Is Your Town’s Dog Culture Hurting Your Dog?

Since we’ve lived on the boat, we’ve only traveled as far as one long car trip. But I’ve already seen big differences in the way people treat dogs from one place to the next.

What is your town’s dog culture? And is it hurting your dog?

Honey the golden retriever wonders about dog culture.

Dog culture. Are you talking about great art, like Dogs Playing Poker?

Culture Shock

You can’t visit my old home town, Ithaca, New York without soon seeing a common bumper sticker.

No, not “visualize whirled peas.” But you will see that a lot.

Nope, the one I’m talking about is “Ithaca, NY: Ten square miles surrounded by reality.”

Ithaca is atypical.

It has more vegetarians and vegans than average. It has one of the highest rates of solar panel installations in the country (despite having over 200 cloudy days a year).

And in an election where most people were deciding between George W. Bush and Al Gore, Ithaca voted for Ralph Nader.

It also has an interesting dog culture.

Ithaca is the site of the country’s first open admission, no-kill shelter under the leadership of Nathan Winograd. It has one of the best veterinary training programs in the country at Cornell University.

Honey the golden retriever and Ginny the foster dog wait for her forever home.

Ginny, our foster beagle, got help from the Tompkins County SPCA, Maddie’s Fund, and the Cornell Vet Hospital.

And Ithacans, for the most part, take good care of their dogs.

On the rare occasion we saw an off-leash dog, we generally found a person who was worried sick or traveling around the neighborhood calling their dog’s name after he snuck out of the house.

I rarely saw dog waste left behind.

But in other ways, the dog culture stank.

Although Ithaca has an outdoor, pedestrian mall, it bans dogs. They’re also barred from the outdoor farmer’s market (although to be fair, the Ithaca Farmer’s Market is so crowded it’s not safe for dogs to walk there. Or short humans.)

Honey the golden retriever wonders why dogs aren't allowed.

No dogs allowed? Why wouldn’t you allow dogs on an outdoor, pedestrian mall? Well, I didn’t want to go to your stinking mall anyway.

Several stores had signs specifically banning dogs after bad experiences with thoughtless owners.

And we met our share of clueless people who wanted their barking, snarling dogs to meet Honey because “Fifi loves to play with other dogs.”

Good times. Good times.

I’d give Ithaca a solid B for dog culture.

What Is Dog Culture

From my Ithaca example, you probably have an idea of what I mean by dog culture.

I rate a community’s dog culture by the following features:

  • Availability of helpful institutions, like hospitals and shelters
  • Access to caring dog professionals, like trainers and groomers
  • Recreational facilities for dogs and their people, like parks and events
  • Pet friendly businesses

And most importantly,

  • People who care for their own dogs responsibly and respect the needs of other dogs around them.

In fact, while all a dog culture’s features relate, nothing makes a bigger difference in how comfortable you and your dog feel out in the world than the last one.

Honey the golden retriever in Sonic.

Pet friendly businesses are okay. But pet friendly restaurants are the best.

I don’t feel great sitting in a dog friendly restaurant after passing a pooping dog whose person fails to clean up.

Nothing will ruin a nice trip to the park faster than seeing a lab lurching around the back of a pick up truck driving 50 miles an hour.

Dog in a pick up truck.

The only way I like to see a dog in a pick up truck. Click the image to learn more about the photographer.

And your town’s dog culture stinks if you can’t go for a walk without being rushed by rude, off-leash dogs.

If your dog is fearful and you have to be hyper vigilant to protect her from rude dogs or people, your town’s dog culture might be hurting your dog.

Honey the golden retriever at Lady's Island Marina.

Lady’s Island Marina has excellent dog culture. Now can we stop taking pictures and go find one of my friends to play with?

If Your Town’s Dog Culture Is Hurting Your Dog

You have two options if your town’s dog culture is hurting your dog:

  • move
  • change the culture

Neither option is easy. But they aren’t impossible either.

Egret at Lady's Island Marina.

Lady’s Island Marina has good dog culture and good bird culture.

I have a few ideas for how to tell if a town you’re thinking of moving to has a good dog culture.

I even have a few suggestions for how to improve your current town’s dog culture.

But I’m going to share them in a separate post on Thursday.

In the meantime, tell me in the comments how good you think the dog culture of your community is and how you think it could do better.

Pet Traveler Trash Talk

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Charleston, South Carolina to be chosen as the Best City For Pet Travelers in the Go Pet Friendly brackets.

I admit it. My competitive side is coming out.

The normal “why can’t we all get along” side of my personality goes into hiding while I feel an undeniable urge to talk a little trash against Charleston’s hapless victim estimable opponent, Port St. Joe, Florida.

You may not realize it, but Charleston is the underdog here.

