Canines al Fresco

May 6, 2013

Spring is in the air! After a few fits and starts, spring has come on strong in the Philadelphia area and most of us are making up for lost time by spending as much time outdoors as possible. My family attended the Malvern Spring Family Festival yesterday where we enjoyed games, great food, people (and dog) watching and some seriously amazing kettle corn.

This is the time of year when dog owners like to bring Fido any and everywhere. Many restaurants with outdoor seating allow dogs, as do street fairs. Yesterday we saw dogs of all shapes, sizes and colors: an enormous Alaskan Malamute, a 10 week old Boxer puppy (who wanted to give everyone kisses), a toy poodle in a pink stroller, a pack of tiny Chihuahuas and a goofy, block-headed black lab who happily cleaned up discarded French fries from the ground. The majority of these dogs were friendly and well-behaved, but it only takes one troublemaker to sully the al fresco experience.

It may seem intuitive, but dogs that are anxious and/or fearful should not be brought to busy public areas. Large crowds, loud noises and unpredictable dogs will just exacerbate Fido’s anxiety, causing him to pant, whine and sometimes even growl or snap at passers-by. Young, highly exuberant dogs (especially large breeds) should also not be brought along to crowded outdoor events. Even dog enthusiasts aren’t thrilled when a stinky, slobbery, 80 pound Labrador jumps on them, so I can only imagine how someone would feel in this circumstance if they were afraid of dogs. Finally, dogs that are agressive to or afraid of other dogs should be kept home. If Fido is barking his head off at every Yorkie, Dachshund and Maltese that ambles by, Fido is disrupting the public’s enjoyment of the event.

Last summer, on a beautiful Friday night, my family went to dine outdoors at a local restaurant. Seated at the table next to us was a couple with a young adult German shepherd. This dog lunged and snapped at my (then) 3 year old son, when he went to pick his napkin off the ground. My poor kid was terrified, and we had to rearrange our seats to avoid contact with the shepherd. The stressed out dog was clearly very anxious, and barked viciously at passers-by and growled at those who approached him. It was horrifying to me, both as a veterinarian and a parent, that this couple thought their dog was an acceptable al fresco dinner companion.

While I can appreciate that dog owners want to take Fido everywhere, the reality is that Fido is often happier and safer at home. Calm, well-adjusted dogs who can happily walk down a crowded street or lay calmly under a table are ideal candidates for outdoor dining and other public events outdoors. In my experience, these dogs are few and far between, but I did meet a few of them yesterday at the Malvern Spring Family Festival (Boxer puppy, I’m talking about you!)

There are plenty of other “al fresco” adventures for you and Fido…hiking, strolling the neighborhood, playing fetch at the park, swimming in a local stream. These are often better choices than bringing Fido to a loud, crowded public area.