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.