I was at a kennel club meeting last night and I mentioned that our newest member of the family had been labeled our problem child. (lovingly of course) I went on to talk a little about our struggles with house training*, resource guarding, and some redirected aggression thrown in for good measure. The RG and aggression is thankfully easily managed and we are working on future prevention and treatment with a program. *Interesting note: Her "accidents" have all happened when I am not home which leads me to believe I may have a husband training issue on my hands.**
Not all trainers would admit they have a dog that wasn't a perfect angel all of the time. Trainers should be able to handle every problem easily, quickly, and have dogs that are above and beyond a regular pet owners dog right?*
Some trainers would have you believe that but I'm here to tell you that is a complete load of heifer dung. Dogs are dogs. Living breathing beings. Each is a unique individual with their own issues. Our challenge is finding how best to address those issues and create a life that is as comfortable (harmonious?) for everyone as possible. Even in our own homes. That takes time. We all have different rules and expectations for our dogs. As much as we love them, they are not going to be perfect, tho some may come closer than others in our sometimes biased opinions. Our expectations are an important part of how we perceive the dogs we have.*
I think having a dog with issues to work through actually makes us better trainers. Better because we can now more readily identify with the clients we seek to help. Being more likely to have lived through it personally, we will have also gleaned experience that we can then share. Here's what worked for me, here's what didn't - can be a great resource for others. It saves them time by getting to learn from your trial and error.*
I can also tell you that having had big dogs for years and then adding small dogs to the household, with their squishy faces and different body types, has helped my training skills immensely. Living with various breeds has taught me so much more than just working with them on a regular basis did. (in my case) In part for me because reading dog body language is a huge part of my job. It helps me know the dogs state of mind as I am teaching them. Reading body language is a must for doing any sort of behavioral work as well. Having different breeds has taught me some different accents of that language in a sense. An akitas facial expressions and a frenchies face are quite different after all. (floppy ears, upright ears, tail, no tail also play in)*
The conversation about problems, when I mulled it over in my head later, made me start to think more about the expectations we have of our dogs. Remember they are all individuals and can't be painted with the same brush.*
Here is one example:*
People want their dog to not only not soil in the house, but to come tell them when they need to go out.
I wonder if this may be unrealistic for some. One example: Dogs have a different perception of the area they live in and will soil the areas outside their own perceived important living area. That might just be down the hall. But it's part of our house and home you say? Well to the dog it isn't an important part and is therefore fair game. They aren't sneaking off, they are just going to the place they haven't claimed as important. (important enough not to soil that is) This is why we can employ crate training during the housetraining phase so effectively. That is a space they do not want to soil. So getting them to learn we prefer them to soil outside, and then having them make the extra leap to asking to go out an be a difficult bridge to find for some dogs.*
I take my dogs out on a pretty regular schedule, plus whenever they have been crated and I return home. (and after the big 3 of course - eating, sleeping and playing) Regardless of where we are in training or management I have never expected any of my dogs, past or present, to come get me to remind me to take them out.*
Am I asking to little of them, or am I meeting their needs in a timely manner?
This is only one example of expections.*
Each of my dogs has their own issues. Missy likes to scream her hello when we walk back in the house like she is being flayed alive. Jack can be to pushy with some other dogs. And we have discussed our dear Jenny. Who I forgot to mention is also a notorious teddy bear thief.*
Everyone has different perceptions of what they feel is important for their dogs to learn as well. For my dogs I teach them what works for me and our family situation. Those include:*
No running out the door.
No jumping on people. (unless given permission)
No dragging me around on the leash.
No hard chew toys on the couch. (drool, ick!)
No soiling in the house. (a work in progress for one)
Sit stay for meals until permission given.*
I expect others to do the same, find and use what works for them in their home. Just because I let my dogs on the couch doesn't mean I expect my clients to be the same way. If they want to let their dogs chew bones on the couch, that is fine by me. They are the ones living with them after all. Unless it encrouches on safety issues, it is all good.*
In training we hear unrealistic expectations frequently. "I want my dog to not get in the garbage when I am gone. I want my puppy to stop chewing on me when I roughhouse with him. I want my puppy to not soil it's crate when I am gone to work for 8 hours". I want I want I want. This is why I consider so much of my job to be translating. Explaining why dogs do what they do, and what can be considered a realistic expectation from them. Thankfully, once explained to most clients, there is what Oprah calls "The lightbulb moment" and the road to a peaceful co-existence is stepped upon. Bridging the gap to clear communication between dog and owner is the most important lesson I can teach.*
Once communication is established, the quality of life improves for both the dog and owner dramatically. And that is why I continue to love my job.
The three musketeers on a crime spree. (Who said you can get on the bed?)