When you hear the word spoiled, do you think about spoiled food or spoiled children? And does it make a difference? When you think of the word spoiled it doesn’t conjure up any good feelings and yet dog owners seem to say the word with pride. To them, it is a term of endearment or said with a shrug and a smile attached. It is an interesting phenomenon when dog owners are starting to think that spoiling their dog equates to loving a dog.

If you are wondering if you spoil your dog it is first necessary to sort out the word, as it is viewed in the dog world. We need to understand that the word is used to describe many scenarios when it comes to our dogs, and not all of them are negative. Each family will view it differently. One family might spoil the dog by making an extra piece of toast each morning and share it with Buster while they are drinking their coffee. In the eyes of this family, Buster may appear spoiled but it is mainly harmless fun (of course, we assume the toast is not causing any negative health issues).

In another home, across the street, a different scene is playing out. This dog gets up with the family and grabs the toast from a family member and proceeds to devour it quickly while jumping up on the kids. It escalates to the point where the dog is grabbing at pant legs, pulling pajamas, mouthing at arms and generally not acting in a mannerly fashion. As this family gets ready to go out, they put Sparky into their newest purchase, a dog stroller. They merrily go on their way to the children’s school and when asked about the stroller by passerby, they shrug and smile and say he is spoiled.

It is not the stroller that spoils the dog, just as it is not the Gucci dog coat or a fancy dog toy. It is the idea of our dogs that has changed. It is our neglect to understand our dogs, and to work with our dogs, and our attitude that the dogs need to do nothing more than look cute or shower us with affection, that is what spoils the dogs.

It is clear to me, after working with dogs since 1972, that the shift towards spoiling the dog has increased dramatically, even over the past 10 years. The reasons might be many. We seem to lead a more stressful life than years gone by. There is more technology and more to over-stimulate us. We are all frazzled.

Along comes the family dog to save the day. We want to love him and we want him to love us back. That is the key. We want him to love us back. The same feeling is sometimes experienced when kids get separated into 2 homes. Many parents will agree and admit to the fact that they will overindulge their child to make up for lost time. Are we doing that with our dogs? It is an interesting question, and one that has to be answered by each individual person.

In my opinion, dogs can be overindulged in certain areas, some may even call it spoiled. The line should be drawn if it is affecting the quality of our own life or the quality of our dog’s life. It is easy to think that spoiling our dogs will make life better, but looking into the future should be the key to your decisions. Many behavioral issues that end in the loss of the dogs life could have been avoided by making sure you did what was right for your dog, and not only what felt good to you at the time.

If your dog is growling while on the couch, it is up to the family to ensure that the dog doesn’t get access to the couch. If you want to spoil him and let him sleep on the couch, then the consequences might be upsetting. Wouldn’t it be better to hold your ground and love your dog enough to show him appropriate behavior?

So how do we tread the line? How do we live with a dog and give him the love he needs and that we want to show, without overindulging him? If we are treating dogs like children, lets take a look at the bigger picture.

The first step to understanding is education. Education for both you and your dog is a very wise investment. Education can, and should, come in the form of training classes to understand how best to communicate with your dog. This is a basic need, and all dogs should attend at the very least a beginner’s class. If you want to compare your dogs to children and transport them around in strollers and backpacks, then you must consider the other side. Children also go to school.

Your second delve into education should be in the form of understanding your dogs inherited skills. What is his breed and what are they bred to do? Dogs like to work, children like to work. With both of them, it can come in the form of play but the bottom line is that by giving either of them a job (fetching the paper or tidying up the kitchen), they will feel more fulfilled upon completion. By not showing your dog how to use his brain, by simply letting him exist because he is cute, is doing him a grave injustice. The third step in education is to have an understanding of how dogs think. Read books, watch videos and even better, speak to your trainer about upcoming seminars on the subject. By understanding that while dogs and kids have some similarities, they are not the same and dogs need to be understood and appreciated for being dogs.

Once you have your education, you will see that overindulgence is possible and done correctly can be fun for everyone. Spoiling your dog will no longer mean at all costs and it won’t mean it will be at the expense of your dog.

Now, when you go out to purchase that fabulous dog coat you have been eyeing and spend a bit extra on a matching leash and collar you will have more knowledge. This will not spoil you dog. He can be the best-dressed dog in town, heck he can even be wheeled in a stroller as long as when he comes out he acts in a polite manner to those around him.

Give him that special dog bagel, have a birthday party for him and revel in the happiness that you both feel and the next time someone comments that your dog is spoiled, deep down you will know that you have raised a decent canine companion. You can smile and shrug your acknowledgement, but you will understand that you have done it with the best possible intentions and that with education, your relationship will remain intact.