Lower Your Expectations!

We live in a society that is all about over-achieving.  Whether it’s our work, our children, our relationships, or our dogs, there is that sense that if we’re not the best we must be failing.  While I may not be an expert on the rest of your life, when it comes to your dog I highly recommend that you lower your expectations.

Most of us have a dog (or dogs) because we love the joy a dog brings to our lives.  Nobody decides, “Gee, I’d love to get a dog so I can add more stress to my life.”  And yet, that’s exactly what happens.  People have an expectation of their dog (think Lassie) and if the dog falls short of that mark, the contrast between what people envision and what they actually have is so great that it creates stress.  The people are frustrated because the dog isn’t doing what they want him to do, and the dog is stressed because it doesn’t understand what the people are asking of him.

In a class setting this frustration shows up because as humans we “don’t want to look bad to others.”  We look around and think, “Rover over in the corner is doing great.  What’s wrong with my dog?”  The answer is “Nothing.”  The same thing happens at home or on a walk…people come to visit and the owner is embarrassed because the dog jumps all over them and imagine the visitor judging them and the dog.  Or the owner envisions taking the dog out for a nice idyllic stroll and instead gets pulled down the street while, horror of horrors, the neighbors watch in judgement.

So what do we do about all this frustration?  First, remember that most people are so busy thinking about themselves that you and your dog are just a quick blip on their radar, if they even notice you at all.  Second, give yourself time.  This is about you building a relationship with a real, living, breathing member of another species.  You need to learn to communicate with him and he needs to learn to communicate with you.  If you want the “instant, perfect dog” they are available for bulk purchase from F.A.O. Schwartz and come in a variety of styles, sizes and colors. 

Again, this is about lowering, or even giving up, your expectations of your dog and what your life with your dog should look like.  Instead, try to focus on who your dog is at this moment.  Who your dog is is not an accident on your antique persian rug…that’s just something that happened.  Imagine if people defined you as clumsy or careless because last year you broke a glass in the sink!  That’s not you – that’s just something that happened.

As humans we are taught that we have to walk before we can run.  It’s the same with dogs.  You can’t expect the dog to be calm when visitors arrive if you haven’t taught him to sit quietly in the face of distractions.  And, sitting quietly amidst distractions certainly can’t happen if you haven’t taught him to sit!  Is this your first dog?  Yes?  Well why would you even expect to know how to teach him to sit?  Give yourself and your dog a break!!  There’s a learning curve here for both of you.  Let go of your expectations, enjoy the dog you have and take advantage of the opportunity that both of you have to learn and most of all be patient!



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There IS NO Farm!

I hear it all the time – from potential clients, people contemplating surrendering their dogs, even in conversations at the local dog park.  “My dog would be so much happier living on a farm.”  I’ve been around dogs my whole life and I have yet to see this mythical utopia that everyone talks about.

So, to make it very clear, THERE IS NO FARM!

What people are really saying when they express the desire to send their dog to this oh-so-happy place is, “My dog overwhelms me/has too much energy/doesn’t listen to me/always jumps up, eats off the counter, (insert any other unwanted behavior here)/never comes when I call, never sits when I ask him to, never (insert any other desired behavior here)/I didn’t think it would be so much work/I don’t have any idea how to make it better.”

And that’s just the easy stuff!  Throw in reactive dogs, shy dogs, fearful dogs, unsocialized dogs, dogs who have suffered abuse, dogs with separation anxiety, and a hundred other challenges and what you end up with are frustrated dogs and frustrated owners.

Fortunately the answer to these problems is fairly simple – TRAIN YOUR DOG!!  (Notice I said “simple” not “easy”.  Remember, we’re dealing with a relationship between two different species – there are bound to be some speed bumps along the way.)



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Learning Dogs are Happy Dogs!

Just like people, dogs who are involved in learning are happy dogs.  We all want to give our dogs the best we can and the way to do that is by learning how dogs communicate, how we can communicate with them, and what we can do to provide them with an enriching environment.

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