Reality Check, Part 2: Five More Things That Your Dog Wants You to Understand!

Knowledge is a fluid thing. We move forward regularly, only to move backwards occasionally, when inaccurate information becomes suddenly popular. We can only continue to repeatedly educate, with the hope that our parroting of the facts, helps them to remain solidly in the public eye. So here we are back in the saddle with more of what dogs really want us to know. This is a follow up to the Reality Check part 1 article that started this educational process. It didn’t end there. So here I am speaking on behalf of so many dogs, desperate to have their voices heard.

Photo by Debby McMullen

  1. Dogs learn about the world by sniffing said world. Occasionally, I get a client whose previous trainer told them that their dogs "needed a job" so they should require them to walk stiffly by their side and ignore the great big world that they so kindly took them out into. Their exploration hopes then become dashed by the rigid requirements of outdated philosophies. What happens when you walk your dog like that? They come home frustrated and full of (or even more than!) the same energy that they left home with. Walks are not for cardio purposes. Dogs are not interested in power walking. They are interested in sniffing all of the things. Please let them sniff all of the (appropriate) things. This is how they gather information. They learn what the other dogs (and cats!) in their neighborhood are up to and even what they may have eaten recently, by sniffing their "pee-mail". They learn what critters have been most active that day and what bird's may have dropped during their flight that originated in another geographic area. Most dogs are especially fascinated when there are a large quantity of leaves or snow on the ground as both of these artworks of nature make most of the world into a huge snuffle mat for their sniffing pleasure. Enrichment: this well talked about newly popular subject is just that for good reason. Sniffing gives your dogs so much to think about. It creates far more brain relaxation than power walking ever will. Does that mean that your dog doesn't need a "job"? Of course not. Some type A dogs will still need more activity and brain games than others but walking stiffly at your side while you take on the role of army drill Sargent is never going to be what your dog needs, job or otherwise. See this video for how calming sniffing can be.
  2. Small dogs are still dogs. I would assume that most people who parent large or giant breeds do not swoop in and pick these dogs up when they want them to move. It would be a back breaking proposition in many cases. After all, my 160 pound dog weighs more than I do so it’s not even an option. So why spend time picking up small dogs, who clearly prefer that they not be picked up, thank you very much? I fully realize that would decrease the amount of work that some dog trainers get inquiries for, but speaking for most dog trainers (I assume), we would gladly forgo that particular work in exchange for respecting dogs for who they actually are. If you cannot do it to a large dog, don’t do it to a small dog. Small dogs often get angry about being abruptly picked up and rightly so. Consider this, if some giant human routinely picked up with without notice, wouldn’t you be resentful, at minimum? The alternative here is quite simple, train them as if they were larger, to move to where you want them to be, instead of being a human elevator. And in many cases, simply utilize a small dog staircase. Problem solved.

    Photo by Heather Long

  3. In Europe, an amazing thing happens to family units in public that include a dog or two or even more. No one intrudes upon that family unit to ask to touch the dog. Unless that person happens to be an American on holiday. How embarrassing for us Americans to be recognized for rudeness to others. We can solve that problem with education. Family outings are just that, family outings. Families out together enjoying recreation or eating a meal or even shopping together. Dogs are permitted to enter so many more places in European countries because of this simple fact. No one intrudes so both dogs who are wary of strangers and supremely social dogs, have no expectation of interacting with anyone outside of their own family unit. They have no need to be reactive as a defense mechanism. They are safe inside of their family unit bubble. They are only expected to socialize with others when they are specifically taken to a location explicitly designed for that. If that isn’t what they want, they don’t get taken there. It’s very simple. Most dog parents in Europe develop very good relationships with their dogs, which provides an excellent base for manners in public. Altering is uncommon there as well and has no bearing on the behavior in public because it’s the norm. People’s expectations of dogs are primarily as dogs. They respect their nature. It’s amazing how just that one thing alone, is creating a base for appropriate relationship give and take. Americans would do well to adopt this philosophy. Read more here .
  4. Dogs don’t need dog friends to have a great life. There, I said it. Adult dogs grow up in one of three ways as far as social ability with other dogs goes. The least common, they are very social and love other dogs. The middle ground that most dogs occupy, they have a couple of dog friends they either like or tolerate and the rest can keep their distance please. And the category that I run into most frequently in my job, they prefer all other dogs keep their varying distances and they have no desire to change that feeling. And that’s okay. Really it is. Would you be annoyed if someone you loved was trying to change the essence of who you are? Well, then, why would you expect your dog to feel differently? It’s quite one thing to expect to be able to walk your non-social dog in public without a meltdown. That is a reasonable expectation. It is quite another to want to have friends for your dog who doesn’t want friends.
  5. Dog “experts” are not always experts. Please do your due diligence when choosing someone to assist you with your dog’s issues. Referrals are great if the person referring you to a “professional” actually believes in science backed information in every subject. That includes dog training. You may have many people tell you that not all dogs can be trained in the same way. That is not true. Well, let me elaborate. They can all be trained with modern methods, often called positive training, force free, rewards based and other monikers, but they all mean truly science *backed* (not science based, all training is science based, punishment is part of science). Many of those adjectives have been distorted and misused by those attempting to lure in unsuspecting dog parents so it gets even more complex. But plenty of dog professionals like veterinarians, groomers, etc. still maintain a preference for sorely outdated punishment-based methods so those are the “trainers” that they will refer you to. That doesn’t mean you should utilize those referrals. Do your own research and learn to read between the lines, but most importantly, ask very pointed questions and don’t stand for attempts to change your goal. Read more on that here

I am sure that I will at some point come across more material that will warrant a part 3, but for now, absorb this information, look fondly at your dog(s) and appreciate them for exactly who they are!


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Positively Expert: Debby McMullen

Debby is a certified behavior consultant and the author of the How Many Dogs? Using Positive Reinforcement Training to Manage a Multiple Dog Household. She also owns Pawsitive Reactions, LLC in Pittsburgh, PA.


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