Home > Dog Behavior, Dog Training, Pet Ponderings > Are dogs in Europe better behaved than dogs in America?

Are dogs in Europe better behaved than dogs in America?

MP900405276I like to think I am pretty knowledgeable when it comes to dog-related topics – training, toys, food, behavioral signals, etc., but I heard something yesterday that had me Googling for answers.

A co-worker of mine just returned from a two-week trip to Europe. She spent a good amount of time in Finland and Sweden, and some time in Belgium and elsewhere. Of course, she had a great time (who wouldn’t?) and saw lots of great sights. but there was one thing she said she noticed above all – the huge number of well-behaved dogs walking with their owners. She said she saw dogs everywhere she went and she was amazed at how well-behaved they were. No jumping up on people. No begging for food. No barking uncontrollably.

It seems she isn’t the only one to notice this either. Scout’s mom posted this on Dogster in 2006:

My husband and I took a trip to Paris and Germany and noticed the oddest most amazing thing. EVERY SINGLE DOG WE SAW… that’s right EVERY SINGLE one in the big city in Paris, in the small towns in Germany were well-behaved and walked behind their furless ones! It was so weird. It was like all the dogs were sedated! They didn’t pull on leashes, they didn’t look at people, they didn’t beg for food at the cafes and most of all- none of them were shy! Some were even off leash in Paris walking next to their furless ones- even stopping at the cross walk!! My husband and I took so much video of these dogs because we just couldn’t believe it! All kind of dogs too- big dogs, little dogs, all kind of size dogs. Has anyone else seen this in Europe? It makes me want to send Scout to Europe for training! We can’t figure out why- maybe because their lifestyle is so different? Different quieter home life? It was so cool!

There were lots of interesting responses to Scout’s mom’s question. Some thought it was because dogs in Europe were allowed to go everywhere with their owners and therefore had to behave better. Others thought it was because they got out more than American dogs and got more exercise than American dogs. I suspect there is truth to both of these theories, but it seems like there must be more to the story, so I am asking you, my readers, for some input.

Are dogs in Europe better behaved than American dogs? If so, what makes them appear to be better behaved than American dogs? What behaviors do you see with dogs there that you don’t see here?

Do you live outside Europe and America? How would you describe how the dogs behave in your country? 

  1. August 20, 2013 at 7:02 AM

    Yes, they are better behaved! Mom lived with her dog(s) in Germany for ten years, I spent eight months there and my sister five years. It all starts with puppies. You take your dog just about everywhere with you – shopping, restaurants, buses, trains, they go everywhere. Dog are everywhere and the people let them socialize with each other, not like here where everyone holds their dog back when another dog approaches. Dogs are walked a lot partly because so many live in apartments and don’t have yards to use for a bathroom. It is dog paradise and we really miss that about living in Germany but that is one of a very few things we really miss. Dog life here is sad in comparison. For some reason Americans keep dogs from being the social animals that we are and that starts the problem but then not being allowed to go anywhere only compounds it. European dogs are much better behaved, no doubt!

    • Mel
      August 25, 2013 at 6:10 PM

      Thanks for sharing your own experience Emma. I learned so much from you and other commenters on this post. I wonder how we can make things different here?

  2. August 20, 2013 at 7:48 AM

    I wonder about breeding as well. Less inbreeding? Fewer puppy mills? Bred for personality rather than show-dog features? With such a good start, plus the socializing, you just don’t see the wacky behavior.

  3. August 20, 2013 at 7:56 AM

    I’m with Emma that it’s the result of early socialization (as someone who lives with puppy mill rescues, I don’t have to tell you what a difference socialization makes) and frequent exercise.

    But you’ll also find dogs roaming the streets in Rome and dog-loving French people are notorious for turning their dogs into shelters before heading to the seashore for a month’s vacation. Nowhere is perfect.

    But I’d certainly like to see us more like Europe in our willingness to include dogs in every day life.

