House Pet Expectation Syndrome

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

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Has anybody wondered why the average house pet seems to have trouble with anxiety, is overly hypersensitive, runs  away from home, growls at dogs, children or their owners, or are just plain difficult to train? It is a thing that I refer to as “HOUSE PET EXPECTATION SYNDROME."

Maltese house pet

When I see these behaviors in our dogs, I tend to use this phrase, and in my seminars I talk about what it is. When beginning to help people solve their problems with dogs, I always ask one simple question; "what do you expect from this dog?" Of course the longest list comes out, and it‘s something close to this:

I want my dog to...

  • come to me
  • be obedient
  • get along with other dogs or the cat
  • be good with children
  • not go to the bathroom in the house
  • stay in the yard/not run away from home

The overall phrase is “I want a house pet.” I want, I want, I want. Nothing says “I must give, give and give” or “place its success on myself.” The phrase should be “I can’t expect anything and I must work to achieve this goal that I and the dog may need.” In the subconscious mind the statement of “I want” is incredibly selfish and puts the responsibility on the dog and this is why its behavior failed in the first place.

In order for your dog to do all the above list, you have to....

  • build a relationship and teach recall
  • be patient/train the dog on a regular basis
  • teach the dog "leave it" and recall, don't let them make decisions to run after other dogs at any time (i.e. running along the fence with the neighbor's dogs)
  • teach dogs and children to be respectful of each other’s space and alone time, setting boundaries
  • put the dog on a routine/schedule for feeding, tie him to you if he's out of his crate so you learn his body signals
  • being worth something in the eyes of your dog so he doesn't want to leave

I always use this analogy: A police dog (or any service dog) has a very demanding life. In the example of a police dog, of course the dog is tested for its temperament and working ability. Then it is decided whether the dog can cut the mustard or know the position of the dog’s virtues and issues it needs to work through to achieve the given goal. In general, it goes through 16 weeks of training in a structured environment with no failed developmental behaviors (“dirty water” as I call it.)  Then the dog spends a year on the road with its handler in the various environments and situations - totally structured and controlled in certain aspects - to reach the goal of a successful experience. There is no expectation until the training goals and exposures have been successfully imprinted and guided into the dog’s functionality.

Unlike a family pet, a police dog does not have to get along with all dogs, it just has to ignore them. Moreover, it does not have to tolerate all those who walk into the house or its space and accept them. It must be good with children but it does not have to tolerate its ears being pulled or children running up to it while it is sleeping, people sticking their hands in its food bowl...these are just a few examples. Yet the police dog goes out everyday risking its life in order to protect its handler and keeping the public safe.

Keeping the public safe is the key phrase here.  No  dog, be it service dog or house pet, can achieve this without clear, consistent, confident building and trustworthy daily management, and this takes time.

A house pet has to tolerate all dogs (aka play with all dogs and get along). A house pet has to tolerate all of our relatives and friends that we so love dearly (aka love them as much as we do). It must always come back when called no matter what happens and be obedient if it feels we aren't worth it. If not, we get angry and corrective and sometimes downright resentful, feeding fuel to the fire.

With all of the above demands that we place on our pets, I have to ask one question: Is our environment carefully structured for successful management with the objective of reaching the end result? Or is it a free-for-all based on needy misunderstandings on our parts to satisfy our own hearts? Oftentimes, it is the latter.

We tend to give a dog free reign and force it to live in our house. When it fails - like unrolling the toilet paper, jumping on the children, or mouthing - then we begin to say “no don't do this, don't do that” and “you’re a bad dog.” Some of us tend to try to rescue our family members from a dog’s rough play and scold it, especially when it jumps on the kids or a guest. Has anyone ever thought that we may have indirectly caused the dog to act this way? If so, how can we be so bold as to be corrective? This is the fundamental route of all dogs’ problems and owner conflicts.

Through the progress of this (structured??) expected environment, the dog begins to get confused and then the stress comes out, and of course the lashing out from both parties (dog and human) begin to prevail. When I begin a process, half the battle is teaching people how to break their own bad habits and needy expectations and work towards the end goal with loved detachment and successful planning. At the end of the discussion I still hear the words:  “I want a house pet." My answer is usually, “well, do you have one now?"

All I am saying here is simple: If a house pet has such a demanding job and a police dog needs roughly 1 year of consistent, structured, patient guidance to be successful, how long does it take for a house pet? Bet on double that time.

Find a good trainer (that doesn’t use devices or physical pain) who puts the accountability on you, accept it, and you will find the house pet or family member that you desire, and it will meet you half way!

Let no one place expectations on their loved ones, as they will dreadfully fail.

- Sam

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