As a mother, I can understand and sympathize with the frantic phone call from a client that begins, My dog nipped at my granddaughter! Or this concern: My dog got kicked out of daycare! Or this one: My dog can’t get along with my best friend’s dog. I understand how scary it seems when a dog uses his teeth to tell someone he is uncomfortable with something that person is doing. I understand when dog daycare is needed for long work days, or the disappointment we feel when we can’t take our dogs everywhere we want to. As a dog trainer, however, I have sympathy for the dog, too. I feel for the dog when all the blame is placed on him, because there can be many contributing factors leading to negative behaviors.
Dogs are animals. They have to communicate to us somehow that they are not okay with a situation. Dogs often communicate with their mouths by barking, growling, or biting. Does this mean the dog should not be around kids, find a new home, or worst-case scenario, be euthanized? Not necessarily. Should this dog learn how to be around kids, what is appropriate and what is not, have supervision around children, and be taught commands to keep everyone, including the dog, safe? Yes. And should we, as parents, also take responsibility and learn more? Absolutely.
Bringing a new dog into our lives should be viewed as entering into a committed relationship. To strengthen and grow this relationship appropriately, there are three important concepts to embrace.
First, understand dog behavior. Gaining an understanding of dog behavior can come from a variety of sources: books, videos, television, and through observation. Each dog has his own story. Learning as much as possible about dogs and their needs can help to give us a good understanding of life through the eyes of a dog. Simplified: Dogs need daily physical and mental exercise; rituals and rules, direction and training; and affection, through petting, treats, and food.
Second, follow through with suitable training. Supporting your relationship with behavior and obedience training is important for developing and encouraging proper behaviors in your dog. Knowing the energy level, learning style, and needs of your dog will help to develop the level and amount of training needed. Continuing your dogs’ education at each stage of his life, through ongoing training classes, private lessons, or at-home variations on obedience training will continue to stimulate and keep your dog engaged and motivated. Training should be fun, positive in nature, and continually reinforced. Training should adjust for each level and stage of your dog’s life as well as any new situations that may arise in your family’s circumstances.
Finally, accept your dog for who he is. Knowing your dog’s limitations, having realistic expectations, and being honest with yourself about your dog’s personality will serve you well in accepting your dog. Even a well-trained dog is not always one hundred percent reliable on every command under every circumstance. We all need to see our dogs for who they are – in species, breed, and personality. While we should accept our dogs for who they are and the work we have put into guiding them, we also need to have realistic expectations to keep everyone safe, happy, and fulfilled. Just as we parent our human children, we need to treat our dogs as individuals. We need to love their strengths, strengthen their weaknesses, and know their faults in order to be responsible and caring stewards of the important relationships we humans have with dogs.