And did it work out the way you expected?
Companionship ✅ CHECK!
Exercise ✅ CHECK!
Making new friends ✅ CHECK!
To make you feel important? ❎ WA WAA ...
For some people, getting a dog is just the next thing to do to complete the image of the corn flake family - Mum, Dad, nice house, a boy, a girl, and the pet dog. It’s part of the image.
Some people have visions of themselves striding across the moors in all weathers, their trusty companion two steps behind them.
Another person may be hoping to combat loneliness or bereavement by having a dog to talk to. They know that having someone to look after will take them out of themselves, perhaps get them out meeting more people.
Yet another may have admired a dog sport - agility perhaps, dancing with dogs, or search and rescue - and are dying to get their own dog and have a go.
Then there are those who are more down-to-earth in their expectations. They love interacting with another species, having to learn a way to communicate without verbal speech. They want their children to experience the bond they had with an animal when they were growing up, and they know it can teach their children empathy, individualism, patience, and resilience.
Some so miss their previous dog that they want to replace him. Their old dog fitted their home like a comfy pair of slippers. They have entirely forgotten the puppy months or years they had to work through to reach this happy state.
Some people just love having a large, busy household, with children, in-laws, cats, dogs, rabbits, sheep, hens, horses, you-name-it. They are busy from morning till night ministering to their flock of dependents, and they find it very fulfilling.
But I’m not even going to waste any column inches on the deluded people who buy a dog as a fashion accessory.
It takes all sorts …
There are so many diverse reasons for people to bring a dog into their lives. Some are good and valid. Some not so much. Many are looking for the jigsaw puzzle piece that precisely matches the gap they are looking to fill. This is ok as far as it goes - but that’s sometimes not very far.
- The sports dog fanatic, for instance, will choose the line and breeder very carefully, to get a dog suited to their purpose of speed, agility, soundness, temperament, and stamina.
- The corn flake family will want the perfect Walt Disney dog to complete their menage - a bombproof, undemanding, adaptable dog - probably of a fashionable breed or appearance.
- The outdoorsy type will want a dog built for long days in the field - a marathon runner rather than a sprinter.
- The empty-nester may be wanting something fluffy and cuddly.
What they may be forgetting is that their chosen dog will have an opinion about all this!
How many families do you know where the children are so different from their parents that they are almost another species? My mother was convinced they’d switched her baby in the nursing home, and referred to me as “The Changeling”. Even the adman’s dream - the corn flake family - may have children who don’t fit their vision of the perfect family.
It doesn’t matter how carefully you choose the line, type, or breed - the dog you’re getting is an individual. He may slip perfectly into the mould you have ready for him.
Or he may not.
Then, as the saying goes, you’re stuffed.
Whatever made you get a dog in the first place, you now have a dog with his own personality. And just like with people, you’re going to have to work with that dog to make this “marriage” work. You may have to abandon your first idea entirely, when you find
- your future agility partner is noise-sensitive and afraid of crowds of people
- your Disney dog gets sick of the children pestering him and snaps at them
- your forest-trail dog has a congenital hip problem
- and maybe your companion dog is not a people-pleaser and would prefer not to be cuddled
You now have some work to do!
Please don’t fall into the trap of comparing this new dog unfavourably with your old dog, who was no trouble. You maybe had that dog for fifteen years, you knew each other well, and have long since forgotten what that dog put you through as a puppy! (Yes - he did. You’ve just forgotten.)
What to do?
If the chasm between what you wanted and what you got is so huge that you are not prepared to put the necessary effort into the relationship, then make a decision straight away to re-home this dog to somewhere where he will be valued for his own sake. Don’t go soppy and heartbroken about it. Better to break off the engagement before you get to the church!
The shelters are bulging with dogs who people held onto until they hated them. These poor creatures are now walking basket-cases - they have been emotionally neglected and generally messed up. Their new owner will have a lot of history to work against. Sometimes this works out brilliantly. Sadly some dogs become serial “abandonnees” and keep finding themselves back in the dogs’ home.
If you realise that this dog is not at fault for failing to live up to your lofty expectations, and abandonment is not an honourable option, then keep granny’s words in mind: “You’ve made your bed, now you must lie on it.”
Coming to grips with the fact that relationships are a two-way process, and give-and-take are going to win the day, will get you a long way along this path.
Force-free, and blame-free, training will come into its own here. You have discovered that trying to mould your dog to be something you want and he isn’t leads only to frustration and ill temper. Go back to the basic force-free mantra:
Reward what you like
Ignore what you don’t like
Manage what you can’t ignore
Take blame and stress out of the relationship and work on finding where your dog scores.
- Is he funny?
- Is he kind?
- Is he hyper?
- Is he dozy?
- Is he active?
- Is he patient?
- Is he thoughtful?
- What does he love? Food? Play? Running? Barking? Sleeping?
- Does he love company?
- Does he prefer his own company?
- Loves dogs?
- Is afraid of dogs?
Find what he likes doing best, work in those areas, and use his favourite things or activities as a reward. Be sure that the reward is something your dog finds really rewarding - not something you think he ought to like. There’s a world of difference between a dry biscuit and a sliver of hot dog or a game with the frisbee.
What else is rewarding to your dog - activity? Games? A walk? Opening the garden door? Once he sees that doing what you like brings him his top rewards, it’s full steam ahead to a successful partnership.
Whatever misfit you seem to have, locking it in a crate and moaning is not going to change it to what you want. Confronting the situation and working with it will bring you a companion you can be proud of.
And open up possibilities to you that you didn’t know existed!
Maybe your child is never going to be the gregarious doctor you hoped he’d be, and is happier working on his own in a forest. Maybe your daughter won’t join the family manufacturing business and would rather become a history professor. You adjust. You don’t choose your child, you have to accept what you’re given.
So maybe your agility career has been blighted before it started, but you now have a devoted lapdog who you have become very fond of. And maybe your friendly family dog gets attacked and becomes fearful of all dogs and strangers. You adapt. You accept that this is the dog you committed to, and you make a life for him that accommodates his fears and phobias, his likes and dislikes, as well as your own.
It’s not the end of the world
And when you come across “problems” in your dog - things that he’s doing that you don’t like - take a longer perspective. Don’t have a knee-jerk reaction of “Don’t!”, “Stop that!”, “Bad dog!” - that’s not going to help anybody. Adding your anger to the situation is only going to make it worse. (I tell you - I’ve been there! I know.)
You need to take the long view. Problems don’t usually arrive overnight. It just takes you time to notice them and realise they’ve become a habit you could do without. So they’re not going to disappear overnight either. Anyone who tells you they can effect instant change in your dog is likely to be using aversive methods - doing nasty things to the dog, in other words. This can have appear to be a quick fix, while your dog cowers into submission from this stranger who is unpredictable and unpleasant. But frightening anyone into doing something will never work.
You need to get your dog to decide to change his ways in order for there to be any genuine change
And this can only be done by force-free, science-based methods without using nasty gadgets or intimidation. Dogs may not have read the books, but their brains do operate in a pre-defined way - just as ours do. So learning how their brains work is going to give you a flying start with changing their habits.
You can start by getting Calm Down! Step-by-Step to a Calm, Relaxed, and Brilliant Family Dog which is free at all ebook stores.
And tell us in the comments how your dog surprised you by turning into a great dog despite not being at all what you expected!