A New Twist On The Term Dog Act

dog-act-covid

Well-socialised Staffie out for his daily walk. Photo BW

“Starting on Monday,” our Staffie said, “you need to take me for a 30-minute walk, twice a day.” He confessed to sneaking a peek at an article in The Guardian about a new law in Germany, known for our purposes, as the Dog Act.

The Guardian reported that Germany’s agriculture minister, Julia Klöckner, is introducing the new law, based on evidence that many of the nation’s 9.4 million dogs are not getting the exercise or stimuli they need. Under the new regulations in the Hundeverordnung, or Dogs Act, owners will be required to take their dogs out twice a day (one hour in total), seven days a week.

Klöckner said scientific findings showed that dogs need a “sufficient measure of activity and contact with environmental stimuli”, including other animals, nature and people.

The new rules, starting in 2021, will complicate the lives of German dog owners who go out to work. The tethering of dogs for long periods will be banned, as will leaving your dogs alone at home all day.

When I read this report out loud, She Who Edits promptly got the giggles (probably because of my faux German accent). I was more amused by the association with the Australian term, ‘dog act’. For the benefit of our international readers, if two blokes are fighting and one puts in the boot while his opponent is on the ground, that’s a ‘dog act’. Same goes for pushing an old lady over and stealing her purse – ‘dog act’, or throwing the footie at an opponent’s head.

But this new German law is no laughing matter; it will put working dog owners in a bind. I foresee a steep increase in employment for dog-walkers and a variety of household objects chewed to shreds in the owners’ absence.

In Australia, regulations concerning companion pets are left up to individual States and Territories. The RSPCA has a very clear code of conduct and anyone transgressing runs the risk of being investigated, and in dire cases, prosecuted.

There are signs that governments are aware of a worrying statistic that 41% of people don’t regularly walk their dogs. I’ll go into the origins of that number later. Meanwhile, the Australian Capital Territory has passed a new law in which dog owners could be fined $4,000 if their dog has been cooped up all day without exercise.

In a first for this country, the new Bill recognises dogs as:

sentient beings who have the ability to feel their environment and experience sensations such as pain, suffering or pleasure.

That’s a new twist on the Federal Government’s definition of an animal as an ‘object’.

The Pet Industry Association says that 38% of Australians own one or more of the 4.8 million dogs in Australia – that’s 1.9 each, so there are a lot of two-dog households. The RSPCA also estimates that the average dog costs roughly $13,000 over the course of its lifetime. The annual bill (about $1,400) explains in part why so many dogs are abandoned or given to refuges. Which is as good a place as any to let you reflect on the fact that 200,000 dogs and cats are euthanased in pounds and shelters each year for lack of a good home (www.peta.org).

 The COVID-19 pet fad

There was a nation-wide increase in animal adoption from shelters and refuges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Canadian academic L.F (Lisa) Carver, writing in The Conversation, said the worldwide upsurge in adoptions and fostering would at best lead to better physical and mental health among new owners.

Although many people did this for the animals, they, perhaps unwittingly, set themselves up for better mental health during the pandemic.”

Dr Carver says having a pet may help their owners maintain health-protective behaviour including bending, reaching and using both arms to provide food, water, and grooming.

These basic activities involved in animal care actually provide exercise, which is very important for people who spend the day in a stationary position.” 

There are tough laws governing cruelty and neglect and a cornucopia of bureaucratic hurdles to navigate (registration, tagging, vaccinations), before your new pooch can be taken home.

Australian authorities are fairly relaxed about dog owners, although you risk a fine if a dog is (a) off lead in a public place (b) wandering unaccompanied (c) not wearing a (current) registration tag or (d) barking incessantly while the owner is away from the house.

An entertaining blog produced by Scratch, a major pet food company, published the results of Australia’s biggest survey of dog owners. Scratch surveyed more than 20,000 owners to come up with novel findings about dog/owner behaviour including:

  • 74% of participants allow their dog on the bed; (additional research by FOMM suggests that some allow the dog in the bed);
  • 64% would use leaves or straw to remove a dog poo (if they forgot to take a plastic bag while out walking). The others (about 9,200 owners) would just skulk off;
  • 66% of participants said they spend six or more hours a day with their dog;
  • 28% said 3 to 6 hours, which is not so good;
  • 91% support mandatory education for first-time dog owners;
  • 65% of owners had just one dog – 28% had 2 with 7% three or more.

A third of dog owners are just plain slack

I was a bit disappointed this survey did not try to establish how often dog owners take their pets for a walk.

For that reason, I refer to this US study in Psychology Today that (drawing a longish bow), worked out that 41% of dog owners do not regularly walk their dogs.

Author Dr Stanley Coren’s study of surveys on this subject found that 57% of dog-walking owners admit to skipping walks each week. Reasons included unsatisfactory weather (56%), work pressures (32%) difficulties dealing with the dog (31%), or family responsibilities (24%). A worrying 32% admitted to cancelling a walk on a given day out of laziness or fatigue.

On the plus side, Dr Coren concluded that owners who did walk their dogs always went the extra mile.

One of the larger studies found that the average pet dog is taken on a walk around nine times a week, with the walk lasting around 34 minutes on each occasion and covering almost two miles.” 

So, as Germany prepares to usher in its tough new law, do Australians need someone to force them to walk their dogs?

If and when we return to some form of normalcy and people return to the ritual of commuting to work in an office, those pampered pets who cannot distinguish lockdown from normalcy may well fret.

Whatever the post-covid world looks like, try to maintain your dog-walking regime; the dog and your blood pressure will benefit.

Or, if you want to help stimulate the economy, there are always people offering to walk dogs for, on average, about $21 an hour.

As for the Staffie (who misrepresented me, as he does get a walk every day), I say this:

“Noch ist keine Zeit für einen Spaziergang

Loosely translated this means: “We will decide who goes for a walk (and when), and the circumstances in which we walk. ”

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