It’s Your Dog’s Life:
Why you should focus on what your dog CAN do, and not what they CAN’T.
Brittney Frazier, CPDT-KA, Found Chicago Boarding and Training Center
Prior to adopting and welcoming a new dog into our home for the first time, we all imagine the lifestyle and activities we will be enjoying with them throughout their long and happy life with us. We idealize a world where our dog can participate in every car ride, dinner party, and trip out to pick up the daily newspaper. We want to wake up on a Sunday morning, walk over to the coffee shop with our dog at our side, then head over to the dog park for a few hours of fun. What an amazing place to be a dog owner Chicago can be!
But when our dogs develop their own personalities over the years we spend with them, we tend to be displeased if our dog is destined for anything other than what we had imagined for them. A person who wants a dog to play fetch with may be disheartened when their dog only wants to cuddle on the couch. A person may be even more disheartened with a dog developing an issue with meeting new people, if they had imagined a very social and well-adjusted dog. However, often times we forget how malleable dogs can be and that much of their life can be dictated by our own actions. Instead of focusing on learning more about our dogs and finding out what our companion excels at in order to form a stronger bond with them, we can easily fall into the position of focusing on what our dog is unable to do, making it more difficult to change or manage their difficult behavior in the first place.
There are times when I have asked a dog owner struggling with a particular issue if they “like” their dog. Most people look perplexed at the question and answer quickly with an “of course.” However, when their answer is followed with a “but…” and more details about the issue in question, it becomes clear to me that this person may be unwilling to accept their pet in its entirety, leaving me with very few options to help them. The same quality of acceptance and understanding we cherish in our pets can go incredibly far when we employ it in the other direction.
When exploring your dog’s strengths, you are bound to find a world of activities that can unlock your dog’s potential in a way you may never have initially imagined. For example, a dog who may not do well in a dog park setting because of its energy level and eagerness to wrestle with every dog it meets, may perform wonderfully running alongside their owner on foot or on a through the same busy park. With the dog redirecting its energy towards something constructive, it may learn over time to be calmer around other dogs and start to enjoy structured meetings with one or two dogs at a time, which you will start to enjoy as well. While this may seem an inconvenience to you at first, seeing your dog succeed in a different setting will allow you to bond with them in a way you may never have previously.
I see this problem occur often with dogs who have difficulties with strangers. Their owners imagine a world where they can introduce their dog to anyone at any time with no structure on their part. We tend to forget how much dogs rely on our cues and structure to feel safe when in new situations. Dog owners tend to be reluctant to adopt a new “protocol” for their dog when meeting new people because it’s not the initial idea they pictured. However, the idea is that the more a dog knows what to expect when entering a “strange” scenario, the more positive their reaction.
Something that may be comforting to know is that even dogs in working-line breeding programs trained by professionals in the field can become what is called a “career change dog” due to finding out they just aren’t cut out for the job. This can be in anything from a failed service dog to personal protection dog to a police dog. Regardless of what our plans are for a dog, there are certainly times the dog decides otherwise and we are forced to accept and deal with their wishes. Just like it would be unfair of a police department to force a timid or highly sociable dog to take down criminals, it is unfair of us to expect a dog who is uncomfortable with strangers to attend our dinner party.
As a professional a dog trainer, most people see my dog Mona waiting patiently at my side, tail wagging, head tilting at every word I say and comment on how wonderful she is. I do agree she is an amazing dog, however the great deal of training, socialization, and sheer time I have invested into her outcome is something most people outside of the dog training field are unable to do, resulting in a dog with minor limitations Mona may not have. On the other hand, even dog trainer’s dogs are not perfect, and I find myself reminding people that there are behaviors I have struggled to wipe out of her repertoire over the years that people are often surprised at. I have come to the understanding that as much as I want her to have no “issues” whatsoever, she is an animal with her own temperament she was born with, and is never doing anything in spite of me, so I should be understanding and give her the life most rewarding for her.
Accepting limitations in your dog’s life can be the best thing you do for their anxiety levels and well-being. And usually, putting your frustrations aside and just choosing to enjoy your time with your dog will help the initial issue immensely. Choosing to have fun with them in the way they enjoy, rather than the way you want can be enlightening to your relationship with them. Look into your dog’s breed or history and find an activity that suites their instincts. Try agility with your herding breed or train your bully breed to do new tricks. Finding a way to engage your dog, regardless of breed or behavior, will allow you a whole new world of possibilities, even if it’s not what you had planned.