What's Your Excuse?

  Let’s start by saying, we get it, we have done it, and we ARE guilty! In today’s world who wouldn’t be guilty. It is obvious to anyone, but we all deny it. Okay, okay, so what are we really talking about here?

Ideal Scenario:

              Mr. Woofs just recently brought a puppy home for his family of one dog, one cat, two kids (ages 5 & 12), and wife. The family was very excited for this new addition. Upon brining the puppy home, they did all the research most ideal pet owners do, potty training, crate training, obedience classes, toys, leash, collar, all the fun puppy items. They follow through with all the important puppy items, potty training, crate training, attending a puppy class, socializing. They work first on their relationship and having a well-mannered puppy. Fast forward two years. The pet owners have continued all their training moving through Basics, Advanced, and even Therapy dog to have their not so little “puppy” certified; all in which he passes with flying colors. They take long walks and take their dogs on walks together downtown, camping, boating—all of which the dog is well-mannered, well-behaved, and just an awesome sweet neutral dog. There is a strong relationship with little to no behavior issues that arise.

The Realistic Situation:

              Mr. Woofs just recently brings a puppy home after long discussions and the promise from the kids that they will “do everything that is required, even picking up poop.” (hmmm don’t deny it we have all been there either as the parent or as the child.) It is late summer, school begins soon. As he brings the puppy home the first night, the puppy begins to whine in the crate. “Just this one night, buddy.” He says as he brings the puppy into bed with him. A few weeks pass and the puppy is taken to a dog park for “social skills” where sadly, the puppy gets overwhelmed, bullied and is unsure of the situation. This creates fear of other dogs and greetings with others. A few months pass and school begins with the kids, after school activities like soccer and swim team begin. They attempt to take the puppy to games, where he barks and pulls on his leash. The next game comes along, “next time buddy, you know what you did last time” or “when you have some better manners we will take you.” After a long day at work, picking up kids, attending after school activities, the family comes home, now on to homework, dinner, and getting to bed. At this time a quick walk will do, followed by “I promise to take you on a hike or a longer walk tomorrow.” This continues for months. Now, fast forward two years. The now, not so little puppy, is home most days with a few walks, but the walks are stressful because of the pulling, barking at dogs, and need to say hi to everyone. The family is slightly frustrated with the dog’s behavior and is unsure what to do, seeking obedience classes, for their dog that is “bad” or “disobedient” or even “aggressive in behavior.” The family as a whole is unsure what to do, how it got this bad, and why their sweet little “puppy” could be acting the way he does. They are at a loss and as is their relationship.

Okay, so that may be a little harsh, but the truth of this is, we see the second scenario every day and we see the first a handful of times. We also have LIVED and been (at times) guilty of both, as trainers. We hear a multitude of excuses when it comes to our dog’s behaviors. We try to justify their actions, lack of manners; we would even go to extent of saying things that help us feel better. At the end of the day, it may make us feel more justified, but our dog does not know any different. They feel our energy, our frustrations, anger, sadness, disappoint; they will also feel our happiness, joy, and love if we allow them.

It is okay to admit your actions and excuses, BUT what will you do to change it? Owning a dog is a lifestyle adjustment, it means following through, giving guidance, love, support, and having fun every moment you can. I mean, let’s be honest, you brought this dog home to be your companion in life, this means enjoying that life TOGETHER. There are six important rules to follow in any relationship. We applied this to your relationship with your dog, because YES you have a relationship with them and it is even more demanding than moving in together, going on a few dates, and even marriage. You can’t just “dump” your dog for another when times get bad. They are yours for life, through sickness and health. So let’s break down just what we find is important in this relationship. Following these will bring you happiness, balance, and a lifetime of unconditional love.

1.       Trust

What does it mean to trust someone? What does it mean to have the trust of another? How do you feel you trust your dog? Do you feel your dog trusts you? Write those answers down, think about it for a while. To trust is to work as a team, to be on the same playing field. Trust is not gained overnight in any relationship, but we see that many dog owners feel that this should be automatic with our puppies/dogs. Building trust is essential for a lasting  stable relationship. Build up  trust with your dogs by putting them in situations you KNOW they will be successful. Seeking help before an issue arises, and allowing your dog to simply be a dog.

2.       Respect

Okay, let’s see what Respect means to you. Who do you respect? What does that person do that makes you have such respect for them? What do you feel people respect about you? Now, let’s apply this to our dogs; what do you feel your dog respects about you, is it your clear communication, follow through, being understanding? We have much respect for others around us. We look up to them, we seek their approval, guidance, and assistance. We respect the opinion of others and care what they think. Should we not have mutual respect in our relationship with our dogs? A relationship where they understand you and you understand them. A relationship where you look to each other for guidance, understanding, clear communication, and follow through. OF COURSE, we do!! We want respect in human relationships, so demand it with your four legged companion too. Trust us, they will RESPECT you for it!

