“Why Can’t My Dog Be Normal?”

Photo by Patrick Danforth | www.clicktozen.com

Photo by Patrick Danforth | www.clicktozen.com

Some days it can be a real challenge living with a reactive dog or one you find a challenge. They may pull on the leash like a freight train, bark at crows and try to attack them, or they may have more serious issues such as reactivity/fear towards people or other dogs, or guard items or spaces.

We love our dogs; there’s no doubt about that. Regardless of their imperfections, we really want to do best by them. When we face social pressures and judgment from those around us, it only makes things more difficult. Many of us live in shared spaces and close quarter with others. Some of us still live with family members. It may seem sometimes like everyone else has a “normal” dog while you struggle to make minute changes towards the better with your own. How can we cope?

Realize There is No "Normal" Dog

What is the definition of normal? “Conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected" (Websters Dictionary)

When it comes to animals and behaviour, there really is no “normal”. It may appear to you from the outside looking in that your neighbor across the street has a very normal and perfect dog. He doesn’t lunge, bark or pull. However, what you might not know is that when he is off leash he indulges in poop-eating and dashes out the front door when not restrained, many times almost being hit by a car. Is this “normal” behaviour?  Absolutely, this behaviour is normal for an animal! But, the dog is not perfect, and it may drive the guardian nuts wishing his dog was "normal". So these a few things to keep in mind when you feel as though you are fighting an uphill battle.

Recognize Small Successes

It’s human nature for us to focus on imperfections and dismiss the progress we make in life. Give yourself, and your dog, permission to feel good about the progress you are making. If you are not making progress, seek help from a qualified force-free trainer. Keep a log of some of your successes during the day, even if they are small. Give your dog feedback (think snacks and play) when he gets it right, even for the little things. Don’t look for perfection; we want progress.

Ignore the Haters

You're going to be judged by your dog's behaviour and you need to get over it. You cannot change others' reactions to you, but you can develop a thicker skin and remember that you and your dog are a team. Keep your eye on the ball and focus on your dog, the training you are doing and the progress you are making. If a slip-up happens, it's just a blip on the radar and part of the learning process. If someone in your life is constantly criticizing you or your dog, then have a script that you repeat to them. "We are working on it, no perfect dogs out there but we are making progress with our training." Don't let the negativity get you down and find as many situations as possible to set your dog, and you, up for successes you can use as benchmarks.

The Ball Is In Your Court

Remember that it’s up to us to provide training and guidance for our dogs if we are looking to make changes. The learning process for animals isn’t always an easy road; us humans tend to be inconsistent, confusing and we change the rules for our dogs quite often… leaving them to guess what the heck it is that we want from them! Slow and steady, consistent and clear. If training “isn’t working” then you either need a new trainer, need to clean up your own training, or you aren’t giving things enough time for your dog to make the connection.

Connections and Support

Realizing you aren’t in the minority when it comes to your dog and their “abnormal” behaviour can really shed some light onto the subject and reassure you that there are many dogs out there that are misunderstood and perfectly imperfect. If you have a family member or friend that is supportive – lean on them. Ask for help if you need it, find a reactive dog class and make connections so you can meet up when the classes conclude to practice or find an online group that shares accurate information so you can learn more about dogs and their behaviour.

The more we know about animal behaviour and the learning process, the better we can understand why our dogs do what they do. Appreciate your dog for the individual he is, quirks and all.


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Positively Expert: Renée Erdman

Renée Erdman is a Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer and behaviour consultant focusing on the emotional needs and welfare of dogs and their guardians. She resides in North Vancouver, BC Canada where she runs Bravo Dog (www.bravdog.ca), her pride and joy.


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6 thoughts on ““Why Can’t My Dog Be Normal?”

  1. alison telford

    I needed to read this today. My dog has issues with people entering his space i.e camping, home, or if we sit for a period of time anywhere, this becomes his zone and he'll bark and eventually lunge at those attempting to enter it (because they don't listen to his warnings). We do training, but it's a hard one to set up. In all other areas he is of course awesome. A love bug, off lead amazing, social with all dogs, loves adults in particular, best recall, etc etc..But what hurts is when people consider his 'issues' are because he is a rescue. Adding more fire to the myth that a rescue is hard work and damaged. So bored of this thinking. As a team we will keep working together and we will overcome this fear.

  2. Kalia

    Great post, thank you! My dog is so polite and loving, but he is dog selective and can be very reactive around certain dogs. There is one man in my neighborhood who walks his dog off-leash at about the same time I do (mine is always on leash). My pup goes crazy, and even though I change course, offer treats, and do what my positive trainer suggests, it doesn't work with this dog. And the owner puts his nose up at me every single time. Scoffing and looking angry, shaking his head. Once I introduced my pup's favorite tug toy to distract him from this off-leash pair, and it worked (then we do "drop it" and it calms him down). The look and body language of the man made me cry. . . He was so judgmental. I couldn't hear wha the was saying under his breath, but it wasn't good. t've tried to introduce myself to him, but the owner ignores me. Thanks for the reminder to "ignore the haters."

  3. Mary Devries

    took in a chi terrier i think mix. some snarly spats but today he took my english bull down and i had to grab him by the collar and lift him off. it had been days and i do not know why he did it. now he is kenneled, usual punishment for such actions. he is cute guy but I am at my wits end and fear i may have to return him to the rescue group. any ideas

  4. Deb J

    Given up on ever sorting our dogs issues. Nothing worked..he only ever gets worse. We now isolate ourselves because that's the only way to give him and us any kind of peace. It's pretty depressing to be honest. 🙁

  5. Louise Goodban

    I have two reactive dogs one reacts when on the lead and the other cannot be off lead as she has issues due to being abused then kennelled. However I prefer to rescue dogs and these dogs usually come with an horrific background so who can blame them for being reactive. People do judge me I see it in their faces ' that dog is out of control. She needs to get a grip of that dog and my favourite it's okay my dogs friendly usually shouted half a field away as their dog is charging towards mine who is doing spins twists and kangaroo jumps'. But one of the things you said really helped your right I owe it to my dogs not to become stressed about others but to remain focused on the most perfect imperfect dogs which I love not someone who has no knowledge of my dogs journey. So thank you for this ☺

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