Four Awesome Things for Dogs That Some People Think Are Cruel

Sometimes people hate things that I actually think are awesome for dogs. Yes, that muzzle is awesome. Here's why.


“I could never do that! That’s so cruel!” says Marsha, a new client and proud Bichon puppy mom.

What on earth did I ask her to do, you wonder? Rub the lovely puppy’s nose in poop? Force her to spend her life in the backyard with matted fur? Recommend 23 hours a day in a crate?

Nope. I asked her to feed her dog measured meals. This very sweet and well-intentioned owner assumed that making sure her dog’s food bowl was always full would be a reassuring sign of love and safety.

Today, I want to examine things that are typically thought of as cruel to dogs, but which I think are actually really awesome.

1. Measured Feedings

Why people think it’s cruel

The increasing obesity epidemic in First World nations is an indication that we like eating recreationally, consuming more calories than we need to survive — or be healthy! We love all-you-can-eat buffets, fast food, and car cup holders that allow for giant sodas. Some people think that “free feeding” will prevent problems like counter-surfing, garbage raiding, begging at the table, and litter box larceny. Many think it’s natural for dogs to have constant access to food.

Why it’s actually awesome

  • It’s healthier. Regulating your dog’s intake allows you to regulate calories. Lean, healthy dogs live longer than their chubby counterparts, and you shouldn’t be joking about baby fat in your 5-year-old dog. Talk to your veterinarian about feeding your dog for optimal health.
  • It makes for better behavior. You can use all or part of your dog’s meals for training and enrichment activities. Measured feedings will help you know when your dog is hungry, which makes early training much easier.
  • It makes potty training easier. Whether you have a new dog or puppy, knowing when things go in helps you predict when dogs need to go out. Dogs that eat on a schedule usually poop on a schedule, too!

2. Crate Training

Why people think it’s cruel

Many people imagine it’s like sleeping in a closet for hours at a time, like a canine torture chamber. Others have known dogs that hated their crates. But a crate can be great for you and your dog if you teach your dog to love it (and it usually doesn’t take long).

Yes, crates can be abused — nobody is suggesting your dog spend 22 hours a day in one. Used sensibly, crates can bring sense to dogs, their owners, and the households they share.

Why it’s actually awesome

  • It can make potty training easier.
  • It can keep dogs safe when recovering from surgery.
  • You may need one to travel — and they could save your life. The area where I live has been hit with two 100-year floods in the last ten years. Thousands of animals had to be evacuated, and shelters would only accept those with crates.
  • Crates can provide your dog with a sanctuary/bedroom. If your dog is overwhelmed by children or visitors, giving him something wonderful in his crate will help him relax.

3. Muzzling

Why people think it’s cruel

The dog looks scary. Many dogs in muzzles often look uncomfortable, because they haven’t been trained to like wearing them. Muzzles can be cruel when people use them as a substitute for lazy training, throwing dogs into situations where they feel the need to use their teeth (flooding), instead of as a management tool with appropriate behavior modification.

Why it’s actually awesome

  • Like crate training, muzzling is something every dog may need at some point, whether you like it or not. Unfortunately, muzzles are often needed in times of medical or behavioral crises — just the time that you don’t want to be adding more stress! Training your dog to like wearing a muzzle proactively will relieve one stressor for both of you.
  • Muzzles can help keep aggressive or reactive dogs in check, and people and other animals within their community safe from harm.
  • It is stressful and traumatic to live with a dog that has a high risk for biting. The quality of life for you and your dog decreases when you’re afraid to take your dog for walks or even out in the backyard. This is especially true in urban environments, where dogs may be forced into elevators with other dogs or people multiple times a day. (Note: Stress reduction, behavior modification, and threshold management should be used in conjunction with muzzles for reactive and aggressive dogs.)
  • Many dogs cannot be examined at the vet or groomed without being muzzled.

4. Long Lines and Leashes

Why people think it’s cruel

People who love dogs understandably want them to enjoy life and freedom. We all love that blissful image of dogs running off-leash through meadow, forest, and mountain and romping through streams, tail wagging. But freedom is A) a privilege to be earned through good behavior and training, and not a right; B) a training challenge that is a big commitment; and C) something that comes at a price — nothing is ever guaranteed.

Why it’s actually awesome

  • They save lives. Bear, rattlesnake, coyotes, hawks, off-leash dogs, and porcupines are all dangers where I live. I know many dogs that would run right off a 300-foot cliff in pursuit of prey. In the city, traffic, cooked-chicken bones, and broken glass are just a few of the risks. Your dogs can be kept safe around all of these things if they are appropriately leashed.
  • They let dogs see a world that would otherwise be unavailable. Mokie and I spend a lot of time in the woods together, and she is always leashed. I enjoy the woods and mountains more when I know we’ll come out of them safely together. I make sure to give her plenty of off-leash time in areas where we are less likely to run into prey distractions or predators.
  • Obeying the law is cool; jail is not. Leash laws should be obeyed — period.
  • They help protect everyone. An off-leash dog, even one that is well-behaved and responsive to basic cues, may be intimidating to other people or dogs.

What are your thoughts? Do you use any or all of these tools or techniques? Do you have concerns about using them with your own dogs? I’d be interested to hear more in the comments!

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