I sat down today to write about my new course for Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, but you can read about that here. Maybe I’ll tell you more next week, but I’m fresh out of a vet appointment and I want to talk about something else.
I make all kinds of choices for my dogs that people disagree with and that doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is dogmatic “one size fits all” approaches pushed on the general public by dog trainers and veterinarians alike. It seems today people like to think in binary ways; we are either pro or anti when it comes to vaccines, raw feeding, kibble feeding, spay/neuter, off leash walking, aversive tools in training, and the list goes on.
In our household we have a roughly half and half ratio when it comes to spay/neuter. We have a similar ratio when it comes to fresh vs processed foods fed. This ratio has been evolving for years; and with the possibility of a puppy on the horizon it will continue to do so. Why would a veterinarian examining a robustly healthy animal with a knowledgeable owner feel the need to even question the dog’s “right” to his testicles? Why would a person email me to tell me about the dangers of off-leash hikes (when clearly, no one knows better than I do about that danger)? Every day I see arguments about what foods are best to feed our dogs on social media. Just yesterday I read EACH of the following claims: kibble will kill your dogs, raw meat will kill your dogs, raw bones will ruin your dogs’ teeth, kibble will ruin your dogs’ teeth, X brand of kibble is awful but Y brand of kibble is perfect, and a host of others. These claims are all rooted in truth, and I see a bigger problem going on here.
I was a dietary vegan for a long time and though my diet has changed since then I still strongly recall the critical and aggressive responses people had in response to my simple choice of omission. My avoidance of meat and dairy threatened something inside the people who consumed these things and it both shocked and confused me at first. I was not commenting on their choices at all—but they felt as though I was. This is the same response I get from people who do not feed raw when I tell them that I do—they immediately assume my choice is a judgment upon their choice. Nothing I could do as a vegan made these hurtful attacks happen less, and I experience the same thing as a raw feeder. So what gives?
The way I see it, the only thing we can do is check ourselves. If a person’s choice bothers you without affecting you, ask yourself why before you shoot off that comment. Are you being self-protective because you believe you’re safeguarding yourself from danger? Both raw and kibble feeders believe they are protecting their dogs from illness with their food choices—knowing “the other side” has made a different choice with the same goal in mind threatens the validity of ones’ own choice a little, doesn’t it? This threat only takes hold on us if we let it, though, and clinging to a “one size fits all” approach is dangerous. My ideal for all of my dogs is that they remain sexually intact, they eat a fresh raw diet, they receive only necessary vaccinations, and they walk off leash on a near-daily basis while being trained with positive reinforcement-based methods. However, you will never hear me say that this is the ONLY way and if the dog in front of me proves otherwise, I will flex. Idgie was recently spayed at age 9, Kelso ate a cooked grain-inclusive diet in his final years, and on occasion I might choose to carry out a punishment or negative reinforcement procedure if I believe the situation calls for it. This is real life, people. We can all have ideals but we must not cling to them as gospel. Being willing to see that one size actually never fits all will help us to make the best fit for our own dogs in our own situations. And who knows, we might be better professionals—and better clients!—because of it.