When it comes to feeling the stress and anxiety of dogs that I pass by on the street, one of the biggest contributors might surprise you. It’s pretty common and, depending on your neighbourhood, you probably see it at least once a day. I’ll give you a hint. What do coffee shops, grocery stores and anywhere else you might want to pop in for 5 to 20 minutes have in common? Dogs tied up outside.
Most people who do this have their hearts in the right place. They might be trying to spend more time with their pooch while multi-tasking and, hey, outside is better than in, right? They might be thinking that it’s better than being at home alone, or that the benefit of the walk outweighs any temporary stress. And if their dog already struggles with anxiety, especially separation anxiety, even more reason to bring them along, right?
Oh, how I wish that were true. They’re all good thoughts, but the truth is that most dogs get really, really, anxious when tied up outside of stores…even for 2 minutes. It’s actually pretty hard for me to walk by them because the amount of stress I pick up can feel pretty overwhelming. To complicate matters, most people are completely unaware. They see their happy pup jumping excitedly upon their return and think, “See? No biggie.”
I’m convinced that if people could feel what their dogs feel while they’re waiting for them, they’d be shocked, horrified and wouldn’t do it again. Sounds dramatic, I know, but it really is that big a problem. Although not all dogs feel this way, I can only think of 2 that I’ve encountered over the last several years that were comfortable. And although not all of them make their stress obvious, most do: pinned back ears, stress panting, hunched bodies, worried eyes, furrowed brows, pacing, shivering, tight mouths (if not panting or yawning), hyper-vigilance, exaggerated yawning, licking their lips and nose, and barking. And then there are those that *look* relaxed, but are really coping by checking out mentally.
What I often pick up from dogs waiting for their people is that they feel afraid, unsafe, and incredibly vulnerable. In addition to all the noise, they know they can’t defend themselves or run away from danger if they need to. They’re not just emotionally vulnerable, but physically too. They’re at the mercy of reactive dogs passing by, not to mention people’s unwanted – and often inappropriate – attention (you’d be amazed at how many dog lovers have no idea how to approach a dog in a non-threatening way). Much worse, they’re at the mercy of whoever comes by with unkind intentions. Too many are hurt this way, and what’s even scarier is that you will have no idea that it happened. Sadly, ‘just 5 minutes’ in a busy area is more than enough time for someone to cause unnoticed harm.
Know what else they’re vulnerable to? Theft. Ever see those ads on Craigslist with dogs for sale? Some are stolen and the thieves are counting on you tethering your dog. All they need is a minute.
But let’s say that in a perfect world, no one ever physically harms your loved one (either intentionally or unintentionally). Would it then be okay to risk leaving them for a couple of minutes outside of your favourite coffee shop? No, and I’ll tell you why. All it takes is one too many well-meaning people to approach them the wrong way, or pet them a little too excitedly, or invade their personal space unintentionally (I can relate as I practically mauled every dog I ever met in childhood) to have a ripple effect that can negatively impact their sense of safety and happiness.
Here’s a common scenario: you have no idea what happened, but suddenly your once calm, well-behaved, four-legged girl is becoming progressively more reactive. Out of the blue, she starts growling at people, resource guarding or licking excessively. She’s suddenly shy when your friends come over and barks at dogs when she’s out for walks. You know she’s changed and you can’t figure out why. You’ve changed her diet, given her plenty of exercise, had her checked out at the vet, cooed sweet nothings in her ear, and nothing seems to be helping.
Of course, tethering is not always part of the problem (there are many things that could contribute to this scenario), but you’d be amazed at how often it’s a factor. Fear, stress and anxiety can change dogs the same way they can change us. When they don’t feel safe, they often ‘act out’ and adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms.
So what’s the alternative to tying them up on your daily coffee run?
There are lots of things you can do. Planning ahead is best, but life isn’t always that simple, I know. If you’ve been taking them with you because you don’t have time to take them for a long walk and get that delicious latte, try opting for a shorter walk and then leaving them at home while you’re out and about. If you want to go full gusto, skip the latte, take your pooch for a long walk and then treat yourself to something delicious when you get home.
Now your turn. What’s your alternative to tethering when life gets busy? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you.