This link to an article by Jon Katz on Slate.com is a few years old, but its topic remains utterly timely. The article discusses the heartbreaking story of a nice, affluent family that adopts a lovable Golden Retriever named Ernie.
The family is made up of well-intentioned, decent people. The Golden is a friendly, sociable, normal dog.
But the family members are busy. Nobody takes the time to bond with and train the dog properly. Lacking the proper bonding and training, the dog becomes confused and anxious, and begins to act out. From the article:
As he went through the normal stages of retriever developmentteething, mouthing, racing frantically around the house, peeing when excited, offering items the family didn’t want retrieved, eating strange objects and then vomiting them upthe casualties mounted. Rugs got stained, shoes chewed, mail devoured, table legs gnawed. The family rejected the use of a crate or kennela valuable calming tool for young and energetic dogsas cruel. Instead, they let the puppy get into all sorts of trouble, then scolded and resented him for it. He was “hyper,” they complained, “wild,” “rambunctious.” The notion of him as annoying and difficult became fixed in their minds; perhaps in his as well.
A practiced trainer would have seen, instead, a Golden Retriever that was confused, under-exercised, and untrainedan ironic fate for a dog bred for centuries to be calm and responsive to humans.
A vicious cycle developed in which the dog, through no fault of his own, ultimately became marginalized and unloved by the family.
Complaining that he was out of control, the family tried fencing the back yard and putting Ernie outside during meals to keep him from bothering them. The nanny stuck him there most of the day as well, because he messed up the house. Allowed inside at night, he was largely confined to the kitchen, sealed off by child gates.
At no time did the family fail to offer Ernie high quality food, veterinary care, or walks (although the walks he did receive seemed wholly inadequate to me). However, in my opinion they failed to give Ernie one of the most basic necessities of a dog’s life: true love.
Sadly, I see this situation regularly as a veterinarian. Clients ask about behavior problems in dogs that are well-meaning, but have not benefitted from appropriate training and bonding. The dogs are not at fault for these problems. There is no way to avoid it: if you want a good relationship with your dog (or with anybody, for that matter) you must invest your time in it.
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