There is a trend on TikTok right now where various experts are sharing “things they would never do” after some years of experience in a certain field. The “things” are all activities that would expose a person to needless risks. I’m a dog writer, not a TikTok creator, but here’s my contribution to the genre! Based on my personal experience (and access to the experience of our many contributors and readers, shared with me over the past 25 years of editing WDJ), here are the top five things I would never do with my dogs to compromise their safety and wellbeing – from choices in dog chews to behavior training classes.
Leave my dogs home alone when there is a potentially disastrous condition nearby.
It took only one conversation with an owner whose dogs were home alone and killed in a fire to teach me this important lesson; the pain in her eyes haunts me to this day.
When wildfires erupt, authorities are quick to call for mandatory evacuations and they close roads to keep people from going home to rescue their livestock or pets. While this seems barbaric to the owner frantic to get home to save their pets, the public safety officers’ mandate is to save human lives above all else. They will allow registered animal emergency evacuation teams into closed areas if they deem the situation safe enough, but this is rarely the case in the first day of any kind of disaster.
Obviously, if you’re already at work when a fire breaks out in your area – or a levee breaks and floodwaters are engulfing your neighborhood – there is not much you can do. Find out who you can contact to report the need for your animals to be rescued; there is almost always an agency that is assigned to this important task.
But if there is a fire burning within 30 miles of your home, a tornado warning in your area, or it’s hurricane season and your local river is rising, take your pets with you if you leave the house. I’ve taken my dogs to a friend’s house when I had to go to the store with a fire burning 10 miles away. Leaving them home is not a chance I will take.
If you’re leaving your dog with a pet sitter, supply them with a “go bag” in case of an emergency. We cover more about this in our blog post, “Leaving town? Make sure a “go bag” is available to your pets’ caretaker before you leave!”
Sign up for a dog training class without researching the dog trainer and observing classes first.
Monitoring training-advice Facebook groups, I’ve read many posts from people who have paid for a six-week class, only to wonder if they should quit after the first session because the instructor insists that all the participants use choke chains and/or use leash yanks. Every time I hear this, I want to ask, “How was this a surprise? Why did you not observe a class first?”
saving your pets during a natural disaster
Don’t leave your dogs (or other pets) home if there is an emergency evacuation, even if the situation seems well in hand and packing up all your pets is a huge hassle. Consider it a safety drill! Conditions can change rapidly and public safety officers might not allow you to return if the situation goes south.
I read dog trainers’ websites carefully, looking for evidence of a positive-training education and credentials. If their website gives little detail beyond years of experience and some catch-phrases (including “positive dog training”), I send an email and ask what programs they have graduated from and which training conferences or seminars they most recently attended. I want to see passion for and commitment to continuing education, because modern training is advancing every year.
I recommend observing any dog trainer you’re considering taking a class with. I’d watch the instructor teach several classes of beginning-level students, because watching an advanced class march around flawlessly will not tell you whether force and fear were used to get the dogs to that level. I’d be looking for smiles on the faces of the dog handlers and loose, relaxed body language from the dogs and puppies. If the humans look grim and the dogs look shut down, I wouldn’t sign up for even a single session, much less a six-week class. And if the dogs show up in class wearing choke chains, pinch collars, or shock collars, I know it’s not the style of training I want to pursue with my dog.
Let dogs play with other dogs while wearing collars or harnesses.
I had read warnings from people who claimed that it was unsafe to allow dogs to wear collars while playing, but until I saw for myself what could happen, I thought the warnings were overblown and unnecessarily dramatic.
I was wrong.
When wrestling or playing “bitey face” games, it’s very easy for a dog to get his or her jaw stuck in the gear worn by their playmate. Don’t think because you haven’t seen it, it won’t happen to your dog; all it takes is a single playmate who likes to grab other dogs by the collar. And when this happens, both dogs panic and freak out. It’s incredibly difficult in the resulting melee to figure out how to free both dogs, especially as they spin, roll, and scream in pain and panic.
