Written by Patrick Flynn, CPDT-KA, CPACO, FFCP
It should come as no surprise that dogs are complex individuals with their own personalities and interests. From the heyday of America’s Funniest Home Videos to today’s TikToks, our furry companions have brightened our screens with their varied temperaments.
Yet, dogs are often (incorrectly) likened to their owners: dogs who look like their owners, act like their owners, and so on. More often than not, these parallels between dogs and their owners are perceived rather than reality. Many dog owners project their own identities onto their furry friends, instead of adjusting their lifestyle to mesh with the personality of their dog.
So what’s the harm? Why is it important to consider your dog’s independent identity? Here are 4 mistakes I often witness that can be harmful to a dog’s wellbeing:
#1: Projecting Your Own Likes & Dislikes
Here’s an example I see all too often: an extroverted person who loves going out to happy hours and parties assumes that their dog also enjoys these activities.
In reality, their dog may become stressed when they are around crowds of people or other dogs. As a dog owner, it’s important to be cognizant of your pup’s body language to understand when they are uncomfortable. Even though the owner loves interacting with other humans and dogs, their dog may be shy, or exhausted by the stimulation of meeting new people. This is equally important when considering whether or not to enroll your pup in a doggy daycare. Does your dog interact positively with strangers and other dogs?
Conversely, anxious dog owners tend to project their own fears and worries onto their furbaby. While there are certainly cases in which dogs and their owners are similar, it’s far more common that the dog doesn’t share the same anxieties and interests as their owner.
When deciding whether to take your dog with you somewhere, ask yourself the following questions:
- Will I enjoy this?
- Will my dog enjoy this?
- Will other people enjoy this experience with me and my dog being there?
The answer to all three questions should be yes.
#2: Dressing Your Dog Up In Costume In Public
As fun as it can be to wear matching outfits with your dog, another form of identity projection that can be harmful is dressing your pup up in clothing. Dogs communicate through sound roughly 10% of the time, smell 30% of the time, and visually through body language 60% of the time. When a dog’s body is covered by clothing, it hinders their ability to express their emotional state and puts them at a disadvantage when interacting with humans and other animals.
When a dog encounters another dog in costume, it can be disconcerting for both parties. They may smell like a dog, but they certainly don’t look like a dog. This can create a lot of confusion in the interaction. Do I eat it? Do I sniff it? Do I bark at it? Imagine if you were a human and suddenly there was a walking taco. You would be confused, too!
Being able to perceive a dog’s body language is not only important for other dogs, but humans as well. Your dog is constantly communicating with you through their physical state. Dressing your dog up in an obstructive costume may make it much more difficult to understand their body language.
#3: Enforcing Human Diets, Ethical Choices & Lifestyles On Your Dog
A rising trend in dog owners is projecting fads on their dogs. Aside from dressing dogs up around holidays, owners are also enforcing human diets, ethical choices, and lifestyles on their pups. Whether it’s adhering to gluten-free, low-carb, vegan, or vegetarian diets, it can be extremely detrimental to the dog’s health if they are not prescribed these diets by a veterinarian.
Making a personal choice to adhere to a vegan or vegetarian diet is good for you (not to mention, the planet!) but doing it for yourself is very different from doing it for your dog. By the same token, if you are gluten-free (whether medically or by choice), it may not be the best option for your dog. As humans, we have agency over how we eat, whereas our dogs are fully reliant upon us to ensure they receive the nutrients they need.
Dogs are omnivores and should be eating a well balanced diet that provides all the nutrients they need to stay healthy. Beyond that, we should respect our pups’ independence, and more likely than not, your dog probably wouldn’t opt into your particular diet. If you’re finding that your dog seems to be having issues with their diet, do not self-diagnose – always defer to your veterinarian. Your vet can help you identify dietary restrictions and guide you toward a special diet that is healthy for your dog.
#4: Forgetting That Your Dog Has Its Own Play Style
Just like humans, every dog has its own unique play style—this informs the type of dog your pup will be most compatible with for play or socialization. Do not mistake your dog’s indifference in play with a particular dog for an overall disinterest in play. Your dog just might not be compatible with the dog they are being paired with!
When scheduling social time for your dog, think about your dog’s play style—do they like to chase and wrestle? Or do they like to lounge and interact with soft touches? Pair them with a peer who plays and engages in a similar way.
Do you like every single human that you meet? Probably not! Do you want to wave, say hello, and be friends with every human you meet? No. Your dog isn’t going to want to either.
So, how can you ensure that you’re giving your dog the room to express their personality? Let them take the lead and show you what they do and don’t like. Next time you bring your dog to a patio happy hour, watch them. Do they hide under the table? Snap at passersby? Or do they seem content and calm? Dogs are incredibly expressive creatures. The best we can do as their guardians is let them be their true selves.
About The Author
Patrick Flynn, Owner
CPDT-KA, CPACO, FFCP
Patrick founded Patrick’s Pet Care in March 2012 as a dog walking company in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC. His values for operating a pet care business are based on a genuine love of animals, a commitment to do the right thing, and a personal approach to meeting the needs of all the animals and people who depend on Patrick’s Pet Care.
Patrick is a certified force-free dog trainer, certified fear-free dog groomer, and a Certified Professional Animal Care Operator (CPACO).