Ever blithely disparage someone’s choice of dog food? Guess what, you’re being annoying! Here’s how to educate in more diplomatic ways.
Pet parents come in all experience levels. Some just got their first puppy and don’t have a clue, while others have shared their life with a dozen or so furry family members over the decades. I fall somewhere in the middle. Spot and Dolly are my first dogs as an adult, but I have made it a point during their time with me — 10 years! — to study a variety of pet-related subjects, including canine cancer and protection from predators.
Along the way, veterinarians and pet parents alike have shared information and opinions. I am grateful for every fact and viewpoint, but I find that not all members of the latter group choose their words carefully.
I put together the following list of statements that annoy fellow pet parents with those of you in mind. Also included are more diplomatic ways to phrase the messages when wanting to educate, not annoy. If you never lack tact on the topic of pets but have been on the receiving end of one of these statements, please share how you handled it in the comments.
1. “More than 4 million dogs and cats die in shelters each year in this country. How could you buy a pet?”
Pet overpopulation is a serious problem, as are puppy mills and irresponsible breeders. That being said, leading with euthanasia immediately puts pet parents who did not adopt on the defensive, making them feel as if you begrudge them the very existence of their animal companion, whom they likely love as much as you do your rescue. And as Dogster Editor-in-Chief Janine Kahn pointed out in her article “Responsible Dog Breeders Are Rare, But I Found One and So Can You,” not every puppy purchased comes from a bad situation.
I got Spot and Dolly as puppies from a reputable breeder, and I don’t for a minute regret doing so because of the joy they bring me. I do plan to adopt in the future, though, because of the many wonderful animal rescuers I have met who have shared their stories and educated me on the issue.
The more diplomatic way to say it: “Have you ever considered adoption? We found our dog at the [insert name of organization], and he fits perfectly into our family. And if you want a specific breed, odds are a rescue group can help make a match. Most organizations have puppies, too, but don’t discount older dogs! They often allow you to skip the housetraining.”
2. “Retractable leashes should be banned.”
Pet parents typically fall into one of three categories when it comes to this issue: pro, con, and ignorant of the dangers associated with these leashes. Personally, I go back and forth between pro and con. I recently tossed ours in the trash when a run-in with a loose neighbor dog resulted in a tangled mess and burns on the back of my knees, and then I fished them out for a long walk in the desert where I knew I could use them safely.
Lobbying for their ban to someone who understands how to operate a retractable leash will just annoy that person. Focus your attention instead on the inexperienced pet parents, the accidents waiting to happen.
The more diplomatic way to say it: “If you want tips on how to use a retractable leash, Dogster has a great article by animal-trainer Casey Lomonaco. I’ll e-mail it to you.”
3. “Shopping online puts mom-and-pop pet-supply stores out of business.”
Shopping online allows pet parents to save money on the many supplies needed to keep dogs healthy and happy. That being said, an online retailer does not offer the personalized service found at local mom-and-pop pet-supply stores.
I stop by Bone Appétit Bakery & Boutique in my Phoenix neighborhood at least once a week for supplies, everything from treats to food to story ideas. At this point, I purchase all of my pet-related products from the store with the exception of a supplement they cannot afford to price anywhere near what I pay for it online — plus I have been using it since long before I moved to the neighborhood. Not everyone can afford brick-and-mortar prices, though, so we shouldn’t think less of those who use online retailers to stretch their limited pet-supply budget, and we certainly shouldn’t alienate them with an aggressive shop-local-only attitude.
The more diplomatic way to say it: “If you use the owners as a source of information and advice, you could purchase from them any products they recommend but still shop online for other pet supplies. That way, they get sales resulting from the knowledge they share, and you save money in other areas.”
4. “How could you feed your dog that food?”
Few pet products spark as much heated debate as dog food does. Store-bought vs. homemade, grain-free vs. not, raw vs. cooked. Lists of ingredients get scrutinized, as they should, with pet parents advocating their choice over others.
Before criticizing others for what they put in their dog’s bowl, consider that cost may factor into the decision. I actually fed Spot and Dolly a raw diet back when I was working full-time for a newspaper. After becoming a freelancer writer, my budget no longer covered the cost of the pricey frozen patties. Also remember how confused you were when first starting to read food labels and compare products. Single-mindedness on this subject can quickly annoy fellow pet parents if they believe you question their desire to take the best possible care of their dog.
The more diplomatic way to say it: “Sorting through the many dog food options can be overwhelming, but I can help you find the best possible food for your budget if you like.”
All of these statements relate to important issues, and in no way am I suggesting we should avoid their discussion or debate. I would just like to see us all — myself included, as I have uttered variations of No. 3 and 4 in the past — not allow passion to replace politeness when dealing with one another, whether in real life or online. A more diplomatic approach can have a far greater impact, wouldn’t you agree? Or do you believe in always being brutally direct when it comes to pets? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!