When the problem is the owner rather than the dog

Dogs are like children. You’ve got to love them (and try and stop yourself from smacking them). With me it’s a struggle not to smack. Loving is pretty easy, especially when she looks at me with her big brown eyes. But the not smacking is an ongoing learning thing for me. There are just so many things my dog does which are inappropriate. Here is a list for starters: sniffing people’s crotches; chasing the cat; climbing onto the furniture; entering other people’s gardens and doing her business there; entering other people’s houses; running away when she hears the garbage men or there’s a thunderstorm; licking her paw obsessively when owner is trying to concentrate; bullying small puppies; slobbering on strangers.

A lot of people would read a list like that and think: It’s the owner’s fault. Why did he let her get out of hand? Where was the consistency, discipline, loving guidance, rules? And then I’m quick to reply that I’m the third owner and that she learned her bad behaviour in her puppyhood. She wasn’t socialised adequately. Pedigreed ridgebacks are highly strung. We’ve had four homes in four years. I’m a single working dog-owner etc.

Actually I shouldn’t blame her for the paw-licking and the slobbering and the running away from noisy garbage trucks. That’s pretty much involuntary. And she’s a lot better about not climbing onto the furniture and slobbering on strangers. The crotch-sniffing is easy to control if you are an assertive person. Lifting your knee, turning away and saying “No” in a stern voice will do it.

Big dogs need lots of exercise and since I’m away from the house from 7am to 4.30pm she only gets one walk a day. I know exactly what I would say if I were the dog psychologist giving my opinion. If you want your dog to change her behaviour, you have to change your behaviour. Losing your temper and throwing a small blue baby elephant at your dog when she licks obsessively is not appropriate behaviour. Smacking her with the dog’s lead for not listening to instructions on a walk is not appropriate behaviour. Oy vey.

All the dog classes in the world will not make a difference unless she has a stable home environment. I’ve been working on that and I’m pretty happy with the current set-up. Granny (and sometimes grandpa) looks after her for much of every day. She has routine and another dog to play with. She gets a daily walk (although admittedly not as long as is needed for a dog of her size). She gets to take her aggression out on the Alsatians up the road (a lot of fierce barking through the fence). We avoid small puppies since it’s just too traumatic to try and explain to their owners that my hulking brute of a ridgeback is actually an anxious dog rather than a big bully. The dog and the cat have separate living quarters.

On a happier note, seeing a bouncy dog running wild on the beach is a pleasure. She takes off at speed, does figures of eight, chases her tail, attacks the waves and does some serious sprint-work, tail tucked in, down the shoreline. Then I forget about the slobbering and the furniture and the embarrassment of explaining an exuberant overgrown puppy to non-doggy people.


4 Responses to When the problem is the owner rather than the dog

  1. TJ says:

    Oh yes. I can relate to all of the above. And especially the “all is forgiven when you look adorable playing on the beach” part. I got my dog from a shelter; he came with engrained habits, a few of which are wonderful! some of which I want to strangle him for. But he IS learning (after two years!!). Keep up the faith! TJ

  2. Weeping Sore says:

    Good Grief – sensible advice about dog-rearing! Next, you’ll be telling me my cat is spoiled because of similar inappropriate behavior. Of course when MY pet does it, it’s nothing but adorable. I confess however, that I’ve lost my temper at my cat sometimes. I generally don’t throw things, but instead have a serious face-to-face discussion about how I lover her but not her behavior. I’m quite sure she understands every word…

  3. couchtrip says:

    TJ – thanks for the encouragement. I’m actually feeling a lot better about the dog after blogging about her. I think it’s quite cathartic, and reminds me that I’m doing the best I can etc. Glad to hear that you’re also got a rescue dog – we can share stories in the future.

    Weeping – I’m glad to hear that your face-to-face cat-human discussions are working! I get a bit anxious when I read dog-training websites and they advise me to learn dog behaviour. All the stuff about being the leader of the pack etc. I prefer to see my dog as half dog, half human because that seems to be the way she sees herself. That way I don’t feel so stupid applying human psychology principles on to her. Thanks for the visit and good to hear you describe similar cat behaviour as adorable. As we say in psychology, that kind of positive reframing works for me!

  4. litlove says:

    I try and give my cats the occasional, stern talking-to, for all the good it does any of us! Your dog is beautiful (and that beach looks pretty nice) and it’s the equivalent of taking on a damaged child, yet? That’s a very difficult job indeed. Sounds like you are doing wonderfully well at surmounting the endless obstacles.

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