Since we first ran an article about this potential hazard (“Don’t Wait: Prevent Collar Accidents,” December 2020), dozens of readers have shared stories about dogs who have been maimed, traumatized, and even killed by their own collars. I guarantee you that my warning is not overblown. Become familiar with dog collar safety and let your dogs “play naked.”
This is the kind of play that can transform in an instant from fun to funeral. If one dog grabs the other’s collar and then playfully rolls over on the ground, the collar can twist in his mouth, tightening and trapping his jaw. This starts choking the other dog. Both dogs will start to panic and struggle. Unless someone can cut the collar off quickly, one or both dogs can end up badly injured or even dead. This is why I don’t let dogs play with collars or harnesses on.
Give my dogs *most* rawhide chews.
I would not give my dogs any of the following dog chews: dried pigs ears, dried bones (the kind sold in pet supply stores), or most rawhide or so-called “collagen” products (same thing) sold in pet supply stores.
I am very selective when it comes to dog chew items. Dead animal parts of unknown age and unknown country-of-origin, processed with dog-knows-what chemicals? No thank you.
There are two issues here: the potential for the items to be contaminated, with either Salmonella and other food-borne pathogens or potentially toxic chemicals used in the item’s processing; and the physical danger to dogs from lacerations to the throat or intestines or impactions in the dog’s stomach or intestines.
Nothing that holds up to assertive chewing for long should be consumed in quantity. And if it doesn’t hold up to assertive chewing, it will be consumed in quantity!
I do supply my foster puppies and adolescent dogs with certain chew items (more about that in a second) for limited periods of time when I want them to entertain themselves quietly for a bit. I also will give my adult dogs a certain chew item once in a while as a treat. But daily chewing is just not necessary – and it’s a risk! Yes, it’s an enjoyable natural behavior for dogs – and the activity is fraught with dangers. There isn’t anything under the sun that dogs chew on that’s safe for all dogs; veterinarians have surgically removed hunks of anything you can name from the perforated or impacted bowels of countless dogs.
What chew items do I feel good about, under strict supervision and for limited periods of time? Absolutely nothing that dogs can consume completely or to a swallowable size in under an hour.
I will procure fresh, gigantic, raw, meaty bones for my dogs once in a while – and I take them away the moment they are small enough for my dogs to get between their molars.
For the teething puppy or adolescent who needs to learn to be content in short-term confinement, I’ll buy dried “bully sticks” (a.k.a. “pizzles” or dried cattle penises) – but only the ones that are about three feet long, and I throw them away when they get to about six or seven inches (swallowable size).
For a number of years there was a single company that manufactured rawhide chew products that I felt were safe: sourced fresh from a slaughter plant in the United States (rather than a tannery in a country that lacks standards or inspections that would protect dogs) and made into giant rolls of extraordinary thickness. The rolls were so thick that it took even my very aggressive chewer an hour to chew an inch or so of these rolls (and then I’d take it away, to save for another day). That company fell victim to COVID-era shutdowns, alas. My search goes on for a company that makes a similar dog chew, but I haven’t found it yet.
Agree to having my dog vaccinated for anything that I haven’t researched and planned for in advance.
You can’t properly research whether your dog needs a particular vaccination while at the veterinarian’s office. And while it would be lovely to be able to trust any veterinarian’s opinion that your dog would benefit from whatever vaccination they feel is missing from your dog’s chart, the fact is, sometimes veterinary professionals are just checking the boxes, especially at well-pet visits.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not an anti-vaxxer. I’m a strong proponent of making certain my dogs have the vaccines that will protect them from hazards they are likely to encounter. But neither do I want to overvaccinate. Nor do I want to vaccinate my extremely senior dog for anything; I don’t believe in messing with dogs’ immune systems late in life!
Periodically, I pay for vaccine titer tests to determine whether my dogs possess levels of antibodies for distemper and parvovirus that will provide protection against those diseases. I won’t permit them to be vaccinated for those diseases again until they are needed.
Also, I pay attention to what they might be considered “due” for! I just don’t want to be blind-sided or strong-armed over something with potentially long-term consequences for my dog’s health.
If a vet has information about something new or terrific that may benefit my dog, I say, “Great! Let me read up on that. If it seems like the safety profile is good and it’s likely to offer protection from something my dog is likely to encounter, I’ll make another appointment to come back and get that.” And I will!
