It’s human nature to get sentimental about the past. When we imagine dogs’ lives 100 years ago, what likely comes to mind are idyllic scenes of working dogs herding sheep on green pastures or bouncing alongside horse-drawn fire engines (thank you, Disney). We forget—or never learned about—the popularity of dog fighting, the widespread animal cruelty of the 19th century, or the out-of-control stray problem that saw thousands of dogs rounded up and killed in inhumane ways. Today, fewer dogs do the jobs they were bred for, but they enjoy endless advantages never afforded their forebears.
Take, for example, medical advances in veterinary science over the last 20 years. Not only are there more and better treatments available, canine pain management options such as acupuncture, massage, TTouch, and swim therapy mean that dogs with injuries, arthritis, or in post-op recovery suffer much less. Then there’s the field of dog training in which coercion and punishment are increasingly rejected and have been replaced by positive methods. More trainers undertake proper education in animal behavior and science-based training techniques. Canine play is much better understood now and is consequently taken seriously as a key way for dogs to stay happy and healthy. And dog activities abound. Agility, Rally-O, flyball, musical freestyle, dock jumping, Treibball—the options and variety are endless.
Also, public opinion nowadays is overwhelmingly against animal cruelty and exploitation. We largely agree animals are sentient beings and acknowledge our responsibility to care for and respect them. Dogs are no longer treated as property but as family members. They live in our houses; some even sleep in our beds, come to work with us, and go with us on vacation. Some attend daycare or have dedicated walkers tending to their exercise needs. They ride with us in cars, get baths and haircuts, and enjoy a snack while lounging on the couch as much as the rest of the household. Even if the majority of dogs don’t get to work sheep in green fields anymore, most of them have never had it better.