Sunday, April 23, 2017

Making the Best of Things


It’s a sad fact of life that sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want.  This definitely applies to dog ownership.  Maybe you had unrealistic expectations for your dog or made a poor choice of breeds for the life you lead.  Maybe you didn’t realize how much training a new dog needs.  Maybe you forgot how much trouble puppies can get into.  Whatever the reason, sometimes “perfect” just isn’t going to happen – at least not right away.

I have many clients whose dogs don’t behave the way they expected them to.  Sometimes the fix is fairly simple – owner education, increased exercise, training, and maybe a bit of behavior modification.  Sometimes it’s not so simple.  A frequent problem is that the client simply chose the wrong breed for his or her living situation.   The dog is too big, too active, or too strong for the owner, or the breed is not known for being easy to train and socialize.  My goal as a trainer is help the owner be happy with the dog he or she has by teaching ways to deal with challenges that come up, and to help find ways for the dog to lead a happy life. 

Too many people choose their dogs for the wrong reasons.  They felt sorry for a puppy in a pet store or flea market and brought it home, not thinking about what kind of life they could offer this dog.  Or they bought it on impulse.  They chose a breed because of its appearance and image or because it’s trendy, not knowing how much work they would have to put in to make it a satisfactory pet.  They chose a dog requiring large amounts of exercise or work daily to keep it sane, even though their schedules would not allow for this. 

The good news is that owners can usually make things work if they’re willing to take on a long-term commitment.  If the problem is the dog’s need for more exercise than you can give it, check out a good doggy daycare facility.  Try an Agility class or other active dog sport.  Hire a responsible kid to walk or run the dog daily. 
There are ways for “workaholic” dogs – those who need jobs - to be great pets.  There are interactive toys are on the market that will allow a dog to “hunt” for treats or work puzzles with his snout and paws to get rewards.  They can also be taught to do household jobs such as putting away their toys or carrying things for the owner. They thrive on training and take well to learning skills and tricks.  Creativity will help the owner come up with meaningful work for these dogs.

There is even hope for the imp-puppy from Hell who chews everything, bites hands, soils carpets, tries to herd the kids, guards its toys, and makes you question why you keep him.  Learn the tools of the trade for “civilizing” young puppies.  Understand that the solution to most puppy problems is closer supervision.  
Gently teach him limits – no chewing, biting, digging, etc.  Teach him to rest quietly in a crate or cage with a special toy or chewy for short periods when you need a time out.  Patience is crucial because - training or not - puppies are a handful.  Age will solve a lot of problems, along with a little work.

If the situation involves one of the “image” breeds (Rottweilers, Bully breeds, Mastiffs, etc.) a of training and socialization is absolutely required.  They can be wonderful pets, but their owners must be prepared for the responsibility of owning large, powerful animals.  If the choice was a high-energy “Doodle” or terrier, there may not be such a thing as too much exercise for the dog.  They’re smart, too, and if they aren’t adequately trained they’ll use those awesome brains on something that might not make you happy.

In short, most problems with dogs can be resolved.  But solutions don’t come without work.  If you absolutely must have perfection, maybe a stuffed toy might have been a better choice, but they’re not near as much fun as the real thing.
By Dorothy Miner 

Dorothy Miner is a long-time dog obedience and tracking instructor, judge of canine events, and author.  She teaches weekly classes for the Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution’s PETS Program and provides training and consultation under the banner of “Sidekicks” and “Training for Dogs and Their People.”