When I look back on the nine years I’ve spent with my dog Hayley, I cringe at some of the stupid mistakes I made when I first got her. Back then, I wasn’t a trainer – I was just a guy getting his first dog, with pretty much no real knowledge of how to train or live with a dog. Like everyone else in the same situation, I made more than my fair share of mistakes.
One thing I’ve realized is that you can’t feel bad about errors you made with your dog in the past. Many people beat themselves up for past blunders and mishaps, but it’s very unfair to do that. All you can ever do is the best with the information you have. Nine years ago, I did the very best with the limited knowledge about dogs that I had, and although it wasn’t ideal, it was my best at the time. So don’t think back to what you should have or could have done with your last dog, or when your current dog was a puppy. Instead, get yourself more informed now, do better today, and forget the past.
One of my big mistakes was setting unrealistic expectations for Hayley. I assumed she would come into my home, never have an accident, know just how to behave, never get over excited, instantly know my house rules, and understand whatever I wanted of her at all times. This, of course, was totally unfair to her, and caused quite a bit of unnecessary conflict in those early days.
I wish I realized then, what I realize now: that on her best day, Hayley is, and will always be, a dog. No matter what, she’s going to act like a dog – always and forever. If she sees a squirrel, she’s going to chase it; if someone new comes over, she’d going to be excited; and in a room with a perfectly comfy couch, she’s not going to choose to sleep on the floor. She’s a dog. And that’s more than just okay – that’s great! I wanted a dog, not another human roommate.
Once I came to terms with the realization that Hayley was indeed a dog, and merely acting as a dog should, I relaxed my expectations and began to enjoy the process of training her to better adapt to my very human lifestyle. Instead of resenting what I labeled as misbehaving, I looking at her with understanding and patience (well, maybe not too much patience), and worked to improve her behaviors.
Not only do you have a dog, but you have a particular breed of dog, which may come with some or all of those breed’s characteristics. If you get a herding dog, don’t be upset when it nips at the heels of running children; if you share your world with a Chow Chow, there is a good possibility that it will be wary of any strangers entering your home; and if you have a pit bull like me, you shouldn’t be surprised if she’s dog reactive.
Respect and love your dog for who they are and understand that there is a learning curve for another species coming into the human world. Even though your dog may be amazingly trained, there will still be those times when he forgets his training and remembers, “oh yeah, I’m a dog and that’s the mailman.” Bark, bark, bark.