If you just delivered or adopted a baby girl, would you deny her the basic human education and socialization? Would you let her figure out by herself how to walk, ride a bike, or behave in public? Or would you spend the time to teach her, demonstrate it, and coach her? I know I ask weird questions and here is my point.
A lot of people look at their dogs like family members; they love their dogs just as much (and sometimes even more) than their human family members. They would do anything for their dogs, but many of them deny their dogs basic education and dog socialization.
Just within the last month I met with two families who love their dogs but failed to provide them the necessary education and socialization. They called me because they both consider giving away one of their dogs due to behavioral issues.
Meet Family #1: They have two pit bull females. They raised both females as puppies. The dogs got along fine until the youngest one turned seven months. A physical argument started between them, more followed over the next five months. They separated the dogs but as soon as they bring both dogs in one room, these two dogs want to attack each other. Both dogs are rather fearful in their own way. One doesn’t know how to behave outside of the four walls and the other acts fearfully when strangers enter the home; these were both behaviors that could have been easily resolved with proper socialization. The “problem dog” was sent to boarding and training but the trainer couldn’t do anything with the dog because the dog shut down and was too fearful to engage with anyone. Now the family wants to rehome the “problem dog” because they cannot live with two adversary dogs in one household anymore.
Is it the fault of the dog(s)? Did the dogs cause this outcome? My answer is “It started for whatever reason, the family didn’t know how to address it (even though they had dogs their entire lives) and since they weren’t proactive right away, the situation got out of hand.” They missed giving their dogs proper education, socialization, and boundaries so that both dogs could live together in harmony. Instead, they gave both dogs affection and love which didn’t solve the problem. Now one of the dogs is on Petfinder trying to find a new home.
Meet Family #2: They also have two pit bulls. (Sorry these examples have nothing to do with the breed; I just happen to volunteer with a pit bull rescue organization and the inquiries they get are about this breed.) They also have two young children. The male dog is three years old, and the family has been having the dog for the last two years. All this time he has been rather fearful. He nipped a couple of children and he is timid around adults. He nips at people if they stand too close to him, and he acts aggressively when people ring the doorbell. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when he nipped the son on the cheek when he startled the dog who slept on the couch.
I asked the family to bring their 9-year old son and the dog over to our home. When I met this dog, I saw a healthy dog who was uneducated. And when I watched the family interact with the dog, they acted rather timid too. Now the fear aggression of this dog has nothing to do with the breed or personality but with the lack of socialization. This dog didn’t have any education. This dog hasn’t been taught to be handled and touched by humans. Sure, he knows sit and come, but that is not enough for a dog to feel safe in a home.
Most people think that when they teach their dog “sit” and “come” that is enough. Everything else the dog will figure out over time. But a dog doesn’t think like a human, a dog doesn’t live by the same rules and the psychology as humans do, and if a dog hasn’t been taught, the dog will always do what a dog will do – act on its instinct and not on education.
Many dogs in this country (BUT NOT ALL) don’t have it easy even though the families love them (conditionally of course). They get a limited education and socialization. Many humans love their dogs, but they rarely spend an hour or two educating themselves on dog behavior and dog psychology; they just think that if they treat their dogs like a human baby, the dog will be alright. But if we treat the dog like a human baby, where we give the dog unconditional love, or comfort the dog when the dog is in a fearful state of mind, we will set her up for failure. And if we don’t treat the dog like a human baby, where we spend time with the dog and give her a proper education and socialization, we set the dog up for failure as well.
So what is a family ought to do?
1. When you adopt a dog or even if you have been having dogs for a long time but realize that your dog has some behavioral issues, go to a library or bookstore and educate yourself on dog behavior and psychology. There are also a lot of online courses that you can take from the comfort of your home. Just like you take baby classes during the pregnancy, just like you take driving classes before you buy a car, or read the instructions before you buy a new device, you want to educate yourself about dogs. Having had dogs when you were little and watching your parents handle dogs, doesn’t mean that they were doing it correctly.
