, especially, it seems, at weddings, leading to some unexpected headlines as in Dog Wolfs Down Wedding Cake, Swallows Ring or The Dog Ate My Wedding Album.

One acquaintance of mine refers to her pair of poodles as her children. Is considering dogs as furry babies taking things a step too far and how does this humanisation affect dogs and what does it say about us? Animal psychologists view this kind of anthropomorphising as a mistaken idea where people attribute human needs and emotions to dogs and treat them accordingly in a misguided attempt to understand and get closer to their pets.

The trouble with this approach is that it ignores the dogs’ needs and doesn’t allow them behave like dogs. It can lead to behavioural problems in dogs like aggression when they don’t get their own way, like separation anxiety when owners are absent and fear or fighting with other dogs where they aren’t socialised.

Aside from humans’ tendency to bark up the wrong tree, dog ownership has lots of pawsitive effects on owners.  The catalogue of health benefits (maybe that should be dogaloge as cats are only half as popular as pets) includes lower blood pressure, less loneliness and stress and longer life expectancy. Dog owners are more likely to go walking and due to better exercise routines have lower body mass index (BMI). Could having a dog be better than popping a pill?

If what happened during the pandemic is any indication, many more people would like to have dogs given the right conditions, working from home (WFH) led to a boom in pet ownership. Sadly, the return to office and school brought a return of dogs to shelters for rehoming with pets that were ill-prepared to left home alone, bone idle and as their owners realised that dogs need  to be given more exercise and stimulation than they could manage.

My take on dogs? They have been around us humans for somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000, years long before cattle were domesticated and they are wise to our ways. Treated right they are the most faithful companions and having had the pleasure of the company of a succession of canine companions I miss having one now.

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