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?”
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.”
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!