It’s about the dog!

Many of you are/have been involved in dogs, and I Follow a number of Blogs that are “dog” driven. On the surface, one would think that we are all “on the same page” but I regularly read comments that really bother me. They bother me because the writer is not only overlooking key factors of dog ownership; not only are they doing an injustice to their dog, but they are potentially missing out on so much of the pleasure that goes with good healthy interactions with their dog.

One of the reasons that dogs are returned to Humane Societies a few days after being adopted is because they are unruly around their new home; they are destructive; they bark a lot etc. In one simple statement “They are not trained!”

Incredible as I find this, there clearly are people who believe that somehow dogs will train themselves, or they will intuitively learn English and become respectful family members. It may well happen in Walt Disney world, but in our world… not likely!

As Ray was my first dog, I guess I had an advantage in knowing nothing about dog ownership. Knowing absolutely nothing is an incredible incentive to ask lots of questions of different people; read lots of books, and hopefully come to some conclusions as to how best to approach this new responsibility. Ray has been here for over 3 years now and I am still in contact with his Humane Society trainers, and still asking questions and getting their opinions.

My two children are now in “middle age” and I am still learning about them. I see many common areas between bringing up children and bringing up dogs. Both species need to know where “the boundaries” are. Both need structure in their lives. Both must be considered as long term commitments. Both can bring such priceless joy.

Bringing up children within a family culture is little more than training. They learn what behavior is acceptable, and they learn what clearly is unacceptable. They learn the family routines and adapt to them. Assuming that they are given much love and attention, they will learn to respect and accommodate certain aspects of their life simply because they wish to maintain the family’s current state.

The mental ability of a dog is generally considered to equal that of a 3 year old child. This is an important perspective to understand when relating to a dog because it means that it may show many traits that are expected from 3 year old children and, as with children, should be addressed.

Knowing that mental comparison should reinforce the fact that all dogs need training if they are to become an integral part of any family. Training should be done by the dog owner as not only will the dog become familiar with the owner’s sounds and body language, but it will provide a golden opportunity for bonding. Trainers that we know all insist on the owner being present during dog training sessions for just those reasons. They do stress that they are in fact training the owners to understand and work with their dogs!

There are a number of training methods “out there” and upon reviewing some, I asked myself a very simple question “Do I want Ray to cooperate because he really wants to please, or do I want him to cooperate out of fear of the consequences?” In my mind the answer was extremely obvious. Another question which came to my attention in the context of training was “If you wouldn’t do it to a 3 year old child, should you be doing it to a dog?” Again, the answer was rather obvious.

Whether planning a family, or adopting a dog, there is so much to consider if a mature and responsible decision is to be made. Committing to either one on an impulse is not only likely to cause much grief, but is totally unfair on the new family member… regardless of species!

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35 thoughts on “It’s about the dog!

    • Yes, it is so important to see beyond that “cute puppy” (e.g.), and recognize that dogs are long term commitments. Buying/adopting a dog should not be a decision made lightly and/or on impulse…. for the dog’s sake!

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  1. Agree with all points Colin. I would suggest that the humane society’s and other agency’s placing pets with families should examine their vetting process if so many dogs are returned. The agencies should be very discreet in who they allow to adopt. As you know suggest desire and good intention does not qualify one to be a dog owner or parent,

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    • Hi Michael. I agree, but is a rather complex situation. Many people get very indignant if declined and simply go elsewhere, so although I do not know the policy of our Humane Society, I suspect they may be giving the prospective adopter the “benefit of the doubt” with an open offer to advise with any issues. In our case, Ray was not a dog they thought we should have because of my dog-bite history, and also because he would be my first dog. I debated the pros/cons with them and (clearly) won! I was witness to a young professional couple being declined re a Husky pup based on their lifestyle (away all day and living in a hi-rise apartment). A lot of the issues just seem to be a perfectly good adoption going sour simply because the novelty has worn off and the dog becomes a major inconvenience. I just hope those people never have children! 🙂

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      • Your points are very valid and you have more experience with Humane Societies than I. From all you have written about Milton(?) humane society they seem to be an outstanding organization. I was speaking more generally and not about them in particular. Our experience has been sole with rescue groups and the specific group that all three of our Goldens have come through have very rigid guidelines, extensive questionnaires, and usually a visit to the home in advance of ok’ing the adoption. Or, they work referral based. For example I referred a friend vouched for them and the rescue group took it on my word (they know me quite well through our adoptions and the Golden Kali blog) that the family was qualified and committed. Thanks as always for your insightful posts and comments.

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    • “We learned so much about each other” – really says it all. I have known a couple of people who seem to think that they just hand over their dog to a trainer, and it comes back fully trained. Theoretically it may be possible, but there is no substitute for the benefits gained by participating in the training. Not only is it a wonderful bonding opportunity, but you can also learn so much both about your dog and training! Having just written that, there are many people who believe that their country’s educational system is totally responsible for the child’s education i.e. they as parents are not involved! With that perception, what chances do dogs have?

