Editors: Drew, Elizabeth and Maggie
One day, while out for a run, Elizabeth passed a plump beagle, trotting around all on his own. He was wearing a collar, so she knew he had a home. At first, she thought that maybe his owner was just a bit behind him since the French don’t always keep their dogs on leashes, but there was no one within sight. Fearing that the little guy was lost, Elizabeth tried to approach him to see if his tag might have a phone number to call. But upon seeing her approach, he immediately ran away down an adjacent street…
Dogs in urban versus rural areas
The nature of dog ownership in France differs from the city to the countryside. Between urban and rural settings, a dog’s breed, its function in the home, and its interactions with its owner can be completely different. In either region, French dogs seem to be extremely well-trained, but trained for different purposes. From one area of France to another, a dog will fit into daily life in dramatically different ways. In rural areas, like the town we visited in the Pyrenees, dogs often have their own responsibilities, functioning almost independently from their owners for long periods of time. They are often very large breeds with keen senses and thick fur to keep them warm. They are bred and trained to play an important role in herding and protecting other animals for their owners. The dogs can be left alone for weeks with their herd, expected to watch over the other animals while their owner is away. They are therefore often unfriendly towards outsiders, as their purpose is to defend the flock from potential threats, and even an accidental passer-by could be perceived as such.
City dogs, by contrast, are kept as company for their owners and stay in homes. From what we’ve seen, dogs in the city are typically smaller than mountain dogs. They are kept to be cute companions as opposed to having responsibility of their own, making them entirely dependent on their owners instead. The thickness of their coat is less important than it is for mountain dogs, as they are not outside for prolonged periods of time and their owners may put them in sweaters to go out anyways. On her way to the Dickinson Center, Maggie has often seen a couple carrying their Yorkie dressed up in a little raincoat. That’s an unlikely sight out in a rural area. City dogs may go for walks or runs with their owners and learn tricks, but their only real job is to love their owner.
Dogs in Toulouse
Toulouse is a city where you can meet dogs almost everywhere. Dogs of all sizes are spotted in cafés, grocery stores, restaurants, public transportation, and even when we don’t see them, we are constantly reminded of their presence through the business they leave behind. When walking through beautiful Toulouse it is dangerous to get lost looking up at the architecture or the bright blue sky for too long for risk of stepping in droppings from France’s four legged friends. For foreigners visiting France, the amount of dog poop covering the cities sidewalks is disgusting and incomprehensible. Watching dog owners in France walk through a packed little street stopping to let their dog poop in the middle of the sidewalk, then continuing on their walk is a normal sight here in France. Contrary to what one might think, there is actually a law that exists in France enforcing owners to pick up after their dogs with the threat of a 400 Euro fine if ignored. However, it does not seem like many cities in France are actively enforcing this law. By French dog owners, this law is largely ignored due to the sentiment that because the French pay taxes, it is the city’s responsibility to clean the streets, including their dogs’ waste. Because this issue is culturally rooted in France, enforcing a fine will not fix this canine problem.
Due to the more casual attitude towards dogs in France, dogs are often seen walking through the city streets and in parks without leashes. There is a French law that requires dogs to be under their owners’ close surveillance, less than 100m away, but no law that states dogs must be on a leash. This habit of trusting dogs to walk and play off-leash adds to the inclusiveness and high status of dogs in French society. Given a day to walk around any French city it is easy to recognize the special place dogs have in society in France. On an average day it would not be unusual for one to find dogs accompanying their owners carrying out their particularly “human” activities such as sitting in a café, going shopping, getting a haircut, and even taking public transportation. A large majority of shops, restaurants and cafés have no problem with bringing dogs into their establishments and will even go as far as to bring out water bowls for France’s four-legged friends. It is also not unusual for metro doors to open and to be greeted by dogs lounging on the ground or in the laps of their owners nonchalantly. In this dog-friendly society, dog owners are both permitted and encouraged to include their dogs while going about their daily lives in the city.
Comparison with dogs in the US
While there are certainly a great number of differences between the function of dogs within the French culture, the differences between how French and American cultures perceive their canine companions can be even more glaring. For example, between the two cultures, there is a large difference between the dog’s placement within the family. In the United States, the dog is a member of the family. Americans have the tendency to “baby talk” their dogs, kiss their dogs, and invite their dogs onto their furniture. Dogs, affectionately termed “fur babies,” are treated as extra children. Similarly, the French value their animals and obviously love them very much. However, there is a difference in the dog remains a dog in the eyes of the family. For instance, Elizabeth has met French families who, while they love their dogs, will only allow them in the communal part of their home, not in the bedrooms. Furthermore, the French don’t seem to have little “discussions” with their dogs, other than simple commands. The relationship between the French and their dogs resembles the master-animal relationship more than the parent-child one.
On top of this difference in family interactions, French and American dogs react much differently to outsiders as well. American dogs, since they are a large part of the family unit, are often very well socialized. When friends come to visit an American home, they often spend a good amount of time petting the dog and paying attention to him. When dogs are taken out for a walk, owners are usually bombarded with requests to pet the dog, usually from children or college students. Consequently, American dogs tend to be very outgoing and open towards strangers. Rather than shying away from a stranger’s approach, an American dog tends to welcome it, tail wagging. French dogs, however, are not given such attention. When friends come over, the dog is not the main subject of conversation and when a dog is out in public, it is often ignored by passers-by. Therefore, when a French dog is approached by a stranger, he is often much warier and withholding than an American dog, who may run to greet a stranger before a stranger runs to greet it.
There’s more on the topic of mutts. While Americans try to specify exactly what mix of breeds their dog might be, there is less of an emphasis on getting a purebred dog. On the contrary, adopting an abandoned mutt is seen as the most preferable thing to do, since these dogs are in need and, as a positive, are less likely to be inbred. In contrast, the French seem to mostly have dogs that are a specific, easily identifiable breed. This then reflects on how one looks at procuring a dog. In France, a dog is bought. One goes to a breeder or a store that has the type of dog one wants to buy it. On the other hand, Americans are more inclined to adopt. Even though they pay fees, Americans don’t truly see themselves as buying their dog because the emphasis is on rescue and providing a “forever home.”