Owner or enthusiast?

Photo Courtesy Patrick Danforth Photography

I have a car. I love my car and I look after it well. I drive it carefully, clean it, get it serviced regularly and always enjoy looking at it and driving it. The thing is…I really know very little about how it works. I can check the water and oil and top them up. I can change a tyre. That’s about it. I’m a responsible, caring owner. I want my car to work well and I do my basic best to make that happen – but when things don’t work, I rely on others to find out what’s wrong and fix them for me. I am never going to buy a ‘fixer-upper’ because I don’t have the knowledge, interest or money for that.

If I was an enthusiast, I would study the workings of cars. I would know what all the bits were called and how they worked. I would specifically understand my own car. I would be forever working on it, making sure everything was as it should be. I’d chat with like – minded friends online and in person and we’d solve problems together. I’d know where to get spare parts from and what new innovations were available to make my car work even better than before. I might even have trained as a mechanic and be in the business. If I bought a fixer-upper, I would know that it might have been cheap to buy, but it was going to cost me a lot in time and probably money. However, if I was able to get replacement parts, eventually my car might be as good as new or even better!

Most of us have areas in our lives where we are owners or enthusiasts. The dog world has its share of both too.

If you don’t want to be an enthusiast, but want to be a responsible, caring dog owner, you will be happy to love the dog and give attention, provide the right food, shelter and vet care, perhaps attend a few classes, exercise and play with the dog, and you will want that to be enough.

To be an enthusiast, you will do everything a responsible, caring owner does, and a whole lot more. You will be up for the challenge of the dog with high exercise, training and/ or behavioural needs. You will spend hours educating yourself and practicing your skills with your dog and perhaps other people’s dogs. You will never be satisfied that you know enough. You’ll keep researching, experimenting, practicing and developing your knowledge and skills. You might even go into business in the dog world.

Most of us began our lives as owners and due to having issues with a dog’s behaviour or discovering training opportunities or competitive activities, we became enthusiasts. We may not have done a very good job with that first dog, but we still learned SOMETHING and were bitten by the ‘enthusiast’ bug.

What do YOU want?

If you know that, right now, being an owner suits you and you really don’t want to face the challenge of becoming an enthusiast – please choose your dog carefully.

You want an easy going, sociable, low maintenance dog which will fit into your lifestyle and absorb the limited training you plan to put in place. This does mean some level of research, but it’s preventative. It’s to try and stop the angst of emergency research later! You won’t want a fixer-upper because although you might be able to afford training/ behaviour help, you won’t want to make the day to day changes in your life which will be needed for a long time, possibly for the entire life of the dog. Please be honest with yourself.

If you are willing to become an enthusiast, by all means choose a fixer-upper – the very shy puppy, or that troubled rescue dog - in the full knowledge that you will have a lot of learning to do and effort to make. Be aware that you can’t replace the broken bits and end up with an animal that is as good as, or better than new. A dog isn’t a car.

You might get a huge improvement, but you might not.

How much progress you are likely to make and how quickly will be affected by:

  1. The dog’s genetics
  2. How neglected/ poorly treated the dog has been
  3. For how long
  4. Your knowledge.
  5. Your skills.
  6. Your time and energy.
  7. Other things out of your control e.g. what other people/ animals do.

Many, many enthusiasts won’t deliberately take on a seriously troubled dog BECAUSE they know the amount of effort and emotional cost involved in working with them.

It is unlikely to be plain sailing with any dog or puppy because you have a living, breathing being in your home. A dog is not a vehicle which you have the power to turn on and off. Even the most carefully selected dogs will have quirks. Living creatures all do, but selecting with care stacks the odds in your favour.

‘Love’ alone will not solve a dog’s behaviour issues. ‘Money’ alone won’t either. Love and money won’t train dogs, exercise them or enrich their lives enough. You have to take thoughtfully directed action. Yes, you can pay people to work with your dogs, but you still have to do something with them, otherwise why have one?

Please decide whether you want to be an owner or an enthusiast and do your best to find a dog who will fit that choice. That’s a win/ win. A mismatch is a lose/ lose and the cost can be dreadfully high for you both.

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Positively Expert: Diana Bird

Diana lives in NZ. She is intensely interested in behaviour, teaching, learning, and self development. She strives to generalise positive reinforcement ideas to her life and relationships with other people.


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