Are you really a dog person?

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I hear it all the time “I’m a dog person”. Well we are dog people. I think a lot of us consider ourselves dog fanatics but what makes us “dog people”. I consider someone with a real relationship based on trust, communication and enjoyment to be a “dog person”. There is a real problem in this country and it is dog aggression. It is becoming all to common across the US. Whether it is dog to dog aggression or dog to people aggression it is happening more and more. Well we have more “trainers”, daycare options and dog parks for our dogs to enjoy, so why are our dogs acting out so much more now than ever before? Perhaps we don’t understand our impact and lack of important interaction with our dogs as well as we think, maybe some of us are not actually “dog people” but people who have become care-takers for dogs that happen to live with them.

When ever you see a dog acting out, snapping at dogs on leash, the owner has little or no control over the dog, we turn to each other and make comments on how they should have socialized that dog early. Or perhaps they need to go to classes and get used to being around dogs. But this may actually be the problem. Well behaved dogs are typically the ones with the best relationship with their owner. The ones who don’t need constant attention, food or obedience commands to “just be”.

A lot of trainers in classes will put you through obedience drills designed for dog enthusiasts to use in competition obedience trials. “OK turn and HEEL, walk away from the dog, put him in a DOWN STAY, then call him to you ok great, here is your diploma, enjoy your life”. As soon as that dog leaves the class room he can’t do anything he just did in the real world, well then he gets a special collar and “he knows” when he wears it he is working and has to obey us. These trainers lecture about pack leadership and tell you to be the alpha of your house. Trainers have taught these non-sense exercises in one setting that resembles none of the skills of real life dog ownership. So then that frustrated owner goes the other route. They join a class with a “positive only” trainer who hooks a treat bag to them, hands them a clicker and tries to show them how to click and treat every time the dog does something good, ignore all behavior they don’t like and just keep feeding the dog. This is great for the first few times then people go out into the real world and find that there are self rewarding behaviors like barking and pulling on the lead (they don’t need food to be rewarding). They run out of food and the dog stops working or they never learn to fade the prompt and really understand the concepts from a class built around “trick dog” obedience never meant to be used in every day situations. Again we have location based training with complex rules and devices that are unrealistic for every day life and fatter dogs who don’t listen.

Dog trainers and dog fanatics are failing owners by encouraging them to attend then they tell them “he needs more exercise! He would be good if he were tired, he just needs more exercise”. Now the dogs go to daycare and dog parks because they are “well socialized” from puppy classes and like other dogs. You can tell these dogs because they have little interest or attention to the owner they bark and demand to meet every dog they see. It is a nightmare. Dogs in these social circles of doom are usually totally over-stimulated, scrutinized if they use basic canine communication skills or labeled dominant and aggressive and scolded for showing teeth or growling (punished for trying to communicate) because the owner is not really a dog person. These dogs get up, get dropped off at daycare, go home sleep, up off to daycare, home eat, sleep. Weekend is here, off to the dog park, back home, eat, sleep. How is that dogs life different from an animal at a sanctuary or zoo. We feed him, provide his kind, all the things he needs to feel comfortable and we try to buy things for stimulation. Owners are becoming care takers of feral dogs. Dogs bite for two reasons, fear and frustration. Over-stimulated dogs often become frustrated very quickly. Either frustrated because they can’t get away or because the keep being put in situations to fail. Some dogs learn to enjoy aggression if it is all they know because they have practiced it since puppy class.

Dogs are spending so much time with other dogs they don’t know how to just hang out and enjoy being at home. Then instead of getting control of the dog, they decide we should buy our dog a pet. That will keep him company and wear him out, right? Wrong, never buy a pet for your dog unless that is a decision based on the family wanting to add another dog to the group and you have the time, money and energy to start a new dogs life, education and integration into the pack. A dog is a commitment. We get dogs to enrich our lives and spend time with us. Now there is so much pressure to take them to these “fight clubs” called dog parks and daycare that it passes in owners minds as exercise and interaction. I recently attended a seminar for dog enthusiasts you know, dog people. This room was 75 people made up of trainers (both traditional and clicker based), breeders, vets and shelter workers. When asked by the speaker if anyone in the room goes to the dog park with their dog(s) not a single hand went up. Not one “dog person” would ever take their dog to a dog park… I wonder why? Think about your relationship with your dog. What is the best part of his day? Does it involve you? How many things does he have to look forward to a week? Seriously write it down. Then say to yourself, am I really a dog person. If so good for you, if not it’s never to late. Your dog will thank you for it.

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