As a dog trainer in Toms River, I often hear people state that although they have had dogs their entire life, “this dog is the most challenging one I’ve ever had.” Maybe you’ve even said those words before.
While this is typically a true statement for you, I think it is very important to shed some light on WHY you feel this way. Typically, I find you may not ever think about the reason you feel this way.
So, let’s talk about the most common reasons I find there to be a gap in your expectations and reality of your “difficult” canine companion and how you can make the situation better.
First Time Puppy Owners
You have had dogs but never raised them from a puppy before. Those of us who have raised puppies can easily understand why you may feel like this one is the worst.
Puppies are W – O – R – K!
For some strange reason, most people expect it to be difficult raising a newborn baby but somehow anticipate raising a baby dog to be this wonderful experience filled with nothing but cuddles and hilarious moments of innocent curiosity.
Much like babies, puppies provide sleepless nights full of frequent crying, middle of the night potty breaks, anxiety over you leaving or their new environment, and taste testing everything they can get their mouths on.
So, put your roller skates on! Get ready to run interference during the day and get some sleepless nights (at least in the beginning). Trust me, as I said, having a puppy is a lot of work, but it truly is a rewarding experience, too. You just have to prepare yourself.
First Time Primary Owner
You have always had dogs but you were never the primary caregiver and provider for the previous dogs. Now, most, if not all, of the responsibility falls on your shoulders.
Caring for another living being can be taxing especially if you were the fun one before. Not having to concern yourself with the day-to-day maintenance, feeding, training, poop clean up, rules and boundaries alleviate a lot of stress from the equation.
Now that you are the primary caretaker, you’re feeling the pressure. My advice in the previous section is true in this instance, too.
If you have a dog that you did not want, then chances are you are not connecting with them. Being forced to deal with something that you wanted no part of will absolutely close you off to bonding.
Far removed from their wolf beginnings dogs generally do want to please us. They thrive when they have relationships with all of the family (pack) members. No bond = no trust = stress for the dog.
In order to make this situation better for yourself, I suggest letting go of the circumstances which brought the dog into your life. Realize that you want a better relationship with your dog than you currently have and open yourself up to that relationship.
A few ways to help foster that relationship is through skin to skin contact and fun activities. Letting your dog cuddle with you, lay on your bare arms or legs will help that feel-good-bonding hormone Oxytocin release into your body. That hormone will chemically help you to bond with your dog. Guess what? As you pet your dog, their body is releasing Oxytocin, too.
Make it a priority to do things you LIKE to do with your dog. Like to go for walks? Grab the leash and bring them with you. Want to hang out in the yard and relax? Maybe play ball with your dog for a few minutes before you hit the hammock. Toss treats to them, now and then. You’ll both start to feel better being around each other.
Designer Breeds – a.k.a. Mutts
Breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) have a long-standing history. This means that the breed has certain physical characteristics and personality traits.
The thousands of generations that have established these expectations took breeders time and patience to develop and hone. New breeds or crosses will be lacking predictability in appearance, temperament, common health concerns, and energy levels.
You may have expectations for your canine companion by assuming that they will carry certain qualities of the ancestral breeds. We all know what happens when we assume.
Instead, recognize that like you, your dog is an individual with their own personality and quirks. Learn what makes your dog tick – what motivates them the most? Use that as a reward in training or something special you can use to help bond.
Working or Hunting Lineage
Most of the typical dog breeds we are familiar with were developed for a purpose, a job if you will. For the purpose of illustrating this point, we’ll talk about 2 of the common jobs for which dogs were bred.
German Shepherds were derived from herding dogs. Labrador retrievers were made for retrieving waterfowl. There are certain traits that make them well suited for these tasks such as stamina, energy, and drive.
Working or sporting lines focus on keeping these functional traits strong in the bloodlines. A dog that is made to have the energy to heard sheep all day long will not make the best family pet. The herding instinct alone makes them more inclined to nip at livestock (or children) to control where they go.
A Lab who descends from hunting lines and made to swim and retrieve ducks all day long will often become destructive when they are contained in a house or yard.
Many breeders do not take the time to match their dogs with appropriate owners. You may be equally guilty for not do your research in selecting the right breeder and therefore bloodlines.
If you find yourself with a true working dog, then you need to help the dog and yourself learn how to use those skills in a productive manner. There are a lot of different games dogs can learn to help use their working or herding drive in a positive manner, like Nose Work and Lure Coursing.
We Save Them All
Let me first make it clear that I believe in shelters and rescues. I think they do wonderful things. I have adopted rescues and will continue to do so. As a company, we wholeheartedly support them and often participate in various fundraising for them.
The following topic is to help you understand why you may have your “most challenging dog ever” and not to discourage or rebuke what rescues and shelters do.
Behavior has been proven to be in some part genetic. Many people give up their dogs because one or many behaviors are present that they are not equipped to handle like fear or aggression.
The problematic behaviors are now someone else’s concern and they also may not be prepared or equipped to handle them. Frequently, dogs shut down from the stress in a shelter or rescue situation resulting in hiding their true colors until they are in their new environment.
The dog that was observed in the shelter can be a different dog after 1 – 4 weeks home. Therefore, the dog the rescue described may not be the dog you see before you.
Our American culture rewards those who are successful. Typically, success is defined by accomplishments and possessions. These are acquired by hard work and sacrifices, right?
One of the biggest sacrifices we give is time at home. We run, run, run and do, do, do. Yet your dog is left at home.
We do not give our dogs the time they require for acclimation, socialization, or exercise. The end result is dog-dog aggression, fear, and destructive behaviors.
We are a much more disposable society that tends to want answers or solutions yesterday. So, when the dog trainer explains that the dog will need time for reconditioning and exercise, the owners usually get frustrated. Some even try to hasten the process missing vital details of the program typically resulting in little to no progress.
Re-read this section. Really take some time to understand how important your lifestyle and commitment to not only your dog but their learning and training process really is.
What you learn from a dog trainer is important, but committing to practice and use the exercises daily to help your dog, your family and yourself are even more important.
Know that the stress you feel when you are with your dog will feed into the problem. Identifying your own part in the relationship with your canine is the first step.
Find a qualified dog trainer who will help you chart a course to help turn your challenge into your best friend. It will be work. It can and should be fun. But there is always hope.