When we applied to adopt Ray, the Oakville & Milton Humane Society expressed reservations. They were concerned about me because not only did Ray have an unknown history, and they knew that he was going to be challenging, but he would be my first dog. To complicate matters further, I had been bitten a long time ago by a German Shepherd, and Ray was certainly a product of a German Shepherd and another breed. (More details are in his book “Who Said I was up for Adoption?”).
In retrospect, I think my biggest asset with Ray was my inexperience, simply because I had no prior expectations from him! People with a history of dog ownership have got those experiences to draw from which would seem to generally be an advantage, but could be a disadvantage when a “Ray” comes along! As Carol succinctly stated on a number of occasions “I’ve never known a dog quite like Ray before!”
Given the circumstances that I was putting myself in, and drawing from many years of assorted life experiences, one basic and immediate need was to try and see the world from his perspective. The Humane Society trainers where an incredible help with this as they explained certain behavioral characteristics to me. If I could have some grasp on “why” Ray was doing certain things, then change should be no more than removing the “why” in some manner. It seemed logical!
Ray used to bark at everybody and every dog he saw. It was explained to us that he was uncertain about them and was giving them cause to go away using his deep “voice”! The solution was to get him to learn that other people and dogs are not necessarily a threat to him. We were successful and Ray sees no need to bark at people and dogs anymore.
There are many examples of this and yet, while it all makes perfect sense to me, it consistently amazes me how many people have not considered a dog’s perspective. I can accept that people who have never lived with a dog would have no way of relating, but it is frustrating when I see dog owners giving no consideration to their dog’s view of the world. While I believe that I will like most people that I meet, there will occasionally be somebody who gives me a “problem”! I see no reason to think that Ray is any different. He will, occasionally, undoubtedly meet a person or a dog who he is intuitively wary of.
People in general are about 2 to 3 times Ray’s weight and roughly 4 times his height. If I saw a total stranger over 20 feet tall and weighing well over 300lbs coming towards me, I would probably be cautious. If that person stood directly in front of me; bent over; reached out a huge hand , and then it disappeared behind my head…. I would probably quickly move out of the way and verify what was happening but then…… I am not leashed! I have that option! It is easy to understand a more aggressive reaction by a leashed dog!
It is very annoying, and very sad, to hear a dog being labeled “Bad dog” simply because it is doing what it’s view of the world dictates is necessary. Ray has done a number of alarming things as a result of him not trusting the world around him, but all can be explained and, if they can be explained, then they can be addressed.
When Ray grabbed our neighbor’s arm (which was coming in my direction to give me a piece of paper), was he a “good dog” for protecting me, or a “bad dog” for misreading the body language? Is he a “good dog” for alerting us to people on our property, or a “bad dog” for barking at people delivering flyers? Is he a “good dog” for letting us cuddle him, or a “bad dog” for not allowing others to do the same?
It really all comes down to our perspective on the behavior however, what is much more important than our perspective… is Ray’s perspective because, if we do not understand that, then nothing is likely to change.
Ray is probably more like every other dog than we give him credit for! His life experiences have just been a little unusual and, in order to try and understand him, we must focus on his perspective because, in the end, it really is his perspective that counts!