I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard in class and in private client lessons, “We had a dog previously and he was perfect, but this dog/puppy we have now is different!” Really? Is the new dog that different, or are they maybe just forgetting what life was like with an adolescent dog in the house because it was so long ago? Are they just reminiscing about the late years of their dog’s life where their dog laid around quietly and calmly most of the day and, finally after several months or years of chaos, there was peace and joy in the home?
Truly, there may be lots of differences in dogs depending on breed characteristics, exercise requirements, differences in personality and energy levels. However, there is always the underlying biological fact that a dog is, indeed, still a dog.
A little bit about dogs… Dogs are self-fulfilling. Dogs do things because they want to, because they are fun and because they receive some mental or physiological reward for their activities, like attention or food. This is typical of 99% of dogs. The other 1% must have very, very lucky owners.
I have to chuckle each time a student or client says, “I don’t want to train the dog with so many treats. The dog should want to please me.” The relationship between man and dog historically is one of mutual benefit: dog performs work for man, dog receives easy food, shelter and warmth. (Not to discount companionship, how many people have you met on the street that became your immediate and automatic best friend without slowly building a relationship history with each other first? My guess is zero.)
Why do we believe in this modern day that dogs should have evolved beyond this historical relationship? Indeed, if we have nothing to offer our dogs that is of perceived benefit to them, why would they willingly stick around? In fact, our relationship with dogs may have actually devolved a bit over time. We bring puppies and dogs into our home, provide “free” food, water, shelter and entertainment to our pups without expecting them to do much of anything. With a few exceptions, modern day life dictates that we don’t need our pet dogs to perform essential everyday duties to earn their keep.
The solution to the problem may very well be to “employ” your dog. I don’t mean buy a farm and have your Border Collie herd the sheep. Although, that would definitely be one solution. For example, learning good manners through obedience training could be considered a job. It’s an opportunity for your dog to “perform a task” and then receive a “payout” or a reward. The process reinforces the inherent relationship that man and dog should have with each other, and reinforces the mutual bond between you (thereby fostering the companionship factorOther ways to employ your dog are to ask for appropriate behaviors during play.Before you throw a ball or a toy during a game of fetch, ask your dog for a “Sit.” Before your dog gets to go outside to relieve themselves and sniff around, they must wait politely at the door. Before your dog gets to go for a walk, they must be calm and quiet before the leash gets attached to the collar or harness.
We’re not asking our dogs to solve world hunger for us, but we’re definitely asking our dogs to do something before they receive their “paycheck” so that peace and balance can be restored to the world. Okay, maybe it’s not that dramatic, but it’s a start anyhow.
And as our dogs become senior dogs, they begin to slow down a bit. They don’t have as much “work” or energy that they can “offer” to us, and so they don’t require as much attention or as frequent of a reward system (paycheck) as they did previously. From the human perspective, this often translates as “the perfect dog” – aka one we don’t have to pay attention to as much. Unfortunately, this seems more revealing of human shortcomings rather than those of our canine companions!
If your dog seems like a holy terror right now, especially when compared to the memories of your 15 year old shepherd mix, stop and think about the early days with your previous dog(s). Was it always that perfect? More importantly, what activities and training can you do to help your current dog “earn its keep” and restore balance in your home?