You see, Port St. Joe won as 2015’s Best City For Pet Travelers. This despite having a population of less than 4000 and little going on except for some waterfront dives and a pet friendly beach.

I’m not suggesting there was vote fraud. But I did hear a suspicious rumor about manatees being seen at the polling station.

Just saying. 😉

But don’t believe me. I’ve only visited Charleston.

Golden retriever and golden doodles waiting for the ladies to come back.

Nothing like having locals to tell you about their cool town.

Check out what the Groovy Goldendoodles who live there think. And check out the celebrity endorsement they got.

So if you want to vote for a positive dog culture that lasts all year-long, vote for Charleston for Best City For Pet Travelers.

You can only vote once in each round. And it won’t take a minute.

Your Turn: How is your town’s dog culture? Could it be better? How?

photo credit: Biding his time via photopin (license)

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  1. We travel with our standard poodle. When a sign says no dogs, I get barking mad, because there are lots of critters in a park, including running wild kids, so why exclude dogs?
    When a store person says, sorry no dogs, I say oh, okay, we won’t come in either or spend money here, thanks!
    See, I think kids carry more disease than dogs.

    • I like living in a world that has room for noisy kids, boisterous dogs, and all kinds of people having fun.

      And I understood Ithaca banning dogs from crowded festivals and the farmer’s market. After all, I don’t want Honey being jostled by tourists and being burned by people holding cigarettes right at her eye level.

      But why in the world does anyone think dogs are too big a problem in a crowd when they don’t ban strollers. Those big old baby SUVs cause their own traffic jams.

      As for carrying diseases, yeah, I guess we all do. But a few germs don’t harm most of us. 🙂

  2. Ugh, don’t get me started on dog culture here in Utah. There are many reasons coming to Utah is not on my favorite list, but dog friendliness is one of them. Or the lack thereof. Loose dogs everywhere, no dog parks, dogs in trucks, dog pooh, no dog friendly places anywhere. I can’t even find a self serve dog wash here, how stupid is that? We have been so many other places that are miles better. This is not a dog friendly place.

    • Curious, you spend so much time in remote and wide open places. Do you find dog-friendly amenities in very rural spots (outside Utah)? Or is it just that the spaces are so vast that you’re unlikely to encounter problems?

  3. Edie Chase says:

    Worcester, Massachusetts is extremely not dog friendly. You and your dog are not allowed within 2 miles of downtown unless you live there. We had a pit bull restriction in the city ( they had to be fixed and muzzled) until our then governor banned all pit bull specific laws. No dogs in any of the parks. We even had a parks worker attempt to run people down with his truck because they were illegally using an abandoned park as a dog park. And our shelter recently changed to a limited intake shelter. Not to mention the dog poop all over the place at the elementary school.

    • Wow, that sounds awful. Do you have any thoughts on why there seems to be so much hostility toward dogs?

      • Edie Chase says:

        Dogs have been banned from parks since at least the late ’80s. Not sure where the hostility comes from. My dog and I have been lucky in that we haven’t seen too many loose dogs, but there is a lot of poop that isn’t being picked up. I can’t remember hearing about any crazy dog attacks in my recent memory either.

  4. The dog culture ROCKS! here in Charleston but then you already know that! The Boys are so grateful to you, Honey and Mike for your support. We are plugging along, doing all we can to make Charleston the Best City for Pet Travelers.

    • The only thing Charleston could do better is if businesses who put out water bowls, freshened them more often. Honey aways turned her nose up at the water bowls.

      Maybe with all of Jaxson and Harley’s pull they can do something about that? 🙂

  5. Edmonton has all of the right things in place: many great vets, trainers, stores, and pet-friendly events. Dogs are allowed at the outdoor farmer’s market in the summer and there are many fantastic dog parks. We even have a doggy deli!

    However, it’s the last piece that, as you say, is most critical and the last piece we do not have. It is something I wish I could work to change and I would love to hear your perspective on that. With so many terrific off-leash spaces, I don’t understand why so many people feel the need to let their furry friends roam free in spaces that aren’t safe and that are putting their dogs, as well as others, in danger. Unfortunately, I have had little success explaining this to my fellow walkers, even when I am nice and polite and concerned rather than just angry. If you have some tips for how I can help others learn that on-leash rules include them, I would be extremely grateful!

    • I’ll certainly share my best thoughts for you to try. But I suspect that some people’s actions are rooted in their bigger attitudes.

      And it’s never more frustrating than when you love a dog who’s cautious of strangers.

  6. My vote for this round has already been counted. Last I looked, Charleston was way ahead of Port St. Joe.

  7. We’ve traveled a lot and have seen huge differences. In Germany, we were welcome almost more places than children, here in the Twin Cities, pretty unfriendly in public places/stores, but good for walking in parks. In Fort Myers it was the worst, even the parks were almost all no dogs. Most places are so so. We are happy here because most pick up after their dogs and we can walk in so many different places. That is much more important than going shopping or things like that. Especially with more than one dog, we don’t do a lot of shopping or eating out together, too difficult.

