Having a dog in North America vs Eastern Europe – comparison of traditions and ways.

What I found to be a culture shock in the dog's world:

1. We wanted to have a dog.

After two dogs in Europe, an English Setter and then a Dalmatian, both girls, that we lost to cancer, we decided to go for a boy this time.

Also, we wanted a smaller breed. The two choices were a Beagle (our daughter’s choice, thank you Underdog!) and a Springer Spaniel.

The day before our Troy was delivered at the Alaska Cargo Terminal at DIA, we decided to get kind of prepared. So, we headed to a Pet Smart store to get the info and supplies needed. The supplies actually turned to be quite a surprise.

You have probably heard of that old British anecdote – during some multinational military train-outs , the Chinese were supposed to be in charge of the supplies.the rest of the guys were sitting and waiting, and sitting and waiting for the supplies, until they finally were dismissed as the commanders realized supplies are not going to be delivered any time soon. So, while moving back to the headquarters, suddenly there was an ambush. The Chinese jumped out from behind the bushes, shouting surprise the rest: “Su-pli-es!!!”

So, our supplies trip very much turned to be a surprise, indeed. At least for our family, which pretends to have had some experience having raised two dogs already.

So when the guy at Pet Smart advised us on buying a crate and teaching the dog to spend the nights or any time we are not around him in that crate, I grew the looks of an aggressive Doberman. Very agggggrrrresive one. I was like, “Pardon? A dog IN a crate? How inhumane is this?!”

Well, ignorance is bliss. Our dog really liked the privacy of his crate, especially when bothered by an overprotective seven-and-half-year-old hug-addict. Not to mention the fact that it is really nice to come back from shopping/meeting/errand and find your home intact.

Our previous dog, the mad Dalmatian girl, dug a well in the ground through the carpet and opened a hole in the wall (mind you, a thick brick wall) big enough for a small cat to go through. Sweet, isn’t it?! So, thank you, Pet Smart for crates and for puppy training classes. Education is so important, and one is never too old or too experienced to learn a thing or two in life….


2. What makes it different, then?

In regards to what our native ways of taking care for a dog in comparison to local American’s – here is my impressions on differences so far, although I can say we are still in the beginning of acquiring info how things are handled here:

•    Fixing the dogs not required there:  Authorities in Bulgaria do not care much about the overpopulation of dogs. Well, maybe on paper they do, but not in real life. You can find a lot of stray dogs running down the streets; some sweet, some aggressive. Dogs there are neither spayed not neutered (with some minor exceptions – but not by requirement; it is a personal choice rather).

Fixing is considered quite inhumane and rude for the animals; and I myself felt very much like that about neutering our own Troy. I think I still do. Dogs there are left to live their lives according to their natural instincts. Both our girls (an English Setter and a Dalmatian) were never spayed, and I may write volumes about the massacre times during their periods, what kind of diapers we have invented for them, how we preserved them from aggressive males while walking them outside during that time, etc…

•    Raising aggressive dog is a point of prestige for owners: A lot of young people in Bulgaria are now raising their dogs to be aggressive – they feel more macho if their dogs are able to fight, so they inhibit aggressiveness in dogs since very young age. So, from Bull Terriers through German Shepherds to Dobermans, you can expect a dog to bite you in the streets.

There is a law against it and yet there are no strict regulations to control it, so you run into problems with other dogs and their owners almost every day when walking your own dog as somebody else’s dog is trying to attack it/you. Just imagine it with your kid walking next to you.

•    Dog walks and dog fights, a common thing  – Dogs are left to walk freely in most parks in Bulgaria. Leash is required by law but people think it is not fair to the dogs for not having a chance to run at least for a while free of leash, so a lot have them run around the park unleashed. If dogs are friendly, no matter the size, it seems ok to me (I am freedom fighter). 

But just imagine: you take your baby in a stroller for a nice walk in the sun, and a huge Doberman is running towards you, barking and acting aggressively. You have seconds to unbuckle your screaming baby and lift it as high up in the air as possible, until you spot the dog’s owner somewhere around and shout for help. The owners are always trying to assure you their dog is not dangerous for people (!) while the dog assures you right the contrary. I have always imagined the dog attacking me and having a feast on the abundance of my flesh. Ugly and frightening….

Every now and then you can see dogs fiercely fighting one another in the parks, and the sounds are quite stressful for kids and adults around.

•    Dog Adoption and Breeds – No adoption agencies there, at least I have not come across any until we left for the States in 2005. There are still stray dogs running up and down the streets, sometimes alone, sometimes in packs - most are collected in shelters but then you do not know much of what happens afterwards. Adoption of dogs is not popular. Those who would adopt a dog very often could not afford it to support a dog.

