Amazon's Super Bowl Commercial Is a Good Example of How Not To Approach Our Dogs' Behavior Issues
If you were one of the 100 million or so who sat down Sunday to watch Super Bowl LVII, you noticed a pair of dog-focused commercials.
The first, from The Farmer's Dog, was so sweet it threw my heart into a woodchipper. But then came the second ad, courtesy of Amazon. It implied a disappointing message: Getting a second dog can fix your first dog's behavior problems.
"PSA: Do not be fooled by the [Amazon] dog commercial," Diamond's Friends Pet Rescue wrote on Instagram. "Getting a second dog is not the solution to fixing behavioral issues like separation anxiety."
In fact, adding another dog could double the destruction. Instead, this fictional family should've spent their time and money making sure their first dog was mentally and physically healthy. Then they could decide whether another dog is a good idea.
The first third of the 90-second commercial features a family and their dog at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like a lot of us three years ago, they're all working and learning from home, happily spending all their time with the dog. But then it's time to go back to the office and school. As they head out the door, the family's dad tells the dog, "We'll be back soon. Be a good boy."
That doesn't happen. After some forlorn gazes out the window, the dog gets destructive, breaking a lamp, strewing trash everywhere, shredding clothes and furniture, and chewing the remote. He ignores his mom on the treat dispenser, and the struggling family seems to ostracize him. (The four humans standing together, arms crossed and staring at him from a distance is particularly bad.)
But then we see the humans gathering around a laptop. They're buying a heavy-duty kennel from Amazon—but not for their dog. The kennel arrives, and the family opens it to reveal a second dog. The two pups offer each other some introductory sniffs, and the commercial ends with the two of them napping together with one of the kids.
So let's get into why that was decidedly not great.
What the Amazon Family Should've Done
When he's left alone, the dog in the commercial seems to be showing signs of separation anxiety, boredom, or depression, according to Jenna Stregowski, RVT and Daily Paws' pet health and behavior editor. His usual routine with his homebound family has been upended, and he lacks the cognitive ability to understand and adapt to the change, she says.
(Also, dogs don't speak or understand conversational English, so his dad telling him to be good while they're gone does precisely nothing.)
"He's just finding his own coping mechanisms," Stregowski says. "For dogs, chewing and 'destroying' things are enriching and entertaining. He doesn't think about it as destruction—it's an activity to relieve his unwanted emotions and release pent-up energy."
So what can you do to prevent this type of behavior?
- Get help: A certified trainer or a pet behavior expert will be the best resource to help your dog feel at ease when they're home alone.
- Make a plan: Figure out where to put your dog when you leave, make sure they have stuff to do, and decide whether you need to hire any help. We even have a template for that.
- Practice the plan: The family in the commercial didn't prepare their dog for their new routine at all, and you want to avoid that mistake. Try leaving for brief periods each day to see how they handle it, making your absences last longer each day so your dog gets used to it.
- Wear them out: Before you leave for the day, play fetch in the yard or head out for a walk. Hopefully, your dog will be too tired to cause mayhem. If they have excess energy or you're going to be out of the house more than eight hours, consider hiring a dog walker or pet sitter.
- Leave them something to do: This can be a KONG filled with peanut butter or another interactive toy. Hopefully, getting the treats and goodies will be more fulfilling than ruining your house.
- Dog-proof the pup's space: Closed doors and better dog gates could've prevented much of the Amazon dog's destruction. Make sure your dog has access to what they need, but otherwise close off other parts of the house. It's also a good idea to train your dog to get comfortable with a crate in case you need to keep them there when you're gone.
Finally, make sure you talk with your veterinarian if your dog is destroying things or peeing or pooping inside while you're gone. You'll want to rule out any medical problems.
Why Is the Second Dog a Bad Idea?
It's an unwise decision because the first dog's mental health is in a bad place, Stregowski says. A new dog can be a fabulous addition to many families, but the Amazon family probably would've ended up with two dogs with behavior issues.
Why? Stregowski has a few reasons. The second dog might copy the original dog's behavior. Or the new dog might detect the other dog's stress, making the second dog stressed as well. Then there's an obvious one: This family didn't provide enough enrichment for one dog, let alone two.
Rather than treat a second dog as a "fix," families should consider whether they can provide for another pet. Stregowski listed several questions to ponder:
- Is your dog physically and mentally ready for another pet in the house?
- Does your dog get along with other dogs?
- Can you dedicate the time and resources to caring for this new pet? Are you prepared to change your daily life to care for the new addition?
- Will you make sure to introduce them correctly? The Amazon family rushed into introductions, which could have led to a dogfight.
Most importantly: Will your life and both dogs' lives improve under your stewardship? If yes to all those questions, you should start looking for adoptable pups and find your dog a new best friend. Leave behavior issues to the pros.