We asked a number of WDJ contributors what they would NEVER do with their dogs:
I would never deliberately scare my dog by disguising or altering my appearance. My dog Clara was a feral puppy, and I was the only person in the world she trusted for a very long time. Once, I unthinkingly wore something that was unusual enough that she didn’t recognize me – and she was petrified. I was her anchor in the human world, and I was gone, with a stranger in my place. But I wouldn’t do it to a gregarious dog either. We can’t know ahead of time how much a switch like that might scare any individual dog, and fear isn’t funny. – Eileen Anderson
Eileen blogs at eileenanddogs.com and is the author of Remember Me? Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction and co-author of Puppy Socialization: What It Is and How to Do It.
I would never attach my dog to a retractable leash. That was true for Samantha and Chloe, my calm Labradors of yesteryear, and it’s especially true about my current Lab Blue Sapphire, who is twice as athletic and loves to chase anything that moves. I might as well have a raccoon or maybe a coyote on the leash! – CJ Puotinen
CJ is a long-time WDJ contributor and author of The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care and many other books.
I would never turn my dog loose in a dog park without first observing the behavior, actions, and interactions of the dogs and the humans inside the park. Obviously, dogs who don’t play well with others should not be taken to dog parks. The problem is, sometimes these dogs belong to humans who don’t understand this or just don’t care. Resource-guarding can turn ugly in a hurry if another dog doesn’t understand or respect it. Dogs with over-the-top prey drive are not fun for other dogs. And some dogs are just plain too rough. I saw a beautiful young Lab whose hind leg had been grabbed by another dog chasing him. The result? A severed Achilles’ tendon.
Observe the humans, too. People do dumb things! I saw a human thoughtlessly throw a ball such that two competing dogs went for it from opposite directions and collided face first. The result was broken teeth, lots of blood, and expensive veterinary bills. I saw a human throwing a flying disc for their own dog dangerously close to large rocks. Someone else’s dog went for the disc and crashed into a giant rock. That dog left the park on three legs.
If you see anything that looks remotely dangerous, don’t go in. And be alert if a new dog and human enter the park. Any newcomer can change the dynamic of the pack. Collect your dog and observe the new dynamic before deciding whether to stay. – Eileen Fatcheric, DVM
Dr. Fatcheric writes articles about veterinary medicine for WDJ and is a passionate and successful competitor with her dogs in agility.
I’d never make my dog uncomfortable for a laugh. This isn’t a new impulse for humans – I remember watching college guys give beer to their dog and laugh at the stumbling result – but social media has put this impulse on steroids. I cringe whenever I see a dog-themed TikTok start to trend, because all sorts of folks will jump onto the bandwagon, like “Scare your dog to see what they do.”
It only takes a quick scroll for anybody with any knowledge of dog body language to feel devastated by these “funny” videos. The dogs are totally freaked out. The human world they’ve landed in is confusing enough for dogs. It’s heartbreaking to watch the person the dog trusts most deliberately set them up to feel an intense, uncomfortable emotion like fear. – Kathy Callahan
Kathy is a dog trainer and author of 101 Rescue Puppies: One Family’s Story of Fostering Dogs, Love, and Trust.
Most of the things I would never do with my dog involve the use of force, pain, or fear. For example, I would never use a shock collar. There is no reason to shock your dog – not even the euphemistic low-level “stim” that shock-collar trainers try to convince you is not aversive. Studies confirm the position that force-free trainers have long held: Coercive methods are likely to lead to significant behavioral issues, especially aggression.
Also, I would never try to grab something from my dog’s mouth. As I tell my clients all the time – even if it’s rat poison, or your grandmother’s diamond bracelet – you’re likely to get the “something” back faster and with much less harm if you calmly ask the dog to trade rather than trying to grab the item. Offer a high-value treat in exchange! This is especially true if you have taught your dog to trade on cue in advance. – Pat Miller
Pat is a trainer, WDJ’s Training Editor, and author of many books about force-free dog training. Information about her training center and academy can be viewed at PeaceablePaws.com
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