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Let Dogs Be Dogs

 There are few events in life more joyful and exciting than adding a new puppy to your family or adopting a new dog. I mean, come on, it’s nearly every kid’s dream. When we think about getting a new dog, most of us see a similar Disney-like film reel in our minds. We picture roly-poly puppies romping at our feet through green grass, scratching fat puppy bellies, and smelling that swoon-inducing puppy-breath. Or we picture walking down the aisle of an animal shelter and picking out The One, you know, the one that connects with you, your soulmate, and taking him or her home for a happily ever after. We envision strolling along the beach together and playing fetch and sitting outside at restaurants so our buddy can join us as often as possible.

When I counsel people who are looking for a new dog, one of the first things we do is take a look at their dream picture. In other words, why do they want a dog, and what do they want to do with their dog? What do they think a typical day with a dog will look like?

Most of their answers mirror the film-reel version of having a dog as I’ve stated above. People want to go to dog parks, play fetch, have a road trip buddy and a companion that quietly sits by their side through thick and thin. Very few people have visions of multiple middle-of-the-night potty runs, in all sorts of weather. (As I write this article, we are in the midst of a massive rain storm, days of wind and water, and I’m house-training a 9-week-old puppy. We are both permanently soggy and very frizzy-haired.) Nearly nobody mentions dealing with a rambunctious, overstimulated, under exercised adolescent dog who is just so happy to see you when you walk in the door at the end of a long, hard day and muddies your work clothes with paw prints. Or the sheer agony of needle-sharp puppy teeth piercing their skin until they feel like a human pincushion, nor the hazard of slipping on a urine puddle in the kitchen floor.

As someone who specializes in puppy raising and runs a large puppy training school, I do get to see the early bliss of new puppy parents. I see the dream picture in the way they gaze at their new pup, full of hope and expectations. However, I also hear the same frustrations and field the same questions hundreds and hundreds of times over. Here are the top questions new puppy owners ask:

• When will she sleep through the night?

• How do I get her to stop biting (me, the kids, my clothes)?

• When will he be housebroken?

• Can you get her to stop chewing on all of my things/picking stuff up off of the ground/eating my garden plants/digging?

• How do I get him to stop whining in his crate?

• How do I stop her from jumping/pulling on leash?

• Always followed by the absolute statement: I want him to always come when called.

Do you see a trend in these questions? For the most part, after a fleeting honeymoon period, most people really just want their dog to stop. Basically, they want them to stop acting like dogs and as soon as possible with as little training effort on their part as possible, too.

It is always a bit disheartening to me. It seems to me as though so many people get dogs and then are annoyed by basic dog behavior. I get it; some of a dog’s natural behavior is not necessarily appealing to us humans and, sure, that is where training comes in. Yet it is the complete lack of tolerance and understanding that gets me. Dogs are perfect at being dogs, and they are going to do doggy-things such as sniff, bite, bark, dig, pull, and, yes, pee.

We are the ones who domesticated these animals and invited them into our homes, yet we are so unaccepting of their natural inclinations. Aside from not taking into account nor honoring dogs as the intelligent and fascinating creatures they are, people often also have little patience for dog training as well.

Behavior modification is a process; it can be fabulously fun, and can build a bond that will reach your expectation of a nearly-Disney-like relationship with your dog, but only if you make the effort to train and practice. Take it one step and a time. Growing a relationship and developing new habits cannot be rushed. You are not entitled to your dog’s good behavior. It is something you create.

For the love of dog, please be patient when training your dog. Also, find space in your dogs’ lives to let them just be dogs. Honor and respect your dog’s inherent dogginess; observe, and learn how to find joy in it for yourself.

Kelly Gorman Dunbar is director of the Center for Applied Animal Behavior where she recruits and trains instructors for SIRIUS Puppy & Training, the family business.

Main article photo by: Jonathan Kriz-Creative Commons