Great Expectations.....the #1 Killer of Dogs
You start off with your new puppy or dog with great expectations of what your life will be together. Days spent playing on the beach, hiking, at the dog park, car rides to exciting destinations. You have it all planned out. This is going to be amazing. They can keep you company while you work at home and spend weekends and evenings going everywhere together.
You watch some YouTube video, do your best to train your pup right, socialize them with a couple of friends dogs and take them places when their done all their shots. (all of those are a mocking example of what goes into raising a puppy btw). Your pup is flourishing and being pretty well behaved. What behaviour you do find acceptable, you write off to "they'll grow out of it". The mouthing, the jumping, the lunging at dogs on your walks, the growling at people, etc. Then one day, it all changes.
If dogs "grew out of" behaviour, I would likely be out of a job. If phases passed and dogs magically behaved better the shelters and rescues would be empty and I would still be happily plodding along in a graphic design career. As it stands, behaviour is the single largest contributor to the unwanted pet population. Either from a lack of early socialization (prior to 16 weeks), a lack of training, or even a lack of skills, experience and knowledge from the trainers themselves, these dogs have been failed by humans. Too many dogs at that 7 - 9 month mark are surrendered to the shelters, rescues, rehomed or even euthanized. When it comes down to it, they just didn't live up to the ideal dream their owners plotted out for them before even bringing them home. They wanted that dog that could go everywhere and do everything with them. Giving no thought to what the dog wanted, how to prepare the dog for the life they wanted, and how much time and effort it actually takes to help dogs fit in to our lives seamlessly.
There are of course some dogs that require very little effort to create that cooperative effort. There are some owners with very broad expectations of what life with a dog is about. There are some dogs that are ill suited to the home they were placed in or the changes that occurred to bring about the undesirable behaviour and would better suit another of course. But by in large, they make up such a small percentage of the surrenders that take place.
Most dogs surrendered are lunging at other dogs on walks, growling or even aggressive towards dogs or other people, have bitten, cannot stand the baby, does not get along with the other dog. Often the dog did great fitting into the home to begin with. People flip the script and expect the dog to adjust their behaviour. Have a baby, get a new dog or cat, move to the city from a rural property, go back to work after working at home for two years.
We want quick fixes. We want immediate behaviour change. People need to look to their own behaviour and realize how long it took them to learn to be comfortable by themselves, to learn to be less frustrated and angry and be more forgiving, to learn to be in large groups, learn to be more assertive with their boss, learn to return the cart, learn to start listening and stop waiting for their turn to speak. Some of those are based on personality traits you say? That is my point exactly.
There are no quick fixes. Behaviour change often takes a long time and sometimes a herculean effort to bring into reality. We need to understand that, much like children, dogs often have personalities and tendencies that differ from our fantasy for them. Many a disappointed parent watches their child cross the stage for their trade certificate instead of their doctorate. Whether they have the potential or not is not really the point. The point is that is not what the child has been led to do or even wants to do.
Your dog may not appreciate the mosh pit we call "dog park". They may not care for the company of other dogs or kids. They may never be able to be around your kids gerbil without seeking to consume it. While we can do a lot to teach alternative behaviours and for them to be more tolerant of a lot of these things, we may never be able to change their inherent nature. Your dog is not magically going to be more social and love the dog park. They may learn to love your kid, but might never love being surrounded by strange children that want to pet them. They might even learn to leave Mr. Squeakers alone, but still want to MDK (if you don't know what this is I suggest you watch Demolition Man.....excellent movie) a mouse in the garage. We can teach your dog to walk confidently past other dogs without fear of being accosted but they might still not care for the company of every other dog.
Your days of dog park might be over, but what about your days of hiking and walking the beautiful paths we have. Your days of expecting your dog to be present for your kids birthday parties might be gone, but what about having a private birthday party for the two of them as well. Your days of leaving the house without asking if Mr. Squeakers is behind a locked door in his cage are over, but hey, mouse free garage is nice too.
There are so many other alternative activities you can do with your dog. By adjusting your expectations you can make room for so many enjoyable ones instead of trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. Help your pup make transitions instead of expecting them to go with the flow. Prepare them for the life you envision from day 1. Get your dog the medicinal or supplemental aids that can speed change up. Do not count your failures, but the progress you are making and the bond you are building. Leave room for what could be, but also have fun where you are.
So many of our personal dogs started out with behaviour problems, but ended up being the ones we bonded to harder as we worked through behaviour modification and realized our new path. The dog with clinical OCD ended up being a wonderful scentwork partner. The dog with extreme reactivity, no tolerance for frustration and impulse control problems is the most empathetic dog we have. The feral dog who will never go confidently about an urban setting is the best playmate all my dogs have ever known and her trust in us is the most special. Make a list of what you love about your dog and what they are awesome at. Plan adventures and engagement around their strengths. Enjoy each other for who each other is. Adjust your expectations. It might just save a life.