I have to say up front that I really dislike the word “spoiled”. When it comes to kids, it’s often followed by the word “brat”. I don’t know that there’s an actual definition for “spoiled brat,” but I think we all get the picture: It’s a kid who might throw a tantrum if they don’t get the toy they want, or get to go somewhere they want, or to stay up past bedtime. It’s the result of parents over-indulging a child, or not setting and enforcing an expected code of conduct. Still, I dislike the word. Milk spoils; sentient beings do not.
Putting aside the fact that the word irks me, how would “spoiled” be defined when it comes to dogs? Years ago, when I was doing research for my book Don’t Leave Me, I came across a study that found that “spoiling activities” such as having a dog sleep in the owner’s bed do not cause separation issues. That’s good to know, but really? Spoiling activities? Unless your dog has an aggression issue, is a small dog who’s in danger of being crushed when you roll over, or may pee on your nice, clean sheets, in my opinion there’s nothing wrong with him sleeping in your bed. My training clients often look sheepish when telling me their dog is allowed in their bed or on the living room couch, as though I’m going to berate them. I don’t. If that’s your preference, fine! It’s more important that you have rules and that your dog follows them.
Are my own senior dogs spoiled because I spend tons of money on their healthy food that gets delivered once a month, or on their many supplements? Are they spoiled because I get out of bed at the crack of dawn to take them for a walk when I’d rather be sleeping? I don’t think so. To me, that falls into the category of taking the best care of them that I’m able. But what about when I’m crouched down petting Sierra as she lays there luxuriating in my touch, and I start to get up but she puts a paw on my arm and looks at me imploringly, and instead of getting back to work I stay and pet her longer? Or when my dogs, who have already gotten their afternoon snack, approach me a few hours later pleading with those big, brown eyes, using the kind of telepathy every dog owner is familiar with, and I give them an extra cookie? Am I spoiling them? Maybe. I don’t know, and honestly, I don’t care.
The kind of over-indulgence that can actually cause problems is more along the lines of there not being strong enough rules and boundaries, for example, letting a dog jump all over visitors, feeding dogs from the table, or letting a dog run loose in the streets. Those are the types of things that allow for poor behavior and can even be dangerous. The dog may get what he wants but is not getting what he really needs, which is structure and a competent leader who will keep him safe and teach acceptable behavior. This brings to mind a client I had once who allowed her dog to use her toes as tug toys because even though it was very uncomfortable, the dog enjoyed it. We’ve all heard people say things like, “She really spoils that dog.” What do you think? What constitutes spoiling dogs? Are your dogs spoiled? ______________________________________________________________ ©Nicole Wilde Books, ebooks, seminars (DVD/streaming) & more www.nicolewilde.com