In eleven years of training dogs I have interacted with hundreds of dogs and their people. I see many happy people and dogs, but I see an unhappy side of dog ownership too.
I work with many clients who unexpectedly find themselves faced with aggression, separation anxiety, resource guarding, and more. Maybe a client just has a hyper dog and was hoping for a calm one. Or maybe they got a couch potato and had dreams of competing in agility. Whatever the situation, their dog does not meet their expectations.
Some of these people are incredibly dedicated pet parents and it has been a privilege to work with them. They spend hours implementing behavior modification plans and work hard to change their dog’s behavior.
Other times, I see owners who’s disappointment with their dogs runs so deep that it has become resentment. I even see owners who don't like their dogs anymore. Often by the time they reach out to me for help, they are so angry with their dog that it’s hard to get them to do the work it would take to fix the problem.
A person and their dog can't work as a team if they're harboring resentment toward their dog. And if they are, their dog senses this and ends to either shut down or act out in the training session, which makes an already frustrated owner even more so.
I have on a rare occasion, told an owner to stop training their dog. This has happened when I see a relationship that is so totally damaged that working together is making it worse. In these rare cases, I felt the client needed a few weeks off to just "be" with their dog. To get to know the dog they have and to find something they enjoy doing together. They’re not going to have the patience required for changing behavior if they don't like their dog. Often the training sessions have become nagging sessions and I see that the dog needs a break too.
So what can you do when you if you find yourself disappointed with your dog and you need to re-build your relationship? First, find something you love to do together: go hiking, watch him play at the dog park, take him to the drive through and buy him a burger, play fetch. Second, take a break from the things that frustrate you. If taking long walks is unpleasant because he pulls, stop taking walks. Find other ways to exercise him. If he’s started resource guarding his raw bone, stop giving raw bones and give treats he won’t guard. If he’s getting into fights at the dog park, stop going to the dog park and set up a playdate with his best friend instead. If he’s constantly eating your houseplants, put them up out of his reach. You get the idea.
Once you feel less frustrated, you are ready to take on a behavior modification program. But sometimes you have to just take some time to remember to love your dog. To remember that you and your dog are a team. He is your companion, and you are his guide. If you find yourself faced with a dog who wasn't exactly what you expected, remember to just love the dog you have. Love him with his problems. Love all of him. Once you can truly do that, they you’ll be ready to take the next steps together towards improving the situation.