|The less you have...|
Those of us that know better than to feed our dogs food that's main ingredient consists of grains and/or some sort of meat meal, know better than to use flea collars or cheap flea prevention, know better than to leave our dogs intact, know better than to let our dogs run loose and so on...we owe it to those who don't know better to have a bigger heart.
The next time you see someone dragging their dog along with a choke chain, fight the urge to spout the first thing that comes to mind. Remember that they probably didn't get a dog with the intention of hurting it. So what's a good way to let this person know that what they're doing isn't good for their dog? Well, you can start by approaching in a friendly manner and asking about their dog, maybe something like, "Looks like he/she is giving you a hard time!" Try to keep the conversation friendly - compliment their dog's appearance, ask how long they've had him/her and so on. To get to the topic of the choke chain, you could mention (even if it isn't true) how hard a time you had getting your own dog to learn to walk on the leash properly. Hopefully, they'll be interested and ask what you used, but you can go ahead and offer the info if they don't.
"I really had a hard time getting my dog to walk on a leash politely. I tried a lot of different stuff, but I found a __________ worked best for me and my dog. It took some practice, but now we don't have any problems!"
Part with a "Good luck!" or a "Nice to meet you and your dog!" and go your merry way. You have officially planted a seed that will hopefully germinate into a healthy plant. You should try to avoid getting into a debate with the person, as that doesn't do any good.
What about dog food? Refer people to www.dogfoodadvisor.com so they can see for themselves what's in the food they are buying and what's good/bad about it. I'd feed my dogs Taste of the Wild if I could afford it, but they have to be satisfied with a dog food that is one star less - Diamond Naturals Large Breed Puppy with no wheat, corn or soy. Some people feed their dogs human food because that's all they can afford or they don't know any better. That is terrible for the dog's health...but go back to the basics...that person loves that dog and that's how they show it.
The best testimony is living by example. When people compliment your dog's shiny coat, say thank you and maybe reference the food you feed your dog.
"Your dog has such a pretty coat!"
"Thanks, I feed him/her _________ and I've really seen results in his/her coat!"
Maybe your dog is very well behaved (unlike mine, lol). People do notice well-behaved dogs and usually make a point of saying something about it. That's an excellent opportunity to gush about the trainer you used or the methods you use at home. Don't just settle with a "thanks he/she is so smart" reply. Dogs are like kids - they aren't born knowing how to behave in this world!
Tired of a neighborhood dog showing up on your doorstep because they let him/her run free? Return the dog to his/her home and maybe ask if they'd like to borrow your tie out (I recommend keeping one handy) or runner because they almost got hit by a car in front of your house.
Always remember that honey attracts bees or flies or something like that...so be sweet! If you come across as condescending or judgmental, people will automatically go on the defensive, and your words will fall on deaf ears, however meaningful they might have been.
What can you do to further your reach and impact on current and potential dog owners? Broaden your horizons beyond social networking. Read read READ! The more you read, the more you know, and you always need to have a wealth of information handy so you can answer those tough questions that come your way.
1. Love isn't breed-specific. When someone asks you about a particular dog breed, remind them of this most basic fact. Every dog is an individual and should be treated as such.
2. Cheap doesn't equal better. Discount dog food, flea prevention, etc. may sound good on the surface (and to the wallet), but cutting corners on the basics of dog health can (and will) lead to expensive vet bills later on. You can always give an opinion, but the best thing you can do is offer references. For example, you could say, "Well, I use this for my dogs, but you should research what is best for your dog. I just worry about these cheaper items because I know they have to cut corners to make it that cheap, and I don't want those expensive vet bills later, if you know what I mean!"
3. Dogs need doctors, not internet Q&A. Bare basics: dogs need a yearly exam with rabies and booster shots, along with a monthly heartworm preventative and tick/flea prevention. When someone starts asking for medical advice for their dog, try to convince them to talk to a vet. You wouldn't want to give them advice that could harm their dog!
4. Dogs need exercise. Even if they have a "large yard," dogs need play time for exercise and mental stimulation. If someone mentions their dog tearing their yard up by digging or chewing up everything in sight, you could offer some old toys of your dogs for them to chew on. Also mention that tossing the ball around or going for a walk really helped with your dog's boredom level.
5. Dog food. The best reference I've had for people is www.dogfoodadvisor.com. It allows people to research the dog food they are using on their own and make their own informed decisions. Remember, you're here to plant seeds, not preach.
6. Dogs need a safe place to sleep. If a dog sleeps outside, he/she needs shelter like a good dog house or barn. They need heat in the winter and a way to keep cool in the summer. If he/she sleeps inside, well...he/she is probably on the couch! The dog would still need a blanket or bed of their own, though!
7. Dogs need clean water. You'd be surprised by the amount of people that think it's okay to let their dog drink out of an algae or otherwise infested bowl or tub. Fresh, clean water is a must!
8. Spay/neuter. This is a touchy subject for some people, but it's very important in animal welfare. With rising shelter populations and increasing health concerns for dogs everywhere, it's important to educate the public about spay/neuter. Try to be friendly about it...and always show the positive side of it! Remember, plant a seed!
9. Grooming basics. Know the different grooming tools and basic requirements for different coats and size dogs. Not all human shampoo is bad for dogs! Anti-dandruff shampoos like Head and Shoulders is actually great for dogs with dandruff issues. Dogs aren't like people - they can't shower every day and not suffer. Wipes are a great thing to keep on hand for the little messes and to keep them smelling fresh!
10. ID and a way to stay home. A free-roaming dog is NOT a safe dog. Tie-outs and runners aren't preferred methods of keeping a dog at home, but it's at least better than letting your dog roam free...just make sure he/she still gets plenty of time, attention and exercise. ID tags and collars are a MUST for any dog owner, and microchips are even better!
Always remember, the root of dog ownership is a love for dogs. If you can connect with a person on this most basic level, you can plant a seed that can grow into a responsible and thoughtful dog owner!