Thursday, May 20, 2010

There Are No Bad Dogs

Continuing on from the last post, there are many behaviours, such as digging, that are considered "problem behaviours". These are often the behaviours that cause the most anger, frustration, and upset for people. These are also some of the things that people need to take their dog to training class, or to call in a private trainer, to "fix". The most popular problem behaviours reported in dogs include:
  • Digging
  • Pulling on leash
  • Barking
  • Chewing inappropriate objects
  • Being separated from you.
  • Stealing food or counter surfing
  • Protecting valuable things
  • Jumping
  • Hunting small animals
  • Mouthing clothing or body parts
  • Aggression
  • Fear
  • Rubbing in/eating dead things
  • Marking
That is not the complete list, but as you can see there are many behaviours that people consider inappropriate. However.......

These are all 100% natural, normal dog behaviours! All of the things listed above are actually things that are considered totally normal in canine society. I'm sure if dogs could talk, they would tell you there was no problem at all, except that the human got unnecessarily upset at their actions they consider absolutely normal. That's like getting mad at a friend for brushing their teeth, or holding your hand, talking on the phone, or defending him/herself and family from a robber. All natural behaviours for people.

Does this mean you have to live with these behaviours? Of course not. The entire joy of living with animals comes from having a mutually understanding relationship. But it does mean putting some effort into understand what dogs are, and what behaviours are natural to them (and why!), in the same way we expect dogs to change almost all of their normal lifestyles so that they can live in harmony with us. We ask our dogs not to pull on leash, not to bark, dig, steal food, be upset when we leave, hunt or scavenge, to protect personal items, or defend themselves when pushed to their limits. We are actually expecting a lot from our dogs, and rarely do we give them credit where it is due! The least we can give them is a little understanding, and to help them learn to adjust to the ways that humans live.

We need to realize that these things don't come naturally to dogs (much to our chagrin), and that it is our responsibility, and ours alone, to teach our dogs what it is we expect. So many dogs would keep their forever homes if this was more widely understood. The old "But he knows __________" is a classic example of how we are not understanding our dogs. We expect them to conform to our ways - so it is our job to help them, understand them, and have patience with them while they learn.

And we do not need to teach our dogs to fear us to obtain these results - we do not startle, intimidate, or cause pain to those we love when we teach them to drive a car, or to do algebra, or to bake a recipe. It is the same when it comes to our dog's behaviour. Using compassion, kindness, patience, and clear signals that dogs are able to understand will help both human and dog build a strong relationship that leaves both partners happy and fulfilled.

Within the next few posts I will cover some of the above behaviours listed, what makes them problems for people, and what makes them normal behaviours for dogs, so it becomes more clear why the onus is on us to make positive changes and have our dogs and their humans remain happy while doing it.

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