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  2. I am always saddened when I see someone discipline a dog with a slap. As you know I have cats. They also need to be trained on what’s acceptable and what’s not. It starts on day one in the house. Although I don’t admit it on my blog, my cats are well behaved. When there is a mishap, there is a reason and I have to figure out the reason. Sometimes I have to get the vet to intervene because I can’t figure out the reason. It’s a learning process. Right now Mollie is pulling out all the hair on her inner thigh. Typically that means she’s stressed and over grooms to compensate. We’re working on that now.

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    • It is sad to see such discipline. One sensitive issue with me are barking dogs that get a yank on the leash and an angry dialogue about barking! To start with, the yank on the leash does little in the context of communicating anything constructive, and the dog does not understand a tirade in any human language. Ray used to bark at every person and dog that we met. The solution was logical – find out why he was barking, and then address it. With the help and advice from trainers, and a nominal outlay for Behavior Adjustment Training(aka B.A.T. program) Ray very rarely sees a reason to bark! It really is not that complicated, but there must be a willingness to ask for help when necessary.

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  3. Good post Colin. It still surprises me how many people assume because the adult dogs were trained, it was inbred and they didn’t have to try.
    I found my Introduction to Dog Psychology course extremely beneficial and enlightening.
    When we first arrived here, there was a Mr Crufts Champion who had a doberman. It was less than a year old and forever running amok on site, wouldn’t respond to recall, and he never cleared up after it.
    He was megga impressed with Maggie (bless her) and asked at what age her training had started. We said Day One of her arrival in the house and he was surprised, as he believed training shouldn’t start until the dog was a year old. We thought what a waste of time and an invitation to accumulate bad habits.

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    • Some people do have some really strange notions. I have heard of people who adopt a “really cute puppy” and (incredible as it seems) get quite distraught because it keeps growing!!!! One can only shake one’s head in disbelief, and feel very badly for the puppy.

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      • On the same page there. A couple I know bought a cute little fur ball when they lived in a one bedroomed flat. It was a St Bernard. Luckily they were in a position to move to a property with a massive secure garden, but Bruce was a real couch potato and preferred to look out of the window!

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    • It can be a truly wonderful experience, but they are a lot of work. I have written a book covering the first 18 months of living with Ray which clearly describes the many positive experiences, and the many negative experiences, of having Ray here. Most behavioral problems that are attributed to dogs are in fact the result of irresponsible owners. It is so important for dog owners to learn as much as they can about their dog if a harmonious and healthy relationship is expected. My book link is below if you are interested:

      https://www.amazon.com/Who-Said-Was-Adoption-unsuspecting-ebook/dp/B01FIT5PAM/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468072776&sr=1-1&keywords=who+said+i+was+up+for+adoption

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    • Good for you. The rewards are endless, but you don’t get anything out without putting a lot in. Colin is right.
      I’ve always had a dog, and they have all been different. ‘Training’ should start from day 1 of ownership so that your new member of the family knows their place. Rewards/treats for good behaviour always work better than cross words (my opinion). Chose your new companion with care to suit your lifestyle. The professionals at the shelters are there to help. Maggie isn’t a rescue or adoptee (we’ve had her from 7 weeks and she’s now 11), but Ray is a good example of how things can work out for animals and owners alike. Good luck!

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        • It was described to me as repetition and reward. And another little gem that came to light was not carrying over ‘cross words’ after the dog had had a nap, as when they wake up, they see it as a start to a new day and have probably forgotten what they did wrong!

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          • Exactly. Dogs do apparently live “in the moment”. If a dog is 20 feet away from the owner and owner says “Sit”… and the dog sits; then the owner calls it by name in order to give it a treat, the owner thinks he/she is treating the dog for sitting… but the dog believes it is getting the treat for the last thing that it did – responding to a call! This has been stressed to us on many occasions with training Ray. We must understand his thought process to ensure we are not giving out confusing messages.

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            • Indeed.
              People laugh at us with our ‘naughty step’ which is anywhere we’re not if Maggie does the Elvis or something unacceptable to us. She knows we are displeased, but we never carry it on too long. It’s always worked for us anyway. Hugs by proxy to Ray. 🙂

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  4. You’re absolutely right, C. It’s all about the dog…and all about the training. When Mom adopted me, I was 3 and had lived on the street and in a high-kill-shelter for my whole life. Apparently, because of this, I did not know how to conduct myself. Mom signed me up for obedience school IMMEDIATELY. I quickly turned out to be a good girl. SUCH a good girl that she went on to have me certified as a therapy dog. Now I help veterans and little kids who are learning to read! Training…..

    Love and licks,
    Cupcake

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    • Wow Cupcake. That is amazing. You should be very proud of yourself, and you clearly have a very smart Mom! I too have learned so much, but I don’t think a therapy dog is in my immediate future, although I am letting my Mom use me for support when she needs to. I just hope that I never see a squirrel or cat while she is leaning on me! Woof! Ray.

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