Great Debate: Are online groups doing more harm than good to new dog owners?

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Online groups can be a tremendous force for good: they help coordinate searches for missing dogs, share important campaigns and, of course, are a place where novice dog owners can turn to for advice… only as long as they’re ready to be torn to shreds over the smallest mistake, according to some.

Writer and comedian Sofie Hagen recently talked about the vitriol she encountered when asking for advice, or admitting to a novice mistake, concerning her new dog Hank.

Her piece, titled I thought I had seen the worst of online abuse – then I posted about my dog, reads, “On one level, this is a good thing: I want people to have high standards for pet owners. Animals should be treated well. However, if I wanted constantly to be made to feel like I’m not good enough, I would still be living at home.”

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People on social media can be ruthless in the takedown of people perceived as ‘bad owners’, as words through a screen can often be far more brutal than anything we’d tell anybody in person.

Niki French, dog trainer and founder of Pup Talk, told Dogs Today, “I have seen large groups where people who asked questions, such as whether chocolate or grapes were toxic to dogs, were pretty much torn apart.

“They’re not stupid nor bad people for asking a question – and thank goodness that they do ask! We all have to learn things at some point, so people should not be made afraid to ask – seeing people being dogpiled for asking questions, others may be discouraged from doing the same and dogs may suffer as a result.

“Of course, some answers can easily be found with a Google search – but how much better would it be if you could ask the dog-owning community for advice without fear of being torn apart, without judgement and guilt?”

Some were lucky enough to find supportive communities, with people ready to answer their questions, and and say that online groups of dog owners an invaluable asset in their journey to be the best dog owner they can be. Indeed, advice from other dog owners has never been as avaiable as now, and it can save lives: we had readers telling us they caught their dog’s disease on time thanks to some experienced dog owners they connected with online.

Others, while recognising how helpful they can be, feel that the discussion often becomes too toxic to truly be of help.

What do you think: are online groups doing more harm than good to inexperienced dog owners?

Let us know what you think here, on Facebook, or by writing to editorial@dogstodaymagazine.co.uk with “Great Debate” in the subject line.

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