People who would like to own a dog usually prefer buying very pure breeds – and just as everywhere in the world, some are ready to pay thousands of dollars for pedigrees…. Purebred working dogs are extremely popular and most expensive; then come companion dogs and toy dogs.

We were not after pedigree by any means and yet we had some issues with adopting a dog ourselves here, in the States. We did some research, talked to some people and then decided to take our first dog from the family who was selling him. I still do not have a very clear explanation why exactly we went for that option, but I believe we had issues with dog that used to be abused or left alone or bullied in any way. We were not sure we wanted wuch a dog around our kids, so we preferred to go for the "tabula rasa" case.... A Happy puppy that we can be the first owners of and give him all the love in the world.

Now back to dogs comparison there and here:

Hunting dogs in Bulgaria are generally bred for the needs of hunters and people are not very interested to have them living in condos. Cocker spaniels are quite popular, though, maybe due to their size. Some people give hundreds of dollars a month for fancy dog accessories or dog jewelry while others do not even care to feed their dogs properly – but I think this happens everywhere around the world (it even happens when taking care of kids, not only pets)…

•    Dog Food – The type of dry food sold here in the States is not popular there, and we could rarely find dry dog food. There is canned food sold in stores but it is quite expensive and rarely of the best food  brands; it is mostly local production and contains waste materials from meat and poultry processing factories, so we have never believed it had special nutritional values for our dogs.

Usually, owners are supposed to prepare/cook food for their dogs. We have always fed our girls a diet featuring quite a healthy daily plan: vegetables, eggs, soy products, dairy products, plus cooked meat dishes. It is time consuming, expensive and you do not always have a ready-at-hand solution if you travel, or if you are sick, or just busy to find time to cook for your dog… Of course, sticking to cooked food dog diet is not applicable to all dogs there,  as such a diet turns out to be quite elaborate for the owners who want to have it easier. So, sometimes dogs there can be fed only with some bones, or bread mixed with some dinner leftovers. So, if dogs do not get the necessary amount of Calcium and other vitamins, their bodies clearly display that. But every owner does whatever they can afford.

•    Dog discipline and training: Potty training includes a layer of newspapers spread on the balconies (most people live in condos) –  so, you take the dog out every hour and train her that way. Then you take away the dirty papers, clean the spot, then replace it with new ones, and the spot is ready for next go. This way a reflex is created for the dog: when she sees the papers, she associates them with natural needs. It worked with both our dogs.

As for other discipline issues: well, my English Setter slept with my parents in their bed, as they chose so, and they did love her as a kid. The Dalmatian lived with George and me, and slept in her own plastic basin-look-alike bed although she was following us everywhere in the house during the day and lay on all furniture. I truly believe both were wonderful girls for their breeds and for their non-spayed wild nature. We never thought of the option of having a crate at home and putting the young puppy in it for the night until the dog gets accustomed to house life and gets potty trained.

So we used a large plastic bed, lined with soft blanket, for the night – but the dog could easily go out in seconds and use the hardwood floor for a restroom, and then get back into her clean bed.

•    Treats as rewards: Treat-based training is not that so popular – of course, dog trainers use it but not owners, especially on a daily basis. Owners usually go for affection-based reward: a hug, a pat, even a kiss as the much expected praising do great…  Treat-training sounds to us a bit circus-style, and also not very nutritional if you have to give a treat for each good thing a dog does throughout the day. We have used the love-rewarding attitude when praising our dogs in the past but now we also try a little bit with the treat rewards and we see that canine gluttony can do miracles for the good behavior.

•    Training: Training classes were available in our country mainly for working dogs, especially German Shepherds, and also for the hunting dogs, like field-training performed by hunting experts.  But I cannot say there was much of a training for non-working home companions  – so dogs are generally being raised according to the instincts of their owners, very much like raising a kid. You go your own way and only time proves if you did it right or wrong.

•    Registration and vet control: Although the strict regulations, there were people in our native country raising their dogs without their being certified, having papers or being regularly checked by a vet , with all the shots and medications. According to the law, dogs are supposed to have passports, where you include each and every shot or oral pill they take, as well as the itemized medical history of each vet visit. But there is no way for you to know which dog is under vet supervision or not. If there are people in your neighborhood walking around uncertified dogs that have never received a single shot in their life or have received one or two but not the whole nine yards, this makes it dangerous for other dogs, not to mention kids!, to walk around.


So, generally, this is what I meant by things about dogs being “different” here in the States. Regulations here seem very strict and we like that - compared to having it everyone’s own way. Differences come from different customs and background, of course, but people there do believe it is a more “humane” and “free” way of raising and loving an animal their way: no leash, no depressing shots, no fixing (well, there is drowning of the unnecessary puppies in a huge brood, but that’s life and life is a bitch) and so on.