It’s o.k. to feel frustrated about your dog’s obnoxious behavior. There, I said it. For many of you, it’s a huge weight off your shoulders to realize that feeling frustrated with your dog’s unwanted behavior is absolutely normal and to be expected. Free yourself of guilt!
Most of my clients come to me frustrated with their dog’s behavior. It is frustrating to have your dog pee in your shoes, dig out from under the $7500 fence you just put in, steal the roast off your counter, use your pant leg as a chew toy, etc. In fact, virtually everything dogs like to do is frustrating. So why do we have them in our homes, as members of our family? Because for those of us who are hooked on dogs, the pros far outweigh the cons.
Frustration about your dog’s behavior is normal. Left unchecked, this frustration can grow into animosity, resentfulness, and a lack of desire to spend time with your dog. The end result is often a dog that winds up in an animal shelter.
Spay/neuter is often touted as the solution to the pet overpopulation problem, but the real answer to pet overpopulation is in owner education. An educated, responsible owner can keep an intact dog without ever producing a single litter. If overpopulation were the real problem, our shelters would be crowded with puppies. Instead, what we find (mainly) are adolescent dogs with impulse control issues or other behavior problems that overwhelmed their first owners.
The responsibility of educating pet owners belongs to training professionals – it is our job to keep animals from ending up in shelters in the first place. Our approach, as a collective group, must be twofold.
PART I: HELP PET OWNERS SELECT AN APPROPRIATE DOG
While this is the proactive (and thus, more effective) approach, unfortunately it’s often too late. The owner is calling for help in training the dog that they have, rather than calling for a consultation on selecting a dog they’ll actually want to live with. Buying a Malinois if you’re really a Basset person is like buying a Ferrari when what you need is a mini-van. As a trainer, trying to convince a person with a Basset personality to integrate themselves into a Malinois lifestyle is like trying to sell a soccer mom a sports car – it may look good, be fun to drive, but it’s really impractical and would never serve your needs well in the long-haul. Eventually, you’d probably sell your Ferrari for a mini-van anyway. Wouldn’t it be easier, on your family and wallet, if you got the mini-van/Basset to start out with? (No offense to mini-van owners, because I am one and Saints don’t fit well in Ferraris. No offense to Basset people either, I love them!)
A pretty face should actually be the least of an owner’s concerns when obtaining a new animal. Far more important is determining an appropriate lifestyle match – are the energy levels compatible in terms of exercise? Are you selecting an animal which is genetically predisposed to have the type of temperament you want and is compatible with your performance goals and family lifestyle? Whether you want a service dog, a dog that is great with kids, a dog that will compete in agility, a dog that will herd sheep, or a dog that does all of these things, no dog is guaranteed to be suited to that purpose, but there are myriad things you can do to stack the deck in your favor and they all start with lots of research before you obtain a dog of any type, from any source.
Behavior problems are the number one reason dogs end up in shelters, and most of these could be prevented if dogs and puppies were matched more carefully with their human “owners.”
PART II: HELP OWNERS KEEP THE DOGS THEY HAVE
Many owners who rehome their dogs go out and immediately obtain another dog. It’s not that they didn’t want a dog, it’s that they didn’t want a counter-surfer, leg-humper, table-leg-chewer, door-bolter, leash-puller, ankle-biter, etc. While I’ve met some individuals who have rehomed their dogs or euthanized them for behavior problems, I’ve never met anyone that was happy about it – I think every one of them felt as though it was the only option left available to them.
Before I proceed, I will say that there are some situations where a dog is just not the right match for a particular family; but what I see far more frequently are owners who just need to develop some new skills in communication and observation, to better understand their dogs.
Here’s the thing – if you work with a good trainer, (and by work, I mean work! You will have to train your dog to be a good companion.) and consistently apply the new skills you learn, you can keep the dog you have without the counter-surfing, leg-humping, table-leg-chewing, door-bolting, leash-pulling, ankle-biting, etc. Your dog may not learn new skills overnight, but your trainer will be able to help you see immediate relief by doing the following:
- identifying your dog’s opportunities to engage in the unwanted behavior and help you manage situations to prevent your dog from rehearsing unwanted behavior
- identifying what factors in the environment are reinforcing the behavior and how you can manipulate them to prevent your dog from being reinforced for unwanted behavior
- helping you identify potential alternative, incompatible behaviors you would prefer your dog engage in
- helping you train those behaviors
- helping you trouble-shoot if any aspect of the plan is not working
In short, your trainer is your support system. It’s her job to help you keep your dog in your house. Call her and let her help you before you get so frustrated that you feel your only option is rehoming your dog. Don’t spend another day feeling hopeless about your dog’s prospects, you can start helping him reach his full canine potential today!