Once you have owned more than one dog, you start to see the individual differences between every single one. As humans, we have a way of comparing past experiences and relationships. “Our old dog NEVER barked at people.” “Rocky loves playing with other dogs, but Baxter is so shy!” “My neighbor’s dog loves to play rough, why doesn’t yours?” Maybe you have compared a dog against a past dog, or created an unrealistic expectation based on an experience. You might see a dog who greets every human he meets and wished your dog would do that, or maybe you had goals of making your dog the next agility star, but your dog is neither agile nor enjoying the sport. The real life examples could continue and continue. As humans, what do we naturally do? Sometimes we push our dog to be in extremely uncomfortable and stressful situations that do not set them up to succeed. We project our wants and desires on to our dogs. Not only does this put a lot of pressure on us, but on our dogs too. People do this with other species as well, including their own children, but I digress.
I’d like to share a story about my terrier mix, Zoey, and my own personal struggle with unrealistic expectations. I rescued Zoey when she was 6 months old at a shelter in Indiana. Apparently she was a gift that a friend gave and the woman didn’t want. I approached her small enclosure and she was in the back corner, shaking like a leaf. There was a sign on her kennel that said she had bitten the handlers that tried to take her out. I instantly felt a connection with this little mutt and saw potential in those scared eyes. Instead of biting me, she licked my hand gently and looked at me, almost to say, “Get me out of here, please!” She never once threatened to bite me as I scooped her up and took her outside. After she was outside, she had the zoomies and was a completely different, jovial pup! I took her home that day. She officially earned the title of the most energetic puppy I have ever owned to date. Nothing and I mean nothing, could make her tired. Dogs like this force you to be active and creative!
When I first began training Zoey, she would not allow men, in particular, to pet her. She would become fearful of them even approaching her. Impolite greetings, such as reaching over her head, were not tolerated by any stranger. I’ve never put her in a situation where she thought she had to bite anyone (and never has since I have owned her), but she will growl if someone makes her uncomfortable.
This is where other people become the biggest challenge and frustration when training a fearful dog. People would not take the hint and would normally try to “befriend her” even more. Before truly learning about fearful dog behavior and their needs, I used to think that her growling was an improper reaction. I would allow people to continue to try and interact with her after she had shown discomfort. This time, I wasn’t listening to her plea of, “Get me out of here, please!” Past dogs in my family had been Golden Retrievers, which typically love everyone and everything. It was a huge learning curve for me.
Almost four years later, and Zoey has made amazing progress throughout the years. She now can confidently walk in high traffic areas and will allow and even appreciate polite greetings from men! Zoey has taught me that any dog can improve with positive training and leadership. Having a dog that forces you to be patient and constantly thinking is hard work! However, changing my own personal expectations for Zoey helped my attitude tremendously. I learned to anticipate situations for Zoey and her confidence in me sky rocketed! Consequently, her behavior improved too.
Some dogs you can take anywhere, and some are so fearful that leaving the house is a scary process for them. Every dog’s temperament is different and every dog can become overwhelmed and stressed. This is where I challenge you to think about what is best for your dog and be respectful about what they can handle. I think to an extent, all of us carry some sort of high expectation for our dogs. This is especially true for those that are so passionate about their dog’s behavior and training!
All dogs have their little quirks. It is the beauty of having them in our lives. Their quirks make us better. We learn patience and understanding.
Thank you, Zoey. You have taught me so much!
Post by: Laura Neiheisel
Now it’s your turn. What kinds of unrealistic expectations have you placed on your dogs? What have you learned?