2. Spend time with your dog and give your dog the proper education and socialization. Most people think that taking your dog to a group training class at PetSmart is all that they need to do to have a happy pooch. But a group training class is just a tiny spectrum of a dog’s education curriculum. Build a trusting relationship with your dog. Expose your dog to different situations to build his confidence. Touch your dog all over his body without him reacting to you. Make your dog lay on the floor, move him to his side, roll him around. Touch his paws, his ears, his gums where he just lays there and feels safe for you to touch him. Get him around people and other dogs. And when your dog is fearful of something specific, create exercises to help your dog overcome this rather than avoid the situation. When you do these types of exercises, you will also notice that the visit to the vet will be much calmer and smoother because your dog isn’t afraid to be handled. If you have young children in your household, desensitize your dog even more through touch, sound, or movements, so that your dog gets used to it. Now that doesn’t mean that you give your children free range and don’t educate them about proper behavior around dogs but in case your child forgets, you may not have to deal with an unfortunate experience.
3. Take your dog on daily walks and I cannot stress this enough. Dogs need daily exercise and romping around in the backyard is just not enough. Walking your dog is more than just letting him “do his business” – it’s also a great time for socializing, bonding, stimulation, and training. Additionally, it is a perfect stress reliever for you and will ensure that you will stay (or become) fit and trim. Too many dogs develop behavioral issues such as aggression, excessive chewing, anxiety, overexcitement, etc. because they don’t get enough physical and mental stimulation.
4. And if your dog develops an issue, don’t let it slide. Stay on it. Read about it, ask friends or consult with a professional. When you nip an issue in the butt as soon as it arises, you will have a good chance that it will be resolved quickly and permanently.
You didn’t come in this world fully educated; your human child didn’t come in this world fully educated, and neither did your dog. And just because you adopted an adult dog doesn’t mean that the dog doesn’t need any more training and socialization. Too often I hear people blame it on the “rescue” part of their dog “oh, he is a rescue; that’s why he does x.” They don’t realize that they keep the dog trapped in the sad rescue story the more they repeat it. Most of the time the humans failed the dog by not educating themselves and the dog and that’s why the dog ended up in the shelter. Most of the times it is not that the dog needs more training but the humans do.
If you want to take a shortcut and learn more about how to correct some behavioral issues in your dog or how to train your dog to become a good canine citizen, I invite you to join me for my upcoming seminar “Let’s talk dogs” on Saturday, July 9th at 10 am in Marietta, GA. Learn more and sign up here.
This is SO wonderfully- put & so very important–every part of this piece is something every pet owner should know & be responsible for…
I myself experienced first-hand how an otherwise behaved & socialized dog can develop different behaviors. Despite daily exercise, excitement, bringing her places, etc., she seemed to develop reactivity to strangers & decided that eye contact & stranger’s touch was not welcomed–what caused this? Was it a traumatic event during our daily walks? Was it my reaction to the event that broke her trust in me? Was it the energy of myself through the leash that brought out fear in her? I do not know, but I’m always amazed when people allow behaviors to continue & allow negativity to build w/out grabbing those support systems that are available. Animals cannot communicate their needs in our language, much like younger children who often act out in response to feeling tired or even hungry or sad…it is our responsibility as pet owners to recognize the behaviors & facilitate a positive change by directing them of how they should react in different situations.
It is definitely easier said than done, especially when the business of life, work, raising a family, etc., are involved, but remember, you wanted the pet–the pet did not make the choice to join your family! They are a tremendous responsibility! It’s also easier said than done when you are not a confident leader & you have waivered because of an event that you felt helpless (which is me) but, perhaps this is your chance for that animal to help build you back up to the controlled, powerful person they need you to be…
Amazing things can come from devoting yourself to an animal, especially one that keeps you learning, working, discovering & challenged…I am VERY interested in this specific session!!! The more I can learn, the better! Great piece of writing & so well-put!!!
