There’s no better time than Love Your Pet Day to acknowledge that our dogs aren't just dogs. To pawrents in THE PACK community, dogs are members of our family, as deserving of love, spoiling and attention as our two-legged children. But when does treating our fur babies like, well, babies go too far? Is there a point where this can become harmful for our dogs?
After all, our dogs are not small furry humans: they have species-specific needs that can be stifled when we force them into 'cute' outfits or breed them to look like flat-faced, wide-eyed infants. When we humanise our dogs, we risk undervaluing, suppressing or misrepresenting their non-human qualities: those wonderful doggy behaviours and needs that make our four-legged companions so special.
Consider why you’re dressing up your dog: is it for you or them?
Who remembers actress Tori Spelling’s Pug, Mimi la Rue, one of the first dogfluencers? An article in the LA Times described Mimi’s personal wardrobe, filled with satin dresses, bathing suits and, “for casual days”, t-shirts. Spelling said, “When she dresses up, she looks like a little man in drag… When she’s in this frilly pink dress, she looks like Bette Davis in ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?’”
What’s wrong with letting Mimi look like… a dog? In press photos, under the cute capes and frilly dresses, Mimi’s body language suggests deep discomfort, ears pinned back and ‘whale eyes’ staring wildly at the camera lens. There’s a big difference between dressing your short-haired dog up in a winter coat or jumper to keep them warm and dressing them up in an uncomfortable outfit to look ‘cute’ or ‘funny’, at the expense of their wellbeing. Instagram and TikTok are full of videos of dogs dressed in human-style clothes, especially around holidays like Halloween and Christmas, and they get a lot of Likes. However, when we pay attention to the anxious body language often displayed by these pups, these videos become far from funny. We need to remember that our dogs are feeling, thinking beings, not accessories for us to show off, and the best way to show our love for them is to put their needs first.
Flat-faced dogs: the breeding trend that’s harming our pups
The thing is, Mimi la Rue didn’t really look like a dog in the strictest sense. Today’s flat-faced pups like Pugs, Bull Dogs and Shih Tzus have been ‘manufactured’ by humans over many years of breeding, with the intention of making them look more like babies than traditional canines. Their snouts are dramatically shortened, their now front-facing eyes made huge in their squashed faces, their bodies and limbs shrunk so they can fit comfortably into our laps. In the early noughties, these tiny flat-faced (or ‘brachycephalic’, to use the veterinary term) canines started showing up in adverts and in the arms of celebrities and fashion designers. The explosion in popularity of these designer dogs led breeders to create more and more extreme versions and, today, we’re seeing dire health consequences: from lifelong respiratory, eye and skin problems to a reduced lifespan compared with longer-faced breeds.
Brachycephalic dogs tend to gain weight fast and their shortened airways mean they often find it hard to breath (leading to the British Veterinary Association’s anti-brachy campaign #breedtobreathe). Because of the disproportionately large size of their heads, they can’t give birth vaginally and require caesarean sections, a serious operation for a dog, especially when the breed has additional risk factors under anaesthesia. Every summer, there are thousands of reports of flat-faced dogs unable to regulate their body temperature and tragically dying from heatstroke. It’s not just Pugs and Frenchies – we’ve bred Cavalier King Charles Spaniels with heads too tiny to properly accommodate their brains, causing neurological disorders and eyes that bulge from their skulls. We’ve created Dachshunds so long and short that their legs and arms can’t support their spines. The list goes on: dogs irresponsibly bred to look as cute and loveable as human babies, when in fact we’re doing the opposite of loving these dogs.
Of course, these dog breeds are also loved by their pawrents for better reasons than looking ‘cute’: they’re often extremely affectionate, loving and child friendly. Lap dogs are also ideal pets for people who aren’t physically mobile enough to take their dogs on long walks and they fit well into an urban lifestyle. We get it: here at THE PACK, we share (or have shared) our homes with Pugs, Shih Tzus, Cavapoos and Cavaliers! But if you do have your heart set on a flat-faced breed, consider adopting first, thus avoiding encouraging breeders to create more of these dogs. Charities like Wild At Heart Foundation and Silver Fox Dog Rescue often have so-called ‘designer’ breeds looking for homes, frequently rescued from illegal breeders or puppy farms, or taken into care after a pawrent passed away. If you are buying a puppy, make sure your breeder is a responsible one, the dog’s parents exhibiting less extreme features and demonstrating clean health records. Remember that as a puppy buyer, your choice affects not only the health of the single puppy you purchase, but also the health of the entire breed. Choosing a dog who looks more like a dog will encourage breeders to create healthier genetic lines into the future, reversing a trend that’s hurting our hounds. The power is in your hands!
Remember that you and your dog like different things – and that’s fine!
Sometimes it can be tempting to stop your dog from doing things that come naturally to them: rolling in the mud, or even worse, in fox poo; eating something stinky on a walk; or barking loudly at squirrels. These things cause us inconvenience: we have to bathe them, clean their teeth (or put up with their breath!) or endure the judgement of strangers as they stroll past with their quieter companions. Equally, sometimes we do things with our dogs that we think are kind but aren’t actually in their best interests: putting them in a pram instead of walking them or feeding inappropriate human food, like sugary cake, that causes obesity. We need to consider what our dog really enjoys, not what we think they should enjoy or what causes us least hassle.
Fur baby or miniature wolf – which is it?
Pet food and accessory manufacturers have quite a confused attitude towards our furry best friends. On the one hand, they sell us ‘Pawsecco’, dog booties, carry totes, and dog beds shaped like castles - but on the other they insist that our dogs are still fierce, carnivorous ‘mini wolves’, a stereotype as inaccurate as the idea that they’re human babies. Dogs were domesticated and tamed thousands of years ago; their genetics have evolved so that they can adapt easily to human companionship and even digest the starches in a plant-based diet. Dogs are no longer aggressive predators and nor are they tiny humans. They are dogs and we need to make it our job to understand what that means, rather than projecting our own ideal onto them.
So, this year, why not celebrate Love Your Pet Day by celebrating the dogginess of your dog? Show how much you love them by letting them run loudly after those squirrels and romp in the mud, without worrying about that shampoo session later. Instead of posting a picture of your pup in a party hat, share a video of them enjoying a really good sniff in nature. Don’t give them a piece of your birthday cake; bake them some yummy peanut butter dog biscuits or scatter some treats outside for them to scavenge! All these things encourage our dogs to be dogs, and there’s no bigger act of love than that.
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