your new dog is your new employee

It’s a common story I have heard enough times that I felt I needed to write a blog post about it. An individual or a couple acquires a new dog and do their best to show the dog that they “love” it. They pet the dog a lot because they want to the dog to know that they care about it. In addition, they go to the pet store and get a brand new bed, toys, and treats to give to the dog to “earn” their love back. Also, they give the dog total freedom while in the house, yard, car or workplace. They put most of their energy into bonding with the dog on an emotional level and giving the dog freedom, and then are surprised when the dog starts behaving badly. This may be simply that the dog doesn’t come when called, or it may be a more severe case in which the dog starts attacking dogs, people, or even bites the hand that feeds them. Whatever the behavioral issue, or the history of the dog before its current owner, the root cause is usually the same. The owner has simply given up the payment for a job well done, before the dog has actually done anything other than exist. Much like hiring a new employee, we really need to be clear from the get go, that we have things we need to receive, if we are going to be able to give our furry friend, all the things we would like to give them.

Above all else, the most simple thing is that people become way too physically or verbally affectionate with their dog far too soon. Before they have even told the dog where to go to the bathroom or where to sleep, they have already through affection started telling the dog that there is nothing they can do wrong. They start touching the dog needlessly or talking to the dog endlessly, in a way that has nothing to do with how the dog is actually behaving or feeling about its environment. For a dog that is on its 2nd or 3rd home, affection may actually remind them of their previous owner, who pet them and told them they loved them, and then dropped them off at a dog shelter or decided to regime them. Most often, the dogs that end up being rehomed to strangers or given to shelters were not perfect dogs when they left the arms of their last owners. Often times, simply starting out with way too much affection, before we have even began to train the dog or show the dog what is expected of it, is a recipe for disaster.

Imagine we show up to a new job one day, and our boss tells us they are so happy to have us there, and that they will never fire us no matter what we do. They pay us our first paycheck before we even have began to work, and then they leave without telling us at all what our job even is. If this boss was later surprised that we didn’t do our job properly, or perhaps didn’t do it at all, it would seem unfair. This is basically what we are doing to our dogs. We give them all the “payment”, and tell them essentially they are already perfect, and then we are surprised when they fail to do their job properly. For all we know, and as I often see, many times dogs are actually thinking they are doing what we want them to do, no matter how “bad” or crazy the behavior may seem. We paid them, didn’t we? We told them they couldn’t mess it up, didn’t we? So why are we surprised, that they invented their own job, and are doing it with the enthusiasm of the hardest worker. Now lets think about this, imagine you get your dog and you show them all that you have to offer, and how much you are happy to have them there, while at the same time taking the time to show them exactly what the job is that you need them to do.

This starts with the space that we live in, we need to show the dog where their proper place is in the home, both physically as well as energetically. We need to show them that they don’t belong in certain places, like on the furniture, or hidden under the bed, and also show them where they do belong; on their dog bed or inside a kennel or crate. When we let them inside our house, we need to stop them if they are entering with too much excitement, and show them that the house is a place where for the most part, we want them to be calm. When we move through the house and they are in our way, they need to move out of the way and let us pass. We should not be having to carefully step over or walk around our dog to get past them in the hallway or to get out of our bed in the morning, When it comes to the backyard, the car, the kitchen, or even our work, it is so important that we keep a leash on the dog to start, keep them in a kennel when we are not watching them, have food or treats to guide them with, or simply tell them “No” as soon as they start to act too excited or inappropriate in our space.

This process of introducing our dog to our space, is a process that needs to be repeated with all the resources we have to give our dog. With their food, walks, socialization, smells, treats, toys, exercise, and of course, affection, it is up to us to show them how to treat these things and feel about them. We need to give resources to a calm and courteous dog, not an excited and pushy dog. We need to take resources away when the dog is becoming too excited, or aggressive, or nervous, or confused. We need to guide our dog slowly through the process, as we give out the resources, so that we can make sure they understand how to interact with the resources that we give them. Lastly, we need to realize, that the resources and all the things we have to give our dog, are directly related to the way the dog feels about us as their leader, as as a result, how they behave around us.

I could write on an on about resources and how to properly give them out, or when to take them away, but the details are not so important as the overall message. Take the time to show your dog the way, before you give them everything that you want to give them. Slow down and realize that they are simply a dog, and you are a human, and they may not see things the same way that you do. Try to be mindful of how the things you give your dog, especially the love and affection, can either create the best dog you could have dreamed of, or the worst nightmare your couldn’t have ever imagined. At the end of the day, once you own a dog, it is your responsibility to set them up for success, and not blame them for their failures. So before you go for that extra morning cuddle session , or pet them excitedly when you get home after a long day, or fill their belly full of treats, or give them run of the house, ask yourself a few things. Did my dog earn this, and am I prepared to take this away from them if they stop earning it? Am I giving this resource up to simply give me or my dog momentary pleasure, or am I thinking about the long game? Lastly, am I being just as clear with how much I have to give them, with what exactly I need back from them? If you can just start to think about these things, I guarantee your that your dog will start to see you as a more intelligent leader that is worthy of their respect and deserving of their obedience.

Eric Stokell