Like any species, dogs are not all created equal.

Yesterday, my neighbour made a passing comment to me about how he thinks I don’t ‘let’ Charlie come in the house often enough. Two things went through my mind: 1. Try stopping this dog from getting out of the house on a sunny day! (Dogs need Vitamin D too, you know) and 2. I firmly suspect that he just doesn’t like the occasional dog bark, having made comments about other neighbours’ noisy dogs. 

But, as I walked away I realised his comment bothered me. He doesn’t know anything about my life, about Charlie, or our relationship. His tone suggested I was in some way neglecting her, and to me it didn’t make any sense. I’d be more worried about someone who was keeping the dog inside the house all the time!

As I went about my day, it stayed with me. In the afternoon I stopped to chat with another neighbour who has two beautiful labradors with whom Charlie is getting acquainted. We had a good chinwag, and then came the questions: “What do you feed her?”; “She doesn’t have any recall? Really? Oh, what a shame.” “I don’t feed mine bones at all” “Have you tried raw food?”. Now, I love a good conversation about dogs but there were too many shoulds and shouldn’ts in there. Again, I walked away thinking ‘What was behind all that?’.

The truth is this — we all have our reasons for feeding our dogs what we feed them, for training or not being able to train them recall, or for occasionally spoiling them. And honestly, normally what is behind it is love. We love them, we do our best for them. Sometimes it’s not perfect. There is an avalanche of information out there about what is good or bad for dogs, same as for humans. We can do a lot of research, but still be confused. 

You know when you go to yoga class and they tell you “Eyes on your own mat”? I think it’s true in this case too, unless you see that a dog is truly being neglected or abused. But, if it’s a case of not enjoying the odd bark over the fence, or someone not adhering to your beliefs about a brand of dog food, let it go man. All of our dogs are individual characters, with their own likes, dislikes, things that upset their tummies, motivations (which isn’t always food!), and triggers. As long as we are paying attention to their cues and keeping on top of the basic dangers, vaccines, and healthy foods that don’t contain nasties, isn’t that ok?

It has become a bit like parenting — we’re all out to criticise each other until there are few supportive, empathetic conversations taking place. Those are the ones that benefit our furries. There are also compassionate ways you can approach these subjects — if you think a fellow dog owner may need advice, perhaps befriend them, build up some trust, and share books and reliable sources of information. 

I could have explained to him that Charlie is a desi dog from rural India — she is at home outside, and wild at heart. In the end, I chose not to contest his view because it has no bearing on my relationship with Charlie. We’ve been together a long time and I know all her idiosyncrasies and expressions. I do my very best to keep her on this planet as long as possible, so that she can charm the pants off all the people she meets, handing them a piece of her gentle soul. My neighbour may never see that, much to his detriment. My dog is my dog and your dog is your dog. Let’s help each other figure these things out, and not point fingers (or paws!).

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About the author

Vaila Erin is a writer, lover of animals, and a bit of a nomad. For her, life is about stories — observing yourself and others so that you can laugh, cry and entertain each other with its absurdities. Connect with her at vailaerin.com or via LinkedIn.
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