Sunday, 16 December 2012


Having just downloaded the PDSA’s latest 69-page report and read it cover to cover, we thought we’d comment on it.

The report focuses on diet, behaviour and preventative health measures and emphasises that greater awareness of welfare requirements is needed among pet owners.  Almost 4000 pet owners were surveyed.  In the behaviour section, some of the ideas proposed are great:  dog-free areas for children (we assume this means areas within parks);  a change to “deed not breed” because all dogs are capable of aggression;  promotion of education.  Two that we don’t feel so enthusiastic about are the need to attend training classes – any training classes – and compulsory microchipping.  Training classes can be great, especially puppy classes, but a poorly run class can have undesirable effects, especially if aversive techniques are used, or if the dog is older than a few months and has not been around other dogs before.  To be put into a situation of such close proximity with other dogs can be devastatingly scary for some dogs.  (Interestingly the statistics quoted for 2011 and 2012 show that dog aggression towards people increased, and dog-dog aggression decreased, while attendance at classes decreased in 2012.)

There is still debate about the possible side-effects of microchipping and whether in fact it would be effective if a dog is found or goes missing, because different types of chip readers are used, among other things.  If microchipping is to be made compulsory, there needs to be a universal chip reader and a single data bank.

We noted that “87% of owners think people should face tougher penalties if their dog attacks another person or animal”.   We broadly agree with this, but feel there needs to be some caveat to this.  In order for the world to be safe for people and dogs, people need to be aware that dogs talk a different language.  Here are just some scenarios:

·         Someone approaches your dog with a big smile on their face.  To a human this is a warm and friendly gesture.  To a dog this is a THREATENING GESTURE (baring teeth).
·         A child runs up to your dog and tries to hug him.  Humans do this as a show of affection.  A dog sees this in an entirely different light.  It is restricting and uncomfortable, and threatening if your dog is unused to this.
·         When a dog approaches a human, said human bends over him and tries to pat his head.  In human terms these are pacifying , reassuring gestures.  To the poor dog, however, this is at best a threat if he doesn’t know the person, and at worst, a sign that he needs to (and ultimately will) defend himself from this perceived attack.

We speak a different language from dogs and we expect them to comply with our every gesture and put up with odd behaviour from complete strangers.  It’s surprising how many dogs react to these gestures with no more than an attempt to shrink away.  People, including children, need to learn dog language because only then will they be safe.  Dogs don’t speak English.

It’s great to read that

·         80% of adults believe that any breed of dog can be aggressive.  At last we have a chink of light – aggressive dogs are NOT breed specific.
·         CAREFUL early socialisation is very important.  Don’t just toss your pooch into a ruck of other dogs or into an unstructured training class and ask him to get on with it!  He will, but maybe not the way you want.
·         The PDSA advise us to “think about the time and cost of owning a pet”.  We must take as many steps as possible to reduce the need for re-homing a poor dog just because it doesn’t fit into the niche that someone first thought it would when they looked at the ball of fluff portrayed on the card they got for their birthday!  We think breeders have a huge part to play here, and it’s good that more and more responsible breeders are recognising the need for early socialisation and the need to vet potential homes.

In the diet section, it was noted that “71% of owners are aware that food meant for humans shouldn’t be part of a pet’s diet.”   This we think could be misleading.  If they mean all the junk food that humans often consume, then yes, kill yourself but not your pet!   “PDSA advises owners to speak to their vet before making major changes to their pet’s diet.”  And in addition …..”….vet practices offer a wealth of information about pet diets.”  They certainly do, because pet food manufacturers sponsor them to do so, and additionally sponsor their training in nutrition (which I understand is minimal).  There is an increasing bank of evidence that says human-grade meat and vegetables are probably a good deal better for our dogs than some over-processed dog foods.  I have the greatest respect for vets and the work that they do,  but have some reservations about their reportedly limited training in this one area.  The number of   obesity cases among dogs and cats has increased substantially, and there’s no doubt that something has to be done about it, the same as with human obesity.   (We say thank goodness for Jamie Oliver!  Could he do something for dog food? )

A final comment on vaccinations and annual boosters, which understandably the PDSA are promoting.  It seems to make sense doesn’t it.  And yet, more and more pets are falling prey to horrible illnesses despite all this vaccinating.  There is now a titer test available, which your vet can use to determine your dog’s immunity level, which evidence suggests lasts  a lifetime following initial vaccination, in most cases.

If you’d like  more information on vaccines and the controversy around it, visit :

Overall, the PDSA have made a great effort here and this will raise awareness and debate about these issues, we hope.

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