As a nation of dog lovers, there is no doubting the adoration we have for our four-legged friends. But during National Love Your Pet Month and in the run-up to Valentine’s Day, we have to ask: Can we love our Westies too much?
As National Love Your Pet Month begins, (yes, we know everyone should love their pets every month of the year!) and with Valentine’s Day around the corner, we look at the love we have for our dogs and whether it’s possible to love them too much, or in the wrong way.
Here are the love lessons we need to learn.
Love Lesson One – Do not overfeed
We’re all familiar with the big, hopeful eyes our Westies give us as we’re serving the Sunday roast. But Queen got it right when they sang that too much love can kill you. Caroline Wilkinson, Certified Animal Behaviourist (barketplace.uk) says, ‘from a practical point of view, we can over love our dogs through feeding them and it’s something that’s sadly very common.’ Whilst they may look happy scoffing their treats, obesity can lead to problems such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and even a reduced lifespan. A recent study by the University of Liverpool found overfeeding your dog can take two years off their lives. So even if it feels cruel to deny them that bit off your plate – it’s far crueller to feed them it. https://news.liverpool.ac.uk/2019/01/03/research-reveals-overweight-dogs-may-live-shorter-lives/
Love Lesson Two – Give them space
Just as we sometimes need a break from our partner or kids to recharge our batteries, so do our dogs. Caroline says, ‘we need to be mindful of the fact that if we’re bothering our dogs all day, they’re not getting the deep regenerative sleep that they need (12-14 hours.) Just as we wouldn’t want to be woken up constantly all night, our dogs don’t want to be disturbed all day.’
Love Lesson Three – Set them chores
Many of us will have grown up having set responsibilities like helping with the dishes. And there’s no harm in giving your Westies certain jobs too. An easy one that provides fantastic intellectual stimulation for them is encouraging them to work for their food, just as their ancestors would have done. Caroline explains, ‘domestic dogs are limited in the daily choices they can make. So if we can give them the experience of searching for their food in the garden or using a snuffle mat as opposed to simply handing it to them in a bowl, it gives them mental stimulation – as well as food.’ It’s a win-win.
Love Lesson Four – Create healthy boundaries
Not spoiling our dogs or letting them do whatever they want, by creating boundaries is one of the most loving things we can do. Caroline says, ‘just as when we raise human children, we need rules in place for our dogs. Not only to keep our dogs safe but also to keep us all sane.’ Boundaries can be introduced across all areas of our dog’s lives – whether it’s where they can or can’t go or how they respond when someone knocks at the door. Caroline says, ‘you may for instance want your dog to learn that when you put a blanket on your sofa, he’s allowed to sit there but not otherwise. In my experience, owners concentrate too much on what they don’t want their dog to do. I recommend training in what you do want. For example, some people train their dogs to collect a specific toy or sit in a certain place when they hear the doorbell. Instead of shouting that you don’t want them to bark, you’re showing what you do want’
Love Lesson Five– Don’t humanise them
The bond between a dog and its owner is truly magical. And the love hormones and emotions we experience work both ways – dogs are one of the few animals who experience a surge in oxytocin when they interact with humans. But it’s important to remember that no matter how much you love your dog they are still an animal. ‘The problems start when we treat our dog in a way that doesn’t respect that they’re a different species and that they communicate in a different way,’ says Caroline. ‘They may not like being put into clothing just because you think it’s cute or they might not enjoy being picked up all the time just because you want to.’
Love Lesson Six – Learn their language
They may not be able to speak to us verbally – but dogs communicate with us all the time through their bodies. Caroline says, ‘it’s very important for pet owners to understand their dogs body language. I’ve heard so many people say, “he’s happy – his tail is wagging” A wagging tail doesn’t always mean a dog is happy. And often when there are difficult situations where maybe a dog has bitten – it’s because the owners have missed a series of little signs beforehand and not heard what our dog has been trying to tell us.’ So, whether it’s noticing anxious lip licking or a happy, soft eye – show your dog you love them by listening to them.