After her brilliant post, “My Dog is Friendly! A Public Service Announcement.” went viral in 2011, animal welfare advocate, humane educator, writer, speaker and dog walker, Jessica Dolce founded Dogs in Need of Space.
This awesome project is dedicated to educating the public about how to be respectful of each other’s space and to let folks know that they’re not alone if they live with DINOS. (Dog in Need of Space).
As some of you know, Simon could be the poster child for DINOS. I didn’t know that’s what he was until I stumbled upon the DINOS Facebook page. After reading through some of posts, I almost started to cry. “Holy kibble, Batman!” I thought to myself. “Simon is a DINOS and I am not alone.”
After four years of trying to understand my crazy, lovable and unpredictable boy, I was able to breathe such a huge sigh of relief. Not to be too “crazy stalker lady” I knew I had to talk to Jessica. I reached out and, thankfully, this busy and amazing woman made time to answer some questions.
1. I understand that you started as a dog walker. What set you on that path?
I was looking for a way to work with dogs and I thought dog walking would be fun. Turns out it IS really fun. I can still remember walking my first client and thinking “Am I really getting paid to do this?!” I still feel like that more than a decade later.
2. With the new focus on DINOS (is it pronounced D-e-e-n-o-s like on the Flintstones or D-i-n-o-s with a long “I”?) are you still walking dogs or has DINOS become a full time venture?
I’ve always pronounced it with a long “I”, like dinosaurs, but I think everyone else on the planet pronounces it Deenos. Who am I to say? The people have spoken.
I’m still dog walking and pet sitting, plus I have another job doing administrative work for a nonprofit. DINOS and my blog Notes from a Dog Walker are both side projects.
3. It seems that in recent years, the need to be having conversations about DINOS has increased. In my own geographical area, there seems to be an escalation in dog-to-dog aggression. Do you think this is simply an issue of owner education (or serious lack thereof) or is there something else behind this phenomenon?
[blockquote align=”right”]Luckily, dogs live in the present. They already forgive us a thousand times a day for all the dumb stuff we humans do. In the end, all we can do is keep trying our best, accept that we all make mistakes as we continue to learn, and love our dogs. They’ll appreciate it. Dogs want us to be happy. Happy people keep their dogs.[/blockquote]
Like most complex issues, I’m sure there are many factors that contribute to the reactivity, fear, and aggression we see in dogs – from bad breeding and puppy mills, to poor socialization, management, and training, to our own social habits, expectations, and lifestyles. Overall, we seem to have lost a lot of our collective canine common sense over the years.
Many people believe that all dogs can and should interact with one another and that it’s rude to not stop and say “hi” to every dog they pass. These people mean well, but they don’t understand that, just like us, dogs have individual need for and right to their personal space. So education is key.
4.I have noticed that many people have a hard time accepting that they have a DINO. In fact, I’m currently writing a post about my own journey to accept that I have a DINO, to understand what that means and to redefine my relationship with Simon. I’ve seen other folks go into denial or devastation mode – either “it can’t be a problem with my dog! She’s so sweet” or they immediately go to worst case scenario and make a beeline to the shelter. What are your thoughts on how to help dog owners adjust their attitudes so they don’t see having a DINO as the end of the world?
I think it’s always difficult to accept that your dog has their own needs, which may not match up with your vision of what owning a dog would be like. So if you have a dog with behavioral problems (which not all DINOS do – see #6) it may take a little time adjust to reality. But you do have to face reality. And it’s not the end of the world when you do – in fact, it may be the start of something better!
Here are some tips:
Let go of what you thought your dog was going to be. The happiest dog owners I know are the ones that see their dogs for who they are right now – not what the dogs may have been in the past or what we hope them to be in the future. Then they can make choices that will set their dogs up for success and positive interactions.
Don’t compare yourself to others. As Teddy Roosevelt so wisely said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s true.
Focus on the positive. No dog is perfect. I know a lot of dogs that are really easy going out in public, but are destructive at home, have separation issues, or chronic medical problems. We’re all dealing with something! Find ways to support and celebrate your dogs, so you can enjoy life together (even if that life is a little different than you once imagined it would be).
5. I know that I have experienced a fair amount of guilt when it comes to Simon’s issues…”If only I had figured it sooner”, “If only I could actually quit working and exercise Simon 75 hours a day as the trainer suggested.” How do you suggest people move past the guilt?
Guilt isn’t productive for you or your dogs. It won’t change anything (but it might get in the way of having fun!). Luckily, dogs live in the present. They already forgive us a thousand times a day for all the dumb stuff we humans do. In the end, all we can do is keep trying our best, accept that we all make mistakes as we continue to learn, and love our dogs. They’ll appreciate it. Dogs want us to be happy. Happy people keep their dogs.
6. What is your best advice for finding the right trainer if you have a DINO?
First, it’s important that we’re clear on what DINOS means. A dog that is a DINOS is a dog that needs space. All DINOS really are different. Some DINOS love other dogs, but are recovering from surgery and need space to stay healthy. Some DINOS are afraid of other dogs and need space to stay calm. Either way, they both need space. That’s the only thing that all DINOS have in common: they need space.
So when it comes to choosing a trainer for your dog, you’ll want to ask around for recommendations for a trainer that has experience working with whatever challenges you may be facing: hyperactive leash-pulling dogs or senior dogs with physical impairments or reactive dogs. If you meet with a trainer and aren’t comfortable with their methods or their approach isn’t working, don’t stick around. It’s ok to leave and look for another trainer. Don’t worry about the trainer’s feelings. Make good choices for your dog so they can succeed in your home.
7. What theories or training programs do you align with, if any?
I’m not a dog trainer, so I don’t align myself with any particular theory or program. As a former shelter worker, I focus on giving dogs the real life skills they need to get adopted and helping people to keep dogs in their homes: alive, happy, safe, and loved. In my experience with the public, that can vary a bit from dog to dog and owner to owner, so I’m aligned with keeping an open mind and not shaming others for their choices.
8. What is the long-term goal/vision of DINOS?
9. What are the top 5 or 10 signs that you might have a DINO (a la Jeff Foxworthy…”You might have a DINO if…”)
· You’ve criss-crossed the same block more than three times to avoid other dogs.
· You’re excited to walk dogs in the rain or snow, since bad weather means fewer dogs to bump into.
· Your neighbor hasn’t looked you in the eye since “that time” that you told her where she could stick her roaming off leash dog.
· You’re not afraid to jump a fence, squeeze behind a dumpster, or cut through someone’s back yard to avoid an oncoming dog.
· On your walks, you wear poop bags on your hands, like mittens, so you can scoop and run.
10. Is DINOS a nonprofit and how can people help promote the cause of DINOS?
DINOS is not a nonprofit, so I don’t accept donations. It’s a free resource and educational tool. But if people feel moved to contribute financially to help DINOS, consider donating to a local shelter or rescue, or a group that is working to end puppy mills, or to a training center that has scholarship funds for low income families who need access to professional training and behavior assistance (like this one: http://schrodifund.org/).
If people would like to promote DINOS, there are free posters and handouts they can download and share with the public in pet stores, vet offices, training centers, and trail heads! If you work with dogs and the public, please talk to adopters, new dog owners, and clients in dog training classes about being respectful and responsible. If everyone involved in pet care and animal welfare spent a little time teaching the public about polite leash manners and that dogs have a right to their personal space and varying social needs, it would go a long way. By introducing these concepts early and often, we can start a revolution of respect!
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