  4. August 20, 2013 at 9:46 AM

    I have never seen dogs personally, but we see lots of Europeans in our travels that have their kids with them. And they are better behaved than american kids hands down! So it stands to reason that the dogs would be too.

    • Mel
      August 25, 2013 at 6:11 PM

      Maybe it’s kids and dogs!

    • Miss Cellany
      May 24, 2016 at 3:58 PM

      In reply to kids being better behaved – because kids (like dogs) in Europe are taken everywhere with their parents and get very well socialized as well as learning how to behave like an adult when in public (otherwise they’d embarrass their parents). If kids are never given the freedom to learn, they don’t learn. Similarly with dogs – if you don’t take your dog to places where there will be other dogs and people they won’t learn how to interact with them.

  5. August 20, 2013 at 11:28 AM

    Hello Mel!
    Stockholm, Sweden calling!

    My name is Renée and I have a black labrador named Mahler.
    She is my servicedog and she helps with almost anything…
    Empty the laundrymachine, pick upp creditcards and little pennys, she goes to find my telefone and delivers it to me, also my neck-collar and my keys…!
    She does many more things for me, the most important is that when I fall outside, she goes to find help to get me up again.

    I read your blog “Wellbehaved dogs in Europe”…
    I can say that it is absolut true regarding Sweden, though I haven´t been to US to see how your dogs behave, to do a comparison. We have been watching Cesar Millans shows here in Sweden but that doesn´t really say that ALL the dogowners in US are in need of desperat help. Its very rare that I see a dog here that doesnt behave well regardin the jumping, begging for food etc… I don´t really know why, its just normal I guess.
    Thank you Mel for your blog, following it everyday you write. Iread you do wondereous things “over there” and I´m in aw, you do have a big big heart! Thank you!
    If you ever want to come to Stockholm, you are more than welcome! I have a large flat for dogs and people!
    Kind regards Renée and Mahler in Stockholm, Sweden

  6. August 20, 2013 at 12:35 PM

    I think Emma’s right. We limit our dog’s social interactions here so much and in general many Americans are far less dog savvy than Europeans.

    • Mel
      August 25, 2013 at 6:12 PM

      I think you have something there Jodi. We tend to be less knowledgeable about dogs, but we also tend not to consider others when our dogs are not behaving well either. (not all of us, but many.)

  7. August 20, 2013 at 7:46 PM

    I always wondered about that.

    • Mel
      August 20, 2013 at 10:57 PM

      Me too. I had heard they were better behaved. 🙂

  8. August 21, 2013 at 1:08 AM

    When our puppy was about 12 weeks we took her socialising, to open town gallerias to meet people. We can sit with our dog at outside restaurants having a coffe. We went to puppyschool and learned a lot there. Socialising with dogs and people.

    • Mel
      August 21, 2013 at 7:11 AM

      I think you are exactly right Renee. I think all that early socializing makes a huge difference. I loved your comment and contribution yesterday.

  9. Jennifer Cattet, Ph.D.
    August 21, 2013 at 8:16 AM

    I lived in Europe for most of my life and worked professionally with dogs in both Europe and the US. It is true that Europeans are used to taking their dogs everywhere including to the restaurants and stores (except food stores), When coming back to the US 10 years ago, it was a difficult adjustment for me to have to leave my dog at home and keep her on leash at all times when on walks.

    Dogs in Europe do not go to dog training classes more than dogs do here and I found that most owners have similar misconceptions about dogs. The same percentage of dogs are surrendered and behavior issues occur on both continents. The biggest difference however is in the ongoing socialization that many dogs have. Why it all works? If a dog doesn’t behave in public or doesn’t get along with other dogs, the owners simply don’t take them to the park or other highly public places. Most people naturally try to avoid embarrassing situations. More people in Europe also live in apartments so walking their dog becomes a necessity, not just something to do on the weekend. As a result, dogs are constantly exposed to other dogs and people.

