Is there such a thing as a spoiled dog?

I hear a lot of my clients and friends say "oh my dog is so spoiled" when talking about the dog's lifestyle habits, such as getting special treats or sleeping on the bed. But what is the difference between a well looked after family member and a spoiled one? 

We can start at the basics of what being 'spoiled' actually is - by definition, "to impair, damage, or harm the character or nature of (someone) by unwise treatment, excessive indulgence, etc." ( So what are the things you are doing that will impair, damage or harm your dogs nature? 

What does a dog need? Let's start with the basics of food, water, shelter and exercise. These, as well as freedom from harm, pain and suffering, are the legal requirements for having any animal. Dogs are social, complex and intelligent animals that require many things to survive and thrive. At a base level your dog needs a warm, dry and safe environment, a healthy and complete diet, the opportunity to express normal canine behaviour, the companionship of its human and/or animal family and protection from pain, injury, disease and suffering. 

So what does that look like? Having your dog inside with your family, feeding him meals that meet his nutritional needs - which will differ throughout his life, giving him the opportunity to express natural behaviours such as walking in new areas, sniffing, digging, chasing, chewing, exploring, seeking, running, burying things, or whatever he loves to do, company for the majority of his day, vaccinations, vet treatment, flea treatment, worming, having a healthy weight as well as physical and mental exercise. This is the basic responsibility of having a dog. 

So what might be considered as spoiling your dog?

Letting him sleep on your bed? There are many benefits to both you and your dog that come from letting them sleep on our beds. They add warmth, help us relax, increase the flow of oxytocin, provide the feeling of safety and can enhance the dog/human bond. In saying that, co-sleeping is simply a matter of preference. As long as your dog does not get protective of your bed or it's not disrupting you, then do as you wish. My dog sleeps in her own bed in my room and loves it. 

Taking your dog for a walk every day? Definitely not. No matter how big your backyard/property is, dogs needs to be walked at least once a day and this is the responsibility of having a dog. They need to sniff and explore as that's how they interact with the world around them. You might spend 5 minutes standing next to your dog as they sniff a bush - enjoy it! Add some choice in your walk as well and let your dog decide where you go. Explore new areas together. 

Letting your dog on the furniture? The reason dogs like sitting on the couch is the same as we do, it's comfy! They might have the added bonus of a head scratch or the joy of being close to their family. But again, it's completely up to you. As long as they have a warm, safe and comfy place to rest close to you they will be just fine. Just be consistent with the rules. It would also be a good idea to teach your dog 'on/up' and 'off/down' cues so it knows what you want it to do/where you want them to be. 

Allowing your dog to beg at the table and rewarding him with scraps from the table? Now this is probably setting your dog up for failure and they will begin to expect scraps and might bark or whine when this doesn't happen. Basic manners are important for dogs and most people don't like a dog to be barking at them while they're eating. Teach him to go to his bed while you are eating or give him his dinner or a chew at the same time.

Having clothes, coats or special collars? Again, this is completely up to you and your dog! Some dogs need coats, especially in Tasmania, and I find having a rain jacket on my dog when we walk saves me time drying her off when we get home. Some dogs don't like it so you shouldn't force it just for the cuteness appeal. Remember though, it's a dog, not a baby, so don't be mad when they tear their jumper up or roll around in the mud in it! 

Giving your dog a choice? Think about it... we decide to get the dog in the first place, what his name is, where he sleeps, what he eats, when he eats, when he goes for a walk, where he walks, when he goes to the vet, which vet, who his friends are, when he is alone and when he has company, when he goes to the toilet, what toys he has, whether he has siblings (human or dog), the equipment used on him, the list goes on. So what choices should your dog have? A big one is being able to avoid or relieve stress. This might be avoid a dog or human they don't like, moving in and out of hot or cold temperatures, or moving away from a noise they find scary. Other choices might be choosing the toys or treat they might like, choosing the direction of a walk, which bed they prefer, or whether they feel like being patted in a certain spot. This is very empowering to a dog and can greatly impact on the quality of their life. Of course there are things you have to decide for them, for safety's sake or basic doggy manners but giving them the option of going left or right at a crossroads can be an adventure for both of you.  

So is your dog spoiled or is he simply being treated as an important, social and intelligent member of your family? After all, isn't that why we have them?