Alicia, thank you for sharing your story. Sometimes animals develop certain habits that we just can’t explain. We don’t know what caused it, we can’t remember when it happened the first time, we don’t recognize how we contributed to it (or if at all). All we see is that things are different. But that doesn’t mean it has to be bad. Anything that gives us new perspective is always a good thing, and we can spin it to be positive or negative. If we ignore it and think that it will go away on its own, we give up the opportunity to learn from it. Many times, it won’t go away on its own but it can get worse to the point that it is not fixable anymore. At least this is the situation that the family #1 from my story faces. Even though they love their dog dearly and she is a really sweet dog, having these 2 dogs in one household is very stressful for everybody involved.
How disappointing…I can relate on so many levels…not only have I experienced the work that is involved in integrating a new furry family member to a present pack, but I too can relate to the human nature to hold on to that negative experience & let that fear & that picture remain in your mind. So hard to do & the defeat can easily overrun you…& so sad that it went to the point of no return…
On a bigger level, I can relate to this situation of integrating a HUMAN family member w/challenges in the adoption of our son Elijah…when there is a disruption of balance of any kind w/in a family unit, it is so very stressful on all & that feeling of being on an island is quite overwhelming. But the difference is, Elijah was here to stay–rehoming was not an option, surrendering him was not an option & who would do such a thing, right? I only hope that stories of this nature & information of this kind get to the masses & @ some point make a difference in lives…I think of the lengthy application process & requirements involved in adoption & foster care for humans & somehow think some of those requirements would help the communities current situation w/animals…
Unfortunately, the 2 females of this family truly dislike each other now. We took them for a walk together and as soon as they were close to each other, their whole body postures changed and they were ready to get in the battle. After a long walk, that calmed down their brain and exhausted their body, we intended to reintroduce each other in a calmer sense. But that dislike is so deep, that they didn’t want to have it. Therefore, it is better for the dogs and family to rehome one dog rather than live a “rotation” life. The family is very sad about this decision and they shed many tears.
If we compared this to humans, I would say that this is comparable to teenagers who have gotten down the wrong path and befriended the wrong people and now they are on legal or illegal opioids. The parents have done their best, they aren’t perfect and made their mistakes, they had their own emotional issues and maybe transferred some of them to the children, and now the kid is an addict and it is too late to get them back. They take him to rehab but the teenager relapses. And eventually, the parent have to let go and decide that the child’s life is in their own fate.
I could imagine, if it was so easy to give up a child as it is to give up an animal, the shelters for kids and foster homes for kids would be jam-packed. There are many parents who neglect their children or expose their children to unhealthy circumstances, that these children are burned for life. And many of them repeat the same process with their own offsprings. That’s why I believe, personal development, emotional well-being, and positive life skills should be mandatory curricula in elementary, middle, high school and college. And even as adults, as part of professional re-certification, personal development topics are a requirement. If that was possible, I think we’d have less crime, addictions, depression, and all that other stuff humans are dealing with.
And I also believe that a training program for humans needs to become part of the animal adoption process. It would be a win for the humans, a win for the animal, and a win for the rescue group.
Totally, 100% agree…
I wish this family the best & I only hope that this dog finds its forever home…
I know in WI, when we adopted our rescues, there was a mandatory session you had to attend (for select breeds) & it was a very small fee to continue, but the 3 initial sessions were required & you had a year to attend them…
Even w/FTTF, I did not get your info during the process (although I kept in close contact w/Megan/William for support) but I’m thinking a list of highly knowledgeable individuals to call during your first year w/a dog, would be extremely valuable to have in all of the official paperwork!!! Even someone checking in regularly & perhaps a visit…Just a thought…Fantastic information here Iris, you are so knowledgeable & reflective, so glad I have you as a resource…