    I recently traveled to Paris for a conference and came back a little nostalgic of the freedom dogs and owners have when walking through the streets, including in very crowded places like around the Eiffel tower. http://blog.smartanimaltraining.com/2013/03/25/paris-a-city-of-dog-lovers/. A little scuffle here and there happens of course, but they’re mostly considered as a part of life, not a legal issue.


    • Mel
      August 21, 2013 at 9:37 AM


      Thank you so much for providing such a great explanation of why dogs seems so much better behaved in Europe than in the United States. Your explanation made so much sense. Socialization is everything. I wish we were less restrictive about where we bring our pets.

  10. August 21, 2013 at 11:56 AM

    Great blog as always!
    I spent 2 wks in Europe (mainly Switzerland and Austria this spring and was amazed by the dog behavior. They were in restaurants and stores everywhere. Very well behaved and no issues whatsoever.
    I think it is a matter of what they’ve been used to and socialization.
    Here in Canada they’re banned in stores and restaurants unless they are a seeing eye dog or some other service dog.
    Most cities won’t even let them in their parks unless it is designated as a dog park only.
    Also the comments are very good with many insights.

    • August 21, 2013 at 3:47 PM

      I hear that dogs are just allowed out in public more, and I have always believed that a well socialized dog is a much better behaved dog. Will have to visit someday and see this for myself!

    • Mel
      August 25, 2013 at 6:14 PM

      Thanks Dorothy. I think socialization is the common theme I have heard from many here. It obviously makes a big difference. I also think dog owners are less considerate and educated on dogs here. They could be poorly trained, but many Americans expect others to just grin and bear it.

  11. August 21, 2013 at 3:07 PM

    I imagine that might be true. We spoil our dogs and children and I think you will find that other cultures do not spoil their children so why would they spoil their dogs?

    We should all go to companion dog training. I am going to try for a CD certificate with my Lab puppy.

  12. August 22, 2013 at 12:01 AM

    Coming from Europe myself, I could be wrong but in general I don’t think dogs in Europe behave all that different than dogs here. I think the main difference is in expectations of what they should be like. I think our expectations how our dogs should behave are often unrealistic and that is what leads to most problems and misunderstanding.

    • Mel
      August 22, 2013 at 6:51 AM

      Very interesting Jana. So maybe we just think they behave better in Europe because we see them out and about more there? It very well could be true.

      • August 22, 2013 at 1:57 PM

        I think so, yes. Plus, being out and about more would contribute to them being better behaved. The worst thing that can happen to a dog, and their behavior, is being stuck in the house all the time. E.g. our neighbors had a brown lab. He was either in the house or tied to a tree in front of the house. They had to start putting him in a cage, because he’d tear the whole house apart. Surprise? I think not.

  13. August 22, 2013 at 2:28 PM

    I dont know how dogs behave in america but i moved to live in eu 3 yrs ago and just recently got a dog. bec i got envious, i see dogs everywhere! they take them to parks, cafe’s with out door tables, they ride the bus, tram, trains, you see them left outside grocery stores. At first i was concerned that people might take my dog if i leave him but ive slowly started to leave my dog tied outside the grocery store as well, some are not tied and are leash-less, left outside the store and they wait for their owner without barking or roaming around.

    • Mel
      August 25, 2013 at 5:39 PM

      That is truly amazing. I especially loved the story of the dog on the second floor. Made me laugh! If only all dogs could do that!
      I think socialization is the key from everything I have read. Thank you for sharing your own experience and insight. I have learned so much from you and others who commented on this piece.

  14. August 22, 2013 at 2:31 PM

    oh and another thing, i live in a building and my neighbor at the second floor has a dog that walks himself… he rides the elevator too. after his walks he just sits outside the door and waits for people to let him in and then waits at the elevator and we all know this dog so we just press the second floor and let him out. haha!

