Owning a dog in Spain brings the usual challenges that I imagine every caregiver around the world undergoes. Navigating around the rules, regulations and restrictions is not always straightforward, especially if you have dogs with quirks! Being a trainer, I think it can be less straightforward and with the knowledge I have gained, ensuring you are doing what you know is best for your dog and getting that recognised and accepted by other professionals, can seem like an uphill struggle.
Early spaying and neutering seems to be a one size fits all and the impact on behaviour or health is rarely considered. The usual laws apply with mandatory yearly vaccinations for rabies. Leishmaniosis is a disease transmitted by sand flies. Dogs who live outside are at a greater risk of contracting the disease as sand flies are most active at dusk and dawn. There are various preventatives which can be bought (collars, drops and even vaccinations), but keeping dogs inside during these times reduces the chance of being exposed.
This part of Spain is densely populated with Pine trees so from February until April care is needed to avoid the processionary caterpillars that nest in the Pine trees. The caterpillars’ hairs are extremely poisonous and can cause very painful allergic reactions to dogs or even death.
We have a lot of stray dogs in Spain, adding to the assumption that spaying and neutering the dog population as a whole is the answer without considering the pros and cons and effect on behaviour. Some dogs are picked up and taken to shelters but I have not personally seen a decrease in numbers in the seven years I have lived here. Some rescues have up to 20 dogs in one pen and although the carers are well meaning, there is little education and training provided for them.
Hunting with dogs (Galgos or Podencos) is popular. The dogs are seen as tools not pets and this sentiment has rippled down through the generations. Rarely are they socialised. For the lucky ones taken to local rescues after the hunters are finished with them, the lack of socialisation is evident and the level of fear that many have is extreme. The cycle of fear continues as the hunters breed from fearful parents, who undergo large amounts of stress during pregnancy. There are an increasing number of hunters who are trying to change but they still do not set their dogs up for a good life.
There have been positive changes over the last few years. There are rescue organisations going into schools and educating the children on how dogs should be treated and hunters are more willing to take their dogs to rescue centres instead of dumping them on the streets or killing them.
More pet dog owners are using harnesses and taking their dogs out for walks, instead of just letting them wander out in the street or leaving them in the garden.
A couple of years’ ago two dog parks and two dog beaches opened in Estepona, Fuengirola and Casares Costa. On one hand this shows that the authorities are trying make ‘safe’ zones for dogs, but on the other hand more knowledge is needed by caregivers who attend these places to ensure safety and to help them understand whether or not their dog is okay in this environment.
All in all, for me having dogs in Spain is great. There are many pet friendly hotels and restaurants where you can sit outside with your dog. I have four dogs and we spend a lot of time walking in the mountains where they can be off lead exploring. I have a Galgo/Podenco mix, a Podenco cross, a Labrador/Dachshund mix and a Jack Russell Terrier. Slowly there are changes being made for the better and with the younger generations being educated about animal welfare there is optimism that a better quality of life for dogs will be achieved. There are more trainers using positive methods than there were ten years ago and more people seem to be taking their dogs to training classes on a regular basis. We do not have many behaviourists local to the area but hopefully this may change in time. As with all things change takes time but at least things are moving in the right direction.
By Nat Osborne