Training dogs has taught me a lot about communicating with people. Sometimes it’s easier to ignore your dog’s problem behaviors, just like it’s easier to avoid those ‘hard conversations.’ I used to fear telling people things like “your dog is being aggressive,” or “your dog is bite risk.” Invariably they would respond with shocked looks and horror. “Not MY dog,” or “he just growls like that – he’s never bitten anyone,” they say. The same dog owners who called me to provide them with an honest assessment of their dog were now making excuses or justifying that behavior, asking me to lie to them and tell them it would be okay. They just are not ready to listen.
Did your Mom or Dad teach you tough love? Sometimes you don’t want to hear the things that are in the best interest of your family, your children, your clients, or your dog. I’ve been training dogs for a long time. When I (or another experienced behaviorist) tell you that your dog is presenting problem behaviors, listen! The pain of listening is temporary and much smaller than the hurt caused by your dog doing harm to himself, another animal, or – heaven forbid – a human. If I’m wrong but you trust me and we fix the problem, you wind up with a happier, healthier, obedient dog. If I’m right and you don’t listen you may lose your pet forever. Have you ever seen a mother or father let their child misbehave and think “when that kid grows up he’s going to be a nightmare?” Before your dog’s 1st birthday, he is as grown up and powerful as he needs to be to cause permanent damage to animals and people.
The last 15 years of training dogs has taught me that these conversations, while unpleasant, are necessary. Nowadays whenever my clients argue or debate or make excuses, I just pause and say “your dog isn’t human.”
Your dog isn’t human: He can’t lie and he can’t be dishonest. If your dog shows signs of aggression such as growling, resource guarding, or snarling, he is displaying an aggressive behavior and will likely cause injury to another animal or person unless you change his behavior – and yours. He’s not bluffing.
Your dog isn’t human: He will show you exactly what he’s feeling at any moment in time. If your dog shows behaviors that are neurotic, angry, irritated, or aggressive, your dog is neurotic, angry, irritated, or aggressive, and most importantly HE NEEDS YOU TO FIX THOSE PROBLEMS FOR HIM.
Your dog isn’t human: He can’t compromise. You can’t be rational with a dog. Dogs don’t negotiate. You can’t snuggle an angry dog to calm him down – this just reinforces aggressive behavior.
Your dog isn’t human: You can’t excuse his behavior because of his past. No matter how tough his life was, sympathy for his current behaviors will only make them worse.
Your dog isn’t human: When dogs make mistakes they don’t get a judge or a jury or a lawyer to explain their side of the story, and they don’t get any appeals. They just get the death penalty.
I love teaching dogs and people. I know your dog is ready to listen. Are you?