    • Mel
      August 22, 2013 at 7:52 PM

      That is the funniest and most incredibly awesome story I have ever heard! Wow!

    • Ana Costa
      July 2, 2017 at 2:43 PM

      I used to live in Lisbon, Portugal, and have been living in Ericeira from the past 7 years (a village 40km from Lisbon). In both places I have met several dogs like this.

      Lisbon is a bit more restrictive because of the traffic. But a small amount of people who live near some king of public garden, often open the door for their pets to go out for a walk. If they live in an apartment, the neighbours will know the dog and the dog will ask for help getting back home.

      This happens more often with medium size dogs (easier to get seen by a car and to defend themselves, but not to big that they scare others) and especially with mutts (because dogs do get stolen here. I believe the dogs seen outside groceries are mostly mutts or dogs who’s owners are known by the people around).

      Ericeira is more relaxed, with large pedonal areas and young people with young ideas opening shops. This environment has led to a recent growth in the dog community. In the middle of the village, among the tourist crowd, dogs are left to roam freely inside/out their owners shops and to socialise with the other shop’s dogs or with the passersby.
      This are all very well cared for dogs and I truly believe that living with us as a community is the only way for them (and us!) to learn how to be a funcional part of that community.

      Unfortunately, we are talking only about a percentage of the dogs in Europe. A smaller or larger percentage depending on the places. There are still a lot of dogs chained to their backyards or dogs pampered like fluffy toys that never leave home.
      For the society at large there’s also still a long way to go…
      I find the restrictions here are still a handicap for a specie that we made part of our society, and I often find the arguments in favor of such restrictions hypocrite and ignorant.

      I found your blog post very interesting, partly because I didn’t know there was this perception about the differences of US/Europe dogs, but also because I think it’s a very important topic that needs to gain visibility and to be considered when making our laws.

      • Mel
        July 5, 2017 at 9:51 PM

        I was so fascinated by your account of dogs in Lisbon and Ericeira! Thank you for sharing your experience. I really enjoyed hearing from someone who has some real experience and can add to the story. I am sad to hear that there are still so many chained up outside or treated like toys and playthings than actual dogs. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. I really appreciate it!

  15. martie13
    August 25, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    After reading all the comments I think there might be another component to the general sense of there being more better behaved dogs in Europe and that is the better behaved owners. I hate to admit it about my own countryfolk but we have a lot of dog owners in the U.S. who are not only irresponsible dog owners but are generally inconsiderate to others by allowing their under-socialized or ill-trained, rude dogs to be off-leash and a nuisance (and/or a threat in some cases) in public areas. Even those dog/owner combinations can be a nuisance on-leash as well. As stated above by Jennifer Cattet, “If a dog doesn’t behave in public or doesn’t get along with other dogs, the owners simply don’t take them to the park or other highly public places. Most people naturally try to avoid embarrassing situations.” Even with all our laws and restrictions some people are just selfish, arrogant or rude and choose to do what they please regardless of how uncomfortable, unsettling or unsafe they make it for others. Yes, lots of socialization helps, but without owners who are considerate of others, the general relaxed attitude regarding off-leash dogs and dogs in general would probably not exist.

    • Mel
      August 25, 2013 at 5:17 PM

      Thank you so much for weighing in Martie! I think you hit it spot on. We do have owners here in America who are irresponsible and inconsiderate. Not all American dog owners are like this, but so many are. Unfortunately.

      It brings to mind a recent event at another dog park we do not frequent. A pitbull killed a Yorkie there very recently and the owner of the pitbull just stood by and did nothing. He was overheard to say “Well, there’s another dog park we can’t go to.” OMG! Not only did he let his dog kill another dog, but he added another bad mark to all pit bulls. He was irresponsible beyond belief. I wish dog owners could do what those in Europe do. Ugh.

