The Replacement Dog

Sometimes we have the amazing fortune of owning that awe-inspiring dog, the one you barely have to train, the one that knows your thoughts and feelings just by the way you move your body or a look in your eyes. No words are necessary to communicate with this dog and we feel they are incredible mind readers. These are the dogs that touch our lives and our souls in a way that is indescribable. These are the dogs that make us always want to have dogs in our lives and help create what I call a true “dog person.” I have been blessed to have had two of these dogs in my life. After experiencing such a connection to an animal, I still want it. After recently losing my standard poodle, I tried to replicate it.

They say a dog chooses YOU. We are each drawn to a certain type of dog; whether it’s the look in their eyes, the texture of their coat, their size, or their general attitude towards life. It’s an individualized decision and there is great variance from person to person. In addition, our choice of a dog may be influenced by a past experience with a particular dog, whether it be fond memories of a family pet, or a tragic skirmish with a dog when we were young. I have heard numerous stories about dogs people have encountered at impressionable ages. My own daughter had a scary moment with a great Dane when she was first learning how to ride a bike. The dog took her by surprise and she fell. She wasn’t injured in any way, but she was definitely shaken up. She has always been an incredible dog lover, but to this day, she is wary of great Danes. My husband grew up with a miniature poodle. The dog was so special to him that her photograph is proudly mounted on our hallway wall with other “family” photos, and I never even met the dog. My first dog that I adopted as an adult was a border collie mix that inspired me to follow my passion and become a dog trainer. He, too, is proudly pictured on our “family” photo wall. These dogs shape us in ways we never really think about.

When deciding to add another dog to a family, we look for specific traits we already enjoy in a current dog, or in other dogs we have met, read about, or seen in movies. Our family did this when adding a second standard poodle to our home. We knew the breed well, and all the general characteristics fit our family expectations; and they were very high expectations to say the least! We considered the multitude of variances noticed within the breed; everything from different colors, sizes, coat texture and activity levels. All of these factors were taken into account when making our decision about our next dog. I thought we had done a stellar job of choosing our poodle; until she started to mature. She was a lovely, smart, and affectionate puppy that was fun to train, and things were progressing swimmingly. But as she got older, there was a very apparent void in our house, and she wasn’t filling it. Our expectations of this second dog, this replacement dog, were not being realized. It started off as a kind of disappointment for the family, but then it turned to frustration and even resentment, for me. We all knew it was normal to feel this way, but that’s when it hit me, this just isn’t fair to our dog. We had put so many expectations on her because she was the same breed, and even the same color, that we set her up to fail - our relationship with her was becoming a disappointment. We failed HER by disregarding the magnitude of our desire to recreate what we had with our first poodle, in our second one.

My husband and I have two daughters. My daughters were raised under the same roof, yet they are vastly different. There were never any preconceived expectations of how their personalities were going to be, or their interests, or activity levels. We naturally embraced who they were as individuals. Now, not that our children are exactly the same as our dogs, but when our daughters were little, their trials and tribulations as toddlers were staggeringly similar to those of dogs. So this thought process led me to reexamine my relationship with our new poodle. We chose her to be a part of our family for a reason, we were drawn to her for a reason. I believe that each dog who is part of our family teaches us a lesson, and we need to be open to realizing what that life lesson is.

Being around dogs is a continual learning experience, sometimes we need to reinvent ourselves and our relationships with our dog. Sometimes it’s not what we expected, but it will be a new and unique relationship that will give us a broader appreciation of the gifts that dogs give us. So if you are suffering from the replacement dog syndrome, be forgiving, to yourself and to your dog. Take what this new dog can offer you and learn from it. Cherish what is right in front of you instead of wishing for what is no longer there. Dogs often bring out something in ourselves that we didn’t even know we had - find it and hold onto it. I did, and now I’m much happier with my intelligent, playful, athletic and independent standard poodle girl.

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Positively Expert: Julie Schmitt

Julie Schmitt is a Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and behavior consultant striving to restore calm to families with challenging dogs. She is the owner of Out N’ About Dog Training in San Diego, California.


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