• Phyllis Brust, PhD

Social Media for Fido & Geez He's Cute

Updated: Oct 23, 2019


Our beagle-basset rescue. Photo by Phyllis Brust

Let us praise those who start and who moderate pet-related Facebook groups. They are a lifeline for many of us who have questions, need a virtual hug, have to vent, feel desperate and every once in a while, share victories.


We were anxious when we rescued our beagle-basset 1½ years ago. My husband never had a dog and I hadn’t had one in more than 30 years. Was our new dog happy? He seemed sad. Wait, what’s that on his belly? Why is he looking at me like that? Was that a limp? I would stare at him for any signs.


After one class, three trainers and one two-page single spaced list of questions for our veterinarian, we turned to Facebook (at the suggestion of a trainer), joined suggested groups and learned a ton.


Our little guy has separation anxiety, ate fast, destroyed toys and didn’t want to be in a crate with the door closed. Walks were a tug of war, including the many times he stopped to lie in the sun. We live in Florida—that’s a lot of times.


On Facebook, I found others whose dogs had separation anxiety, ate fast, destroyed toys and didn’t want to be in a crate with the door closed. Walks were a tug of war. And worse—dogs who ate couches and doorframes when left alone, dogs who were traumatized after being accosted by loose dogs in the park, owners who were traumatized after meeting the owners of loose dogs in the park and dogs who hated men. Some dogs were in their fourth home after being given up because of behavior issues. The newest owners were desperately trying everything to help their re-re-re-rehomed dog.


Owners pleaded to the group for ideas to get their dog to stop barking after neighbors complained to the landlord. Some owners barely leave their houses because they can't leave their dogs. Another complained that her boyfriend was punishing her dog harshly and she didn’t know what to do. She, like most of us, believes in positive training (a requisite for joining many groups). Group members told her to ditch the boyfriend.


Group members generally respond in three ways: “I feel for you”; “here’s how we handled that”; and, “I can’t help you, but your dog is beautiful.” They tell us not to beat ourselves up--that the dog is lucky to have us (most of us would say it is the other way around).


Two of my favorite groups are Anxious Dogs of Australia (6,962 members), and Canine Enrichment (an “enrichment showcase” and “not an advice group,” 187,823 members), but there are many more. Canine Enrichment labels itself as the “group your dog wants you to join.” Both have members from around the world. There are groups for all pets. For example, Parakeets has 39,000 members; Ferrets for Life, 22,473; and Just Cat Things, 208,840. Be careful when joining a group and make sure the advice is sound.


Moderators hold a tight rein—keeping people on point and eschewing mean-spirited comments. Any off-target advice is corrected by members and moderators (do your due diligence). Anyone can start a group, but it is hard work to moderate one successfully and get a following.


Pat Robards*, one of the founders of Separation Anxiety of Australia, is a veteran of social media groups. Her best advice for those thinking of starting a group is to “have rules in place for the way they want the group to run and stick to them, as there are a lot of keyboard warriors out there.”

Our little guy still has separation anxiety, but he’s much better—we can leave him alone for five minutes.


So, what have I learned? 1. Work toward your goals gradually—stay under the dog’s threshold. 2. Put food in a muffin tin, instead of a dish, to slow the dog down. 3. Empty boxes are fun, last longer and are cheaper than store-bought toys. 4. Some dogs, like ours, do better without closing the door on a crate. 5. Make walking a game. 6. Master the art of using treats (including kibble) as a reward and make sure some are extra-special for more difficult behaviors. 7. Praise the positive and don’t punish the negative—even if your dog urinates inside the house.


More than anything I learned how much people love their pets and want to do right by them even if it means kicking out the boyfriend.

*Pat Robards hails from Bensville, NSW Australia. To learn more about her work (in addition to the Separation Anxiety of Australia Facebook group), visit Yellowdog Australia, and Dog's Life, "Helping Shy and Injured Dogs."


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Our beagle-basset. Photo by Phyllis Brust.

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