national dog day

August 26 is National Dog Day and it’s time to listen to what they want & need.

August 26 is a very special day for dogs because it’s National Dog Day . Being a companion dog carries significant costs to dogs, because they’re essentially captive beings . Being “good dogs” requires a continual stream of limitations to their natural dog-ness. Dogs have have very little choice in the numerous human environments in which they live their lives, and far too often, they have very little control over what they’re allowed to do.

There is a crucial asymmetry in the human-dog relationship: We enjoy many freedoms and our dogs don’t. Dogs have only as many freedoms as we give them. In her book Love Is All You Need , Jennifer Arnold notes that dogs live in an environment that “makes it impossible for them to alleviate their own stress and anxiety.” (p. 4)

According to Ms. Arnold, “In modern society, there is no way for our dogs to keep themselves safe, and thus we are unable to afford them the freedom to meet their own needs. Instead, they must depend on our benevolence for survival.” It’s an asymmetric, one-sided relationship—one that many of us would not tolerate with another human.

national dog day

If dogs had a Ralph Nader-like global canine “Great Talkout,” what would they ask of us?

In a court case in Nova Scotia last week, a man was sentenced for animal cruelty after it was judged he had caused his dog ‘undue anxiety. ”’CBC reports that the man repeatedly whipped the dog with a leash, and although there were no physical injuries, the court’s judgment rested on the psychological harm caused…The recognition that animal cruelty can involve emotional as well as physical harm is an important step in protecting animals from abuse.” (Dr. Zazie Todd, “The Role of Emotional Harm in Animal Cruelty“)

If all, or as many as possible, of the estimated 800 million to one billion dogs in the world got together to tell us what they want from us, what would they ask for? This would include homed dogs and all sorts of free-roaming dogs, the latter of whom comprise an estimated 85 percent of all dogs . In his remarkably original book Animal Envy , Ralph Nader proposes, quite plausibly, that a programmer has created a “digital translation” app by which animals of different species, from insects to whales, can speak to one another, and through a “hyper-advanced converter” these animals can then also speak, both collectively and individually, to humans. They decide that there will be a global assembly called “The Great Talkout.”

Here’s a handy fact-filled field guide for giving dogs what they really need to maximize their well-being in a human-oriented world.

I hope the following list of canine requests makes it easy for you to get an idea of what dogs want and need, so you can spend more time with your canine companion(s). It’s not exhaustive, but it gives a good idea of what dogs need from us so they can be dogs, rather than somewhat canine captives. (Actually, many are really are treated as if they’re canine slaves .)

The bottom line is simple: dogs need more freedoms.

national dog day

When dogs talk with their ears, eyes, tails, faces, mouths, bodies, and hearts it’s best to listen to them very carefully

Every day should be National Dog Day and let them feel the love. If you think they need more, then err on the side of “too much,” because it’s likely that they can handle all of the positive energy you give to them. The bottom line is to spend lots of time with them, let them snuggle if they want to, have a nice chat, show them how much they mean to you and how important they are to you, and let them feel boundless love. Sometimes when I hear people say how much they love their dog and then mistreat them, I say I’m glad they don’t love me.

Work hard to have a mutually tolerant relationship in which there’s give-and-take on both ends of the leash or when they’re running free. Let them be a dog, try to tolerate some dog-appropriate, but not human-appropriate behavior , let them know they’re really loved by giving them lots of attention and affection, teach them to thrive in human environs, give them lots of choices and provide variety in feeding, walking, and making friends, and be loyal to them. This makes their and your life as good as it can be, a win-win for all. Living with a dog is good if it’s good for you and the dog .

We are most fortunate to have dogs in our lives, and we must work for the day when all dogs are fortunate to have us in their lives, too. We also can ask, what if we weren’t around to help dogs celebrate National Dog Day? All in all, it’s highly likely that many dogs wouldn’t notice our absence and some who live with humans might also do fine without us.

I hope that whatever people do to make August 26th a special day for their canine companion, they’ll continue doing it each and every day of the year. Stay tuned for further discussions of the behavior of a fascinating nonhuman being with whom many humans share their homes and their hearts and look to for wisdom and sage guidance.


Note 1: In one study, my students and I found that around 20% of people actually picked up their dog’s poop.

Bekoff, Marc, Canine Confidential: Why Dogs do What They Do. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2018.

_____. Should We Still Make Future Dogs in a Crowded Canine World?

_____. Are Dogs Really Our Best Friends or Family?

_____. Should You Say Goodbye to Your Dog Before You Leave?

_____. Do Dogs Hold Grudges?

_____. How Dogs See the World: Some Facts About the Canine Cosmos.

_____. Why Dogs Growl.

_____. New Study Shows Importance of Understanding Dog Behavior.

_____. Dog Parks Can Be Fun Places To Go, But The Dog Has To Agree.

_____. Why It’s Important (and Fun) to Study Free-Running Dogs.

_____. Are Dogs Really Our Best Friends?

_____. “Why Do People Make Up Myths and Other Stuff About Dogs?”

_____. Dog Behavior and Etiquette: Yes, No, Maybe, Do’s and Don’t’s.

_____. Science Shows Positive Reward-Based Dog Training is Best.

_____. Are You Really Sure You Want to Share Your Life With a Dog?

_____. and Ickes, Robert. Behavioral Interactions and Con ict Among Domestic Dogs, Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs, and People in Boulder, Colorado. Anthrozoös, 12(2), 105-110, 1999.

_____. and Meaney, Carron. Interactions among Dogs, People, and the Environment in Boulder, Colorado: A Case StudyAnthrozoös, 10(1), 23-31, 1997.

_____ and Pierce, Jessica. Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possible. Novato, California, New World Library, 2019.

Shayan, M. R. et al. “Bark parks”–a study on interdog aggression in a limited-control environmentJournal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 6, 25-32, 2003.

Siler, Wes. Why Dogs Belong Off-Leash in the Outdoors.

Todd, Zazie. The Role of Emotional Harm in Animal Cruelty.

Originally published on Psychology Today and republished here with the kind permission of the author, Marc Bekoff, Ph.D.

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Marc Bekoff is professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He has published 31 books, won many awards for his research on animal behavior, animal emotions, compassionate conservation, and animal protection, has worked closely with Jane Goodall, and is a former Guggenheim Fellow. Marc's latest books are Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do and Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possible (with Jessica Pierce) and he also publishes regularly for Psychology Today. Currently, Marc and Jessica are writing a book about what the world will be like for dogs as and when humans disappear (Dogs Gone Wild: Imagining the Lives of Dogs in a World Without Humans, Princeton University Press, 202?). In 1986 Marc won the Master's age-graded Tour de France. His homepage is


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