Have a dog in your life? Then, know it or not, you are an ambassador for dogs.

If you have a dog, then you are an ambassador for all dogs. Usually when I say this to people, they turn their head slightly sideways like a puzzled puppies, so I am always quick explain.


When you have a dog as a pet, you are not only responsible for their care, feeding and exercise, you are also their spokesperson. Since dogs can’t communicate through words, you do the talking for them. Take your dog the vet, and though he or she will likely talk to your dog, it is you who they will turn to for answers as to why your dog has come in to see them.


We communicate on behalf of our dogs probably more than we realize. And, in that sense, we represent them. We are their representative. And ambassador is simply a fancy term for representative. Representative is, in fact, literally a part of the very definition of the word Ambassador.


When any of us are out in the world with our dog or dogs, our actions, as well as our dog’s actions, have a chance to influence how people feel about dogs – for the better or for the worse. This is how it is that we, as dog owners, are all ambassadors for dogs at large. Whether or not we're good ambassadors or bad ambassadors, and, consequently, whether we influence people’s opinions of dogs in a good way or in a bad way, depends entirely on the way we represent our dogs and how they behave when we're out in public with them.   


We dog lovers tend to forget that not everybody loves dogs the way we do. Hard as it might be for us to imagine, some people actually don’t like dogs at all. Maybe they had a bad experience with a dog  – got chased by a loose dog or maybe they were bitten by one at some point. Maybe it's cultural. There could be any number of reasons. But, as ambassadors for dogs, we can actually help shape, mold and even completely change people's opinions of them.

For instance, a person who fears dogs, might feel better about them if they were to see us engage in affectionate behavior with our dogs, and if they see the affection being returned with a lick or two or a nuzzle up against our leg. Or if we perhaps oblige children who ask if they can pet our dog. These small and perhaps seemingly relatively insignificant acts can go a long way towards giving people a better impression of dogs. If someone who has feared dogs all their life were to witness enough situations where they got a firsthand look at how sweet dogs can actually be, chances are very good that their fear would be diminished, at the very least. They very well might even begin to see dogs in a whole new light.   

But, conversely, it also doesn't take much to make people have a lesser opinion of dogs. If we carelessly let them run around, for instance, and they run up to and potentially scare strangers. Or if we let our dogs poop all over the neighborhood and never pick it up. These are the kind of things which can very quickly add to any negative feelings other people have about dogs.


Picking up, bagging and properly discarding your dog's poop on a consistent basis is one of the best opportunities we have to help change people's opinions of dogs for the better. No one likes to see dog poop lying around. It is one of the quickest ways to turn people off to dogs. As ambassadors for dogs, we should always take the “leave it better than you found it” approach. When I take my dog on our daily hikes, I will pick up any dog poop I see on the trail. Not just my own dog’s poop, but any poop I see lying around. I do it because I want people's opinions of dogs to get better, not get worse. Always picking up your dog's poop, and going the extra mile - perhaps picking up any other dog poop or even trash while you're picking up your own dog's poop is the kind of thing which can go a long way towards shaping people’s opinions of dogs for the better.


So, what kind of ambassador for dogs are you? When you are out in public with your dog, are your actions likely to make people have a higher opinion of dogs or a lower opinion of them? As dog owners, I think we all owe it to dogs to do all we can to help people see them in the most favorable light possible. If you're not already, start thinking of yourself as an ambassador for dogs - especially anytime you’re out in public with your dog, and always ask yourself if your actions, as well as the actions of your dog, are going to help people see dogs in a more favorable light or a less favorable light. It might take a bit of practice, but with a bit of effort, you’ll get the hang of it in no time. And, in the process you just might find that you have become a better human being. And helping us become better human beings…well, that’s one of the things that dogs do best.