Don’t Try to Change Your Dog

Maya the Dog I Got
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You Got the Dog You Got… Stop trying to change him.

I think one thing people just can’t wrap their heads around is the individuality of other creatures. Perhaps it is the self-righteous narcissistic characteristic of humans that makes them believe that everyone and everything should change in order to please them.

This holds true whether looking for people who treat us the way we believe we should be treated without looking at the way they treat others first. It holds true when picking out a dog because of the way he looks without any knowledge of who the dog is or his drives or genetics. This might be why certain breeder’s overbreed for looks with a total disregard to the health of the dog.

See: online dog training

Inevitably I get clients who rescued or bought a dog and complain about the dog being too high energy. “He never stops!” What kind of dog is it? “A border collie.” Or the people who complain about the dog’s drive wanting to chase things or play ball or barking at bicycles, etc. Basically, this is what we call prey drive. These things can be explained to a person over and over and they will only hear what they want to hear. “I understand that, but I don’t want him to do that.” Or, “I understand that but I really want him to learn how to do this.” Yes, dogs can be trained to do a lot of things and can also be trained to NOT do a lot of things, but the underlying fact remains that he is who he is. If you date a guy who’s a player and has cheated on his last three girlfriends, chances are he might cheat on you. He might say he won’t, he might act like he won’t, but the proof is in the pudding. If you find yourself disappointed when the other shoe drops, you can only blame yourself.

Dogs have inherent characteristics, just like humans do. If a dog is a chaser, that is more than likely who he is in his DNA. I’ve re-trained many dogs to stop chasing, stop biting, stop barking and such, but it is generally by squashing that drive. My two dogs are both high drive working dogs. They live in the house with me, sleep in my bed and live a pretty normal life when we’re not training, yet I know they are insane. They run and bark and are almost out of control – THAT is who they are. I wanted that dog and I accept that this is the dog I got. I don’t want to change them. Yes, I train them and harness that trait. They get to run and bark and chase and bite the bad guy regularly, but I didn’t get a dog like that and then try to turn him into a couch potato.

This issue is separate from training. There is a big distinction here. All dogs should be trained and should understand structure. Structure and training is something we give a dog to give them a happy life. However if this is not put into place early on in life along with socialization, chances are it will never be as solid as it could be. When dogs hardwire their characteristics it is hard to break them. That is why people often have more success adopting a calm, older dog rather than a young rambunctious dog that they will attempt to tame. Older dogs that are set in their (good) ways are solid companions and are generally the best option for someone who doesn’t want to spend too much time “working” a dog. However, even with an older dog you should still do some work training, playing and relating in order to develop a relationship that is beneficial for you and your dog.

Everyone always tells his or her trainer, “My dog is so smart.” To which I always answer, “What makes him so smart?” Dogs are compliant or they’re not compliant. They look to please or they don’t care. There are plenty of “smart” dogs that are not going to train well because they are too smart for you to figure them out. What you really want / need is a dog that engages well with you and one that is compliant, a dog that is a good match for your personality, that will go a long way, in fact a longer way than a smart dog. Dogs that are compliant will go along with what you want, rather than having to be “made” to go along with what you want; a dog that is easy and wants to be with you. Your dog doesn’t need to be an obedience champion or a Navy SEAL dog to be a good dog. Good dogs come in all sizes, breeds and drives. Your choice of a dog that matches your lifestyle and desires is going to make you happier than those ice blue eyes on the dog that will ruin your house if you can’t run him 7 miles a day.

Remember, dogs are individuals, and if you don’t want to change too much for them, they might not want to change too much for you. Forcing them to do what they don’t have an innate desire or drive to do will only lead to trouble. Think about the dog you want to have 5 years from now, not what you think you want today to show off to your friends. Dogs live a long time, sadly not long enough, but those years should be filled with balance. Shelters are a great choice because they have such a wide variety of breeds, ages, drives, sizes and looks. Don’t rush into it or feel “guilted” into taking the dog you’re not certain of. It’s best for you and the dog to understand that, although you can create a balanced relationship and develop the dog into a good dog, he still is who he is under the surface and oftentimes training him is not an option for completely changing him into something else. This is highly unfair for the dog and a big let down for you.

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