If you like dogs, you love dogs. There really is no middle ground. Dogs are great. They just are. If you're not convinced, I won't try to persuade you here, I'll save that for another day.
One of the best things is how appreciative they are when you give them a treat. It's what makes treating such fun. And while we know that they love us for being kind and supportive parents, we also know (if we're being brutally honest) treating is the highway to their hearts. They'll do anything for a treat. They'll obey, they'll behave and most of all, they won't forget. Dogs are amazing at remembering every detail about the last time they snapped up a yummy treat - they remember who, they remember where and they remember what they had to do to hit that lip-smacking jackpot.
And there lies the problem because I've noticed a new trend on my daily walks. It seems that more and more of my fellow dog walkers are packing treats, but not just for their own fur babies, they're packing spares too, just in case they happen upon a pooch who looks a little peckish. On the surface this is a generous and gracious thing to do. It's lovely to feel part of the local dog walking family, to have more than a passing relationship with other dogs and their parents, I want that too, I do. Just not through food bribery.
I find myself dreading the moment I sense that someone is about to treat my dogs. The look of confused hurt on their face when I politely ask them not to, makes me feel like a dog villain - like I'm too strict, or don't love them enough - and that's not fair on me (at least in my opinion).
So, I thought I'd set out the four reasons why I don't want anyone but my immediate family offering food to my dogs. Here you go:
We're careful about what we give our dogs, for example we do our best to avoid processed foods, we think about portion sizes and we do our best to stick to routine meal times. We cook for our dogs once a week and divide the food into daily portions. We're happy to do this, we want to do this, they're part of our family so we want them to eat just as well as we do. Our dogs have become used to this kind of diet, but as with children, if they start getting a taste for 'naughty but nice' flavour enhanced treats, they may get fussy, turning their wet noses up at our healthy home cooking.
Recall and obedience
As we all know, treats are the best way to train dogs, to get them to behave themselves. If your dog starts to associate certain dog walkers with a stash of tasty treats, they'll make a bee line for them regardless of what you want them to do. In effect, that person temporarily becomes their fair-weather master. Is that fair? Many dog parents struggle with recall, what chance do we have if our dogs know there's the very real prospect of a treat from within in the bum bag of one of your neighbours? The truth is it may become increasingly difficult to command recall, especially if your dog's personality is a little 'headstrong' - if you know what I mean. If this does happen, it's truly a declaration of war. You're now forced into the back-footed position where you need to compete for your dog's attention with even more 'delicious' treats, and let's be honest, these may not necessarily be the kind of things you'd choose to give. Anyone with experience of dogs with poor recall will agree, this is a hassle you can really do without. In any case, this leads to a loss of control which is a slippery slope.
If your dog starts to associate any and every stranger as a potential giver of treats, they will frisk any and everyone to give up their payload. This can be embarrassing, especially on a hot summers weekend when the park is chock-a-block with picnic parties. I don't want to spend my weekends in the park chasing my dogs from one spread of food to another, offering my meek apologies over and over.
Ok, this maybe paranoia and I fully accept its the worst case scenario, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about it: kidnapping. If your dog trusts anyone with a treat, they are much easier to dognap. I know it's very unlikely but to be honest, it's on the rise in certain cities. Personally, I'd never leave my dogs unsupervised in public.
Now I know that all of this is a deeply personal position, and you may not agree with some or any of it, and that's OK, I respect your choices and now you know some of mine. So, if you do meet me in the park, and I say, 'do you mind not feeding my dogs', you'll know I'm not Cruella De Vil, I just want to keep mine loyal, happy, healthy and safe, the best way I can.