I must admit-- I dress up my dogs. They’ve been to parties, and have earned their fair share of frequent flier miles traveling in designer handbags. And while I can say proudly that they’re quite fashionable, I’ve never mistaken them for fashion. That’s why I winced when I read Ruth La Ferla’s article “Woman’s Best Friend, or Accessory?” (New York Times, December 7, 2006).
As a dog owner and pet expert, I’m concerned about the cavalier- and I am not referring to the lovable purebred dog- attitude displayed by these pet owners when it comes to the major responsibility of owning a dog. Ladies, your dog is not the newest, Barbie doll marketed for single, 30 year-old plus woman who is in need of a social life. Your canine needs training, daily exercise, appropriate diet and canine companionship. To a dog, size and position matters, and spending too much time in a shoulder bag can interfere with development of normal social skills. And since you covet the stars, talk to Hillary Duff, she recently had this problem with her Chi Chi, Lola. Her prescription was to treat her dog like a dog. Take him out of the bag and walk him on a leash so that he knows his place.
The “nationwide trend towards smaller dogs” mentioned in La Ferla’s article is not without its own problems. Buyers’ willingness to purchase these tiny totes or toy breeds from pet stores or backyard breeders supports irresponsible breeding, resulting in increased incidences of eye, heart, liver problems and other health problems including producing more aggressive dogs. For those interested in how to care for your little dog, I refer them to my dear friend, Darlene Arden’s book, A Guide to Caring For Your Little Dog. (Howell Book House 2006). It is a good start.
La Ferla quotes Robin Bowden as saying of her dogs, “I think of them as a handbag with a heartbeat.” I had to wonder what will become of her dog when the season’s over and this particular style of “handbag” is no longer trendy. Will she shelf it for a more fashionable Rat Terrier, Lowchen or a Bich-Poo? Or maybe she will succumb to the new fashionista trend of selling her last seasons clothes on E-bay to purchase the newest, trendiest fashions. Either way, will this lonely, 40-something pet owner trade-up each season for a trendier breed model-all so she can stay in style and continue to meet new people?
Most of us dog owners, however, appreciate our dogs as more than just style. They are superb companions. It is this social aspect of dog ownership that makes them such a great fit for our lifestyle and our society—they think of us as part of their pack and we think of them as part of our family. So what if we do dress them well or dress them in matching outfits, buy them jewels, feed them gourmet food, show them off at the office on Take Your Dog to Work Day or display their pictures on our desk, and let them in our beds. We do these things because we love them and they become our family, especially for us single, upwardly mobile professionals with little time for a social life.
But herein, lies the problem. Despite all of our anthropomorphizing, dogs are not human beings. And even though they’re covered in fur, leather or lace, they’re not accessories. Unlike a fantastic pair of heels, dogs commit faux “paws”. They bark loudly when the doorbell rings. They potty on the floor at a friend's home. They cause allergic reactions for our office mates. They even, get on people’s nerves. Speak to Jim Breslin about this; he has written on the subject more than once. And although you may not be able to get over Smooshie Poo’s good manners while he sits on the chair next to you at Mercer Kitchen, the couple at the table next to you might find all the kissing less than appetizing. By the way, health ordinances in restaurants are there for a reason. And, I am sure Mercer Kitchen will thank the legally blonde pet owner for the visit from the health inspector today.
And for those of you whose manners have “gone to the dogs”, I believe it’s time for some pet etiquette. Pet etiquette is the art of understanding and behaving properly with your companion. Whether with a pet-owning neighbor, at the veterinarian’s office, or on the city streets, we, as dog owners, have to be well-mannered and model citizens. I recently wrote a book on the subject for that reason alone. The Miss Fido Manners Complete Book of Dog Etiquette will teach dog owners how to behave appropriately in all kinds of situations, making them model pet owners, a good neighbors, an excellent customers, an exceptional hosts, and a welcome guest sat the homes of friends and family. Specifically, dog owners like the ladies in this article will learn how to apply conventional manners (consideration of others, good table manners, gift-giving, being a considerate guest, getting along with co-workers) to life with your dog.
My new book is not a dog-training book. Instead, it explains why learning the right way to conduct yourself with your dog enables you to enjoy each other’s company and share more of your life with your pet. As a socially aware pet owner, this definitive guide can be used as a finishing school primer for your dog.
Please note that I will make sure the first copies of my upcoming book are autographed and sent to the badly behaved dog owners in the article including its writer, Ms. La Ferla.
Miss Fido Manners a.k.a. Charlotte Reed