Training owners to live with their dogs!

Posted on Thursday, June 1, 2017 by Jo Clarke

Training owners to live with their dogs!

Growing up with pet dogs and working dogs, and training dogs professionally for over 10 years I am well versed in dealing with expectation vs. reality.  Society today is based around immediate gratification, immediate response, instantaneous answers to your problems via the internet, a 24/7 lifestyle with 24/7 accessibility to anything you want, whenever you want it… Only one problem. Your dog didn’t get that memo. In fact your dog didn’t even sign up for that lifestyle, I would even go as far as saying, your dog wouldn’t sign up for that lifestyle given the choice.

We satisfy our own needs by getting a dog. The need for a companion, a walking buddy, a pet for the kids, a ‘fur baby’, a relationship break-up comfort blanket, a dog to compete with, to replace ‘old ted’ who was one in a million, whatever your reason, those are your needs, not your dogs.

A dog’s needs can be broadly split into two categories. Needs for survival and the need to be a dog. Needs for survival in the most basic breakdown;  food, water, companionship, exercise (mental/physical), shelter from extremities of weather and a need for adequate sleep. The needs for being a dog may include any of the following, all of the following, and the list is by no means exhaustive:

  • Rolling in animal excrement to mask natural scent
  • Digging
  • Chewing
  • Exploring
  • Playing
  • Guarding/Defending
  • Soliciting for attention/acceptance (other dogs/people/even from other animals!)
  • Hunting/predatory behaviour
  • Mating/seek out a mate
  • Barking/Vocalising
  • Species specific communication which may include aggressive displays.
  • A strong desire for companionship/dislike of being alone
  • To track interesting scents
  • To scavenge/eat faeces/ seek out new food opportunities
  • To mark/define territory/resources with urine or faeces

Did your dog ever sign up for being the next obedience champion, the kids pet which they like to dress up, the one never allowed a ‘got out of bed the wrong side’ day, the one expected to act politely never mind how rude the behaviour of the other person/other dog is…

Do you see where this is going?

Dogs have an amazing ability to adapt to OUR lifestyle, OUR home environment, OUR expectations. But ask yourself the question, is that compromising their welfare and needs by signing them up for a ‘job’ they never asked for?

Sadly, today I see more and more anxiety/stress related behaviour in dogs. I am sure the human Doctors, psychologists and therapists will agree they see the same pattern in human mental health. Arguably the reality is our lives are busier than ever, expectations higher than ever, pressure to be ‘successful’ greater than ever. When I see stress and anxiety in dogs it is usually a build-up of our pressures, stresses, environment, expectations, compromising your dogs needs to be a dog. Not forgetting that the Border Collie’s needs, will be wildly different to the Shih-Tzu’s, and whist we wouldn’t usually expect to see a Shih-Tzu herding sheep successfully (please prove me wrong!), we often expect to see a Border Collie adapting to life as a pet, rather than a working farm dog.

If your dog has developed a behavioural issue, ask yourself first- is this a behavioural problem, or your problem with your dog’s natural behaviour? If the behaviour is ‘out of context’ for example, a terrier dissecting all your children’s battery operated or squeaky toys, you must first ask yourself where are the natural outlets for his needs as a Terrier (killing small animals, namely Rats and mice). If he has none, can you blame him? Has he really got a ‘behavioural problem’ or does your lifestyle just not suit the behaviour he has come pre-programmed with?

Today there are more choices than ever to make. Choose your breed carefully, question your reasons for wanting to own a dog, work out how your own lifestyle can be adapted to meet the requirements of your chosen breed of dog, then seek out training/outlets which will fulfil some or all of your dog’s needs, if they cannot be met immediately within your home environment.

Problem solved, and you have been trained to live with your dog.