    • Besides shopping and eating out being difficult, it’s not always much fun for dogs.

      Honey is happy to join us in a restaurant for a quick meal. But she doesn’t see any reason we should linger over a meal when there’s fun things to sniff.

      Another good thing about Germany is that it’s a very clean and conscientious place. I definitely don’t remember ever seeing dog waste that wasn’t picked up. Heck, I don’t even remember seeing human litter–even in big cities.

  8. In this self-absorbed, narcissistic society, considerate owners are becoming as rare as an AKC “Weasel Snatcher.” Sigh.
    P.S. Terrific photos as always!

  9. Hi… Here in Berkeley, it’s very dog friendly. There are lots of restaurants – most that have patios which are dog friendly – so we get out often with Tack and Clewie. There are a lot of fair events/farmers markets that they are allowed to – and they enjoy the attention from people, so it’s fun to get them out and about. We also have a lot of doggie specific street and local fairs that have fun pet vendors supplying cookies and treats for goers.

    I have a similar challenge as Kristine in that despite all the great parks we also have for dogs to run offleash, we have a number of people who continue to romp through “leash only ” parks without leashes (sometimes on the way to the offleash area). Sadly this also has the effect of putting offleash spaces at risk . Speaking with knowledge of only our leash free open space in the marina, we have a dedicated group of folks who are regularly “jumping through hoops” at the city council meetings to keep our offleash area open.

    I’ve had some luck talking to people on a personal level. Most recently with a neighbor who was surprisingly positive. I explained to him that I was uncomfortable breaking the law, asked him to at least keep his distance and give me space without interfering with my dogs. But this was only a personal experience, like Pam talks about in her post, it’s the culture that needs to change….

    • Your post about issues in Berkeley (along with a few others I’ve seen) put me onto a suspicion about how local political views affect dog culture. So thank you.

      I really appreciated the part of your post about how having pibbles makes coping with off leash dogs a bigger issue. Because a playful pup can get in trouble for being excited just because of judgements people make about pibbles.

      I’ve seen people express fear when Honey played bitey face with other dogs or when she growls with pleasure. I suspect that if she weren’t a golden retriever, I’d have a serious issue when she played with off leash dogs.

      It’s not fair. But it’s really true.

  10. I’m not a big fan of my city’s dog culture. Which may seem shocking–isn’t Austin so dog-friendly and wonderful? And, yes: there are lots of fabulous dog friendly parks and hiking trails, some dog friendly stores and outdoor malls. Lots of people here love dogs, lots of people have dogs, lots of people support the idea of rescue.

    But…the dog culture sucks. Most of the dogs I see in those dog friendly places are being ignored by their owners and they look miserable about being there. Dog friendly training methods are not the norm. There are lots of reactive dogs here, but most of the owners are absolutely clueless as to what to do about it. Our neighborhood is particularly awful–every dog we see seems to be reactive, and most of the owners respond to this by continuing to walk straight towards you while yelling at their dogs. Since I can’t stand watching these train wrecks, we play the ninja dog walking game, crossing the street, ducking behind cars and bushes, and playing games for food with Nala so that she doesn’t stare down the reactive dog and make them even more upset.

    Still, I feel like we’ve done a little bit of good. When we first got Nala, we “met” a man who walks his two big reactive black labs every day. They saw Nala fifty feet away and started pulling and yelling and pitching a fit, and he’s frantically pedaling his feet and trying not to get pulled over and making “tsht” sounds and yelling nonono. We duck behind a bush and I yell, try using food! look up Patricia McConnell! Meanwhile, Nala is being a model citizen, playing the target game with me. A year and a half later, when that guy sees other dogs, he backs up, moves into a driveway, asks his dogs to sit, and then quietly praises them while feeding them. I always tell him what an awesome job they’re doing when I see them!

    • I’m so thrilled to hear about your success in reaching someone. And way to go with the positive reinforcement. 🙂

      Thanks so much for your comment, btw. My own thoughts plus comments about Austin’s, Berkeley’s, and Edmonton’s dog culture got me wondering what these places all had in common and why their dog culture wasn’t more perfect.

      I wrote about it today.

  11. Ellen D Haith says:

    Trumansburg is pretty cool about dogs, and most other stuff, too! So far no dog-friendly restaurants – although I honestly haven’t asked at the several establishments that have outdoor seating in good weather. I can take our two dogs into the local bank without issue, and the tellers in the back keep a stash of dog biscuits for visiting K-9s. The now defunct hardware store was also glad to see dogs and to pass out biscuits to them.