3.       Understanding

Your puppy creeps around the corner an hour after drinking an entire bowl of water…and we all know what happens next. You guessed it, a waterfall, literally a waterfall of pee. We do not find said puddle for another two hours. What is your first reaction? To be mad and upset of course, it’s not a trick question, but an honest answer. When we bring our sweet puppies home, we tend to have these over the top expectations for what is essentially the age of a toddler. We expect them to just know sit, down, come, leash skills, manners, not to jump, and to listen. Just like our children, we need to teach them the ways of the world, we are here to guide them. Most importantly, we need to be understanding. When a mistake happens, we must realize that it is ok and move on. Our dog’s want to be happy with us, they want to make us happy to please us and make us feel like they did everything we asked. So when the puppy drinks a whole bowl of water, instead of allow them to free run, maybe we confine them to an area, keep a closer eye on them, and be understanding that they are still just a puppy. As they grow we learn to be more understanding of their actions, as they begin to understand the relationship they are in. This makes for the perfect recipe for lifelong happiness

4.       Communication

If you have poor communication, how does that effect your relationship with your friends? Loved ones? Family? Co-workers? Now imagine having poor communication with a being that barely understands the English language? When puppies are born, they understand each other through body language, energy, and creating clear communication with one another. We then bring them home and eliminate this. We talk to them (yep, the baby talking begins), put a collar and leash on them, ask them to understand this all; no we EXPECT them to understand this. When they do not, this is where again the excuses begin. They just don’t know it yet, they are still a puppy, we haven’t had time to work on it, they should just understand it, and the list goes on and on. Rather than create excuses, why not create clear communication from the get go. No, this doesn’t mean becoming the sheriff, but it does mean being clear, consistent, black and white with all aspects of your dog’s life.  If you want them to sit at the door going outside, then they sit at the door every time they go out, if you don’t want them to jump, that means they sit each time  a person visits and approaches. When a relationship has clear communication the expectations become clear essentially creating respect, trust and understanding.

5.       Love

Yes, love. I know what you’re thinking, well of course you need to have love in a relationship. Imagine, though, a relationship where you over love, over commit, over perceive, and over expect. This love needs to be mutual. We at times will say it is tough love combined with unconditional love. We don’t want you to not love your dog, but to understand that dogs love one another differently than us humans. To love, brings to light empathy, emotion, and, in some situations, making difficult decisions for the best of the relationship. Cue- crate training, you know this is what is best for your puppy, that does not know potty training yet, we have researched this and know it is what we should do. You have planned to follow through on this. Fast forward to your puppy’s first night…the whining begins. It persists for a few minutes, then almost an hour. The sweet little puppy you envision is suffering and upset. We then go to them, because come on its only human nature to want to comfort a crying “child”. We remove the puppy and say, only tonight little guy, then it’s back to the crate. This is where tough love needs to be known…they are not humans and learn from what they are doing and receiving in the moment. That one night then turns into a week, potty training begins to regress, house manners regress, chewing worsens. Yep, tough love, it is ok to have a few rough nights, we all have with a newborn, it is normal for our puppies to do the same. Love, is not about kissing, snuggling, and being intimate; it is about mutual love, tough love, and simply love as you would love your friend and even your child. Loving your dog doesn’t have to be hard, but it does require us to be consistent, embracing, understanding, and love our dogs so they respect us.

6.       Follow Through & Boundaries

Probably the hardest for pet owners to hear, but by far one of the most important; follow through and boundaries. You set boundaries with co-workers, friends, siblings, goodness we set boundaries with strangers. We give boundaries to our children, curfews, homework deadlines, appropriate behavior, saying please and thank you. So, what makes it any different with your dog? *Cue excuses* (it’s a trend isn’t it?) We hear ya, its too cold out, he doesn’t know any better, he was never really taught that, he only does it at home, he only knows manners when I have food…yes, yes, we know. BUT this means boundaries weren’t set from the beginning, we allowed too much freedom too soon. “What’s so wrong with that?” Ponder this, your 2 year old has free run of the house, you leave the back door open in case they want to go outside, they sleep wherever they wish, they wonder the house (and maybe outside) while you shower, mow the lawn, run errands; most of you by now are on the phone calling child services, what kind of parent are you?! Now, you bring your 8-10 week puppy home or newly adopted dog and let them loose. They can free roam, free feed, go inside and outside as they please, they have no boundaries while you run errands. A horrific pit in our stomach begins, but sadly we hear of this happening a lot. As trainers, we are contacted about 12 months later with issues like, chewing, crate issues, separation anxiety, behavioral concerns, resource guarding, still not being potty trained, and simply being an unruly dog. In many cases this circles back to your dog’s early stages and the lack of boundaries and follow through. Even more upsetting, is that again, this is where we hear excuses, it was winter so we didn’t potty train outside, we were too busy to attend an obedience class, we didn’t have issues then so didn’t feel the need to attend a class, they are “still a puppy” and don’t know better. We admit, we have used some of these. Imagine though, following through on a few obedience classes in your dogs first year with you, setting limits and boundaries. What a difference this would make in your lives, and more so, in your dog’s life! There would be no need for excuses! In every relationship we set boundaries whether it be marriage, friendships, working relationships, we set boundaries for the best success and happiness of our relationship. Without limits, without follow through, relationships would be pretty tense…and honestly frustrating! We set boundaries and we follow through with our children saying please and thank you, helping our elders, being respectful. We make sure they wash their hands before dinner every night, not every once and a while. We make sure they respect curfew and are safe. This reflects to your dogs, keeping them happy, safe, and creating a lifelong relationship with them.

Our relationship, doesn’t require a lot of work, it does require follow through, communication, love, respect, trust, understanding, and boundaries. With this we live a happy life with a companion by our side, a best friend, an affectionate being that simply adores us and they adore us because together we are a team. This is what we believe is  the secret to dog owning. It is not the fancy tricks, the obedience, or how many (or how few) classes you attended, or the amount of money you have or haven’t invested. It is the time we invested and knowing that together, we mean the world to one another. Without this, we struggle to live, we simply co-exist together, like roommates that don’t acknowledge one another or respect one another. It becomes a frustrating and even stressful task, a daily routine that feels like, well, nothing but saying Hey, I own a dog. Any relationship needs improving at any time, but why not start off on the right foot?

The next time you begin saying, it’s too cold, we are too buys, he just doesn’t know it, he hasn’t been exercised. Take a step back and take that walk, teach him that sit at the door, play some indoor games with your dog.

So, what is your excuse and what are you going to do to change it? The time is now!