      • Miss Cellany
        May 24, 2016 at 5:25 PM

        In Europe the laws regarding dangerous dogs are much stricter and in many countries he likely wouldn’t be legally able to own a pit bull in the first place. Pit bulls (along with other fighting breeds) are either banned outright or specially licensed. The licensing rules are different depending on the country but most require you to have insurance (against any damage the dog may cause) and to keep the dog on a leash and muzzled at all times when in public. You also have to pay a licensing fee. Also if your dog (of any breed) kills another dog or bites a person it can be put down or be registered as a dangerous dog and come under the same regulations as the other licensed breeds – there is no “free bite”. You would also likely face a fine and / or criminal charges for any damage to other people / property / pets.

        Of course people still illegally (without license) get pit bulls (and the other specially licensed breeds), but if they cause problems their neighbors can report them (if so inclined) and the dogs get taken away by the police. This tends to force the owners to be a little more considerate and to keep the dogs out of trouble more.

  16. August 25, 2013 at 12:41 PM

    Reading your post and reading the above comments was really eye-opening! This was a great lesson for me on just how important socializing your dog can be!

    • Mel
      August 25, 2013 at 5:14 PM

      Same here Jessica. I didn’t know what kind of responses I would get, but I was so glad people who have lived or do live in Europe weighed in. I learned a ton. Makes me think we have a lot we could be doing differently in America.

  17. August 28, 2013 at 2:54 PM

    I am a dog trainer and lived with my military husband in Germany for six years. What I observed was the commitment of Europeans, and especially the Germans, to really understand and provide for the needs of their dogs. Puppies are a priority and are socialized and trained extensively throughout the first year of their lives. Most dogs are also kept intact so they develop into adults with adult behaviors, rather than the stunted puppy overly-social behavior we see here in the States. I raised a puppy while living in Europe and he had the best, most socially appropriate temperament of any dog I’ve ever raised. I attribute that to good breeding (which we often don’t see here in the States), early training and socialization he received from the breeder and family before I got him at 8 weeks, and the continued training and socialization I was able to provide by taking him almost everywhere that we went. He was not neutered until 5 years old, when we returned to the States and he began picking up bad behavior from the dogs at the dog park here. I truly miss being able to raise my dogs in the European lifestyle.

  18. September 7, 2013 at 4:17 PM

    Here in New Zealand, we have a long way to go with our dog owners and their training. It is a major reason why we have such problems convincing shops and accommodation providers to be dog-friendly. It’s also why proponents of breed-specific legislation have gotten their way.

    I am jealous of the cultures in Europe and even in the USA for the amount of attention given to responsible dog ownership.

    • Mel
      September 8, 2013 at 8:17 PM

      I think we have a long way to go in the United States too. I hope we will continue to see change in both our countries.

  19. victorialynncarter
    September 20, 2013 at 4:50 PM

    Something my husband told me about his travels abroad and interactions with people of little known european countries is, most of those countries actually require more knowledge and licensing on the humans part to even own a dog. So I would believe that plays a good part in dogs behaving better in public as well as proper socialization like so many others have already mentioned.

  20. Demo
    October 11, 2014 at 5:34 PM

    I lived in both France and Germany, and travel often to Europe for work. I have noticed the well-behaved dogs there every time I go. But I don’t think it’s only more socialization in Europe that leads to the good behavior; there must be something different in the way Europeans raise/train their dogs. My American sister- and brother-in-law lived in Germany for 5 years and they had two labs. Both dogs pulled at the leash constantly, barked and jumped on strangers in the street, stole food; i.e., more like many dogs I see in the USA. They took their dogs everywhere they went in Germany (including on vacations around Europe). The dogs were out in public all the time, and they were still not nearly as well behaved as the other German dogs. I have heard that Germans discipline their dogs more than Americans, and Americans think the discipline phase is too harsh, so we don’t do it. It’s only hearsay; I haven’t seen this to be true. But at least in the case of my in-laws, there was something very different about their dogs compared to the rest of the German dogs, and socialization wasn’t the factor.

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