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Life is good if you're a dog in Germany


Germans love their dogs. They're allowed almost everywhere - on the subway, in most stores, even inside many restaurants. But dogs in Germany lead very different lives from our canine friends here in the U.S. There are strict regulations governing the training and care of pets there. And as Emma Hurt reports, the result is pretty much doggy heaven.

EMMA HURT, BYLINE: On a sunny Saturday morning in Munich's sprawling English Garden, a group of mostly expats are leading their dogs around cones and over jumps in a dog obedience class.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Go, go, go go. Yes, yay (clapping).

HURT: Dog training is big here, says Gianluigi Riccio, an Italian expat in the class.

GIANLUIGI RICCIO: Here, compared to Italy, it's like dog heaven because everyone is focused on training their dogs and have them really well behaved. So that's really a big plus for everyone, for the dogs and for humans as well.

HURT: The thing is, as Riccio explains, your fellow citizens actually expect you to have a well-behaved dog in Germany. Total strangers will comment on his dog's behavior. Lauren Taranu, an American expat in the class, says this is reflective of a larger trend in Germany. People will also correct you if you jaywalk or talk in the quiet car on the train.

LAUREN TARANU: To us, it seems very strange I think as Americans because you don't really reprimand strangers, right (laughter)? But it's kind of like this, you know, if you all do your part, then we have a nicer community as a whole.

HURT: But it's not just societal pressure that governs dog ownership here. Daphne Beutler is a Floridian who moved to Germany in 1983 and now breeds Boston Terriers near Frankfurt.

DAPHNE BEUTLER: Germany tends to regulate lots and lots and lots (laughter). That's - regulation is one of the things the Germans do the best.

HURT: National and state laws run the gamut from prohibiting long periods of time in a crate to bans on electric and prong collars to that dog tax. In Berlin, that'll cost you about $140 a year, plus about $210 if you want a second dog. One state in Germany actually has a test dog owners must pass. Beutler says the high expectations of owners enable dogs to be more integrated in society.

BEUTLER: If your dog is reactive to other dogs or people and it gets all upset or barks every time someone walks by, you won't be going with that dog to a restaurant. So if you want to take your dog out with you, then you need to do these things.

HURT: Despite the taxes, social pressure and regulations on dog owners, in Germany, it can be tough to get a dog. The Berlin Tierheim, or animal shelter, is the largest in Europe. Xenia Katzurke is a dog trainer there. She says they're very strict about who can take a dog home.

XENIA KATZURKE: We will ask a lot of questions. Where is the dog living when you are at work? And how you want to train your dog? And what's the motivation? How many family members?

HURT: Germany, like the U.S., saw a spike in demand for dogs during the pandemic and now a rise in returns of difficult dogs to the shelter. But this is one of a few countries to have animal rights enshrined in its constitution, and euthanasia is very rare. Which means Katzurke is often training dogs who have bitten people multiple times, like Rusty, the 7-year-old Belgian Malinois.


HURT: These are dogs that in the U.S. would probably have already been put down. Katzurke knows firsthand. She used to work in the states.

KATZURKE: And in the U.S., I see, oh, the dog has a problem. It's a dog problem. In Germany, it's a bit different.

HURT: Here in Germany, she says, we know people are the problem. For NPR News, I'm Emma Hurt in Berlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONMA'S "SNAPS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.