Do You Have Dreams for Your Dog?

Mixed breed dog sitting in the sun

Is this the ideal dog?

Many of us envision an ideal dog. For some, it’s the gentle couch potato resting his head on your knee while you read. For others, it’s the dog who swims, camps, hikes, and runs beside the bike. And for still others, it’s something in between.

But if your dog isn’t who you expected her to be, how much time do you spend trying to change her? And how much time do you spend trying to change yourself?

No, it’s your turn to change the dog.

The past twenty years have brought amazing advances in understanding the brain, both human and canine.

Using positive training techniques, people have been able to do amazing things with dogs, including teaching them to combine nouns and verbs and how to intelligently disobey cues that would put a human they’re guiding in danger.

But just because we can teach dogs advanced skills doesn’t mean we can remake every dog to become that ideal in our minds. And it can be tough for humans is to balance knowledge that all dogs have the potential to grow with the understanding that we’re not horrible people if we can’t help our dogs change in ways we feel they need to change.

Love the one you’re with.

Once we make a commitment to live with and love the dog in our home, we can gain joy from learning who this “not ideal” creature is.

Golden Retriever running with a ball in the snow

Or is this the ideal dog?

It makes me sad to see Honey flinch when a box shifts near her. Or to see her shy away from a swinging door. Or to realize she may never like riding in her bicycle cart.

But that little bit of fearfulness is also what keeps her looking back for me when we’re walking together off leash. And it makes Honey look very satisfied with herself when she persists at something that frightens her and succeeds.

I know several people who never anticipated competing in dog sports until they realized their dog needed an outlet for their intelligence and energy. And others who remain active and fit giving their hounds access to all the stimulating smells they need for an enriching life.

Did you get the dog you wanted?

Or did you get the dog you needed?

If you had expectations for your dog, did they work out? Or have you had to shift your attitude and accept that some things would never happen?

What has been the best thing you’ve received from your dog that you weren’t looking for?

Hop on…

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  1. Justus is my dog; i have others I own but he is mine, you know? I didn’t expect him – he began as a Black & Tan Coonhound puppy I fostered for American Black & Tan Coonhound Rescue. One day, I pulled his ears up (love those long hound ears) and exclaimed, “You’re a Dobermann!” Well, not quite but ABTCR no longer wanted him (they would have found him a proper rescue) but I did – so I adopted him for a pittance; win-win for all of us. He is the dog I train (not like Kristine and Shiva; we are more laisse-faire) but of whom I have the most expectation. I want to be able to walk off leash with him; I want him to look to me before wandering off – his hound nose is very active on walks but his Dobermann shows up in his attention to me and willingness to work.
    Justus is the dog I’m relying on to take me down the serious training path – giving big black dogs a great name as we go there.

    • That was such a lovely description of the dog who came to you. You could pick this up and make it a very moving blog post all on its own.

  2. This is a great post. Soon after I adopted Toby and saw how much he loved people, I got it in my head that he would make a great therapy dog, despite his bad behaviors like jumping, pulling, and obsessing over food. I worked endlessly with him, and even succeeded in training him to two several therapy dog tests (I switched organizations). But once I started doing actual visits with him, in the “real world” I learned that passing a test doesn’t necessarily make you right for a job. After several unsuccessful and stressful (for me) visits, I retired him, and accepted him for who he was. He now does Nose Work – where he is allowed to pull and obsess over food – and we are BOTH much happier. :-)

    • Sounds like you found the best activity for you and Toby to enjoy together.

      Your therapy story reminded me of something. The trainer at the local SPCA told me she went with a group of therapy dogs to visit a juvenile detention facility. She said that most of the dogs were y’know, like therapy dogs–calm, placid, and well-behaved. The trainer told me that the boys would have appreciated someone like Honey a little more–enthusiastic and playful.

      So, if you ever decide to explore therapy again with Toby, he might be great with rambunctious teenage boys but less so with the ill or elderly. :)

      • Thanks for the idea. Funny thing, a trainer suggested that as well, so you might be on to something. :-) If I ever do revisit the therapy thing, it will probably be when he is over ten and finally (hopefully?) settles down.

  3. Goodness! I could write for days on this subject – what a great post once again, Pamela! It’s important to me to both accept my dogs for who they are while also helping them to become the best dogs they can be. It’s challenging to put aside my idea of that perfect dog and help each of them attain their ideal. For me, a good example of how this works is my recent attempt at teaching the dogs to roll over. I never expected Maggie to do a roll over – it’s completely against who she is as a dog. So my goal for her was to just get her to be a little more comfortable laying on her side and we got there.

    I do have goals for Hurley to achieve his CGC certification and become a therapy dog. But he will tell me, as we progress through our training to get there, whether that’s something he feels comfortable doing. The hard part is for me to really listen and not get caught up in the end goal. I think it’s a good thing for us to have goals for our dogs but in the end, we must allow them to be them and not push them to be some ideal we have in our heads.

    • Very well put.

      And if we can learn to be accepting of our dogs’ limitations as we help them to grow, maybe someday we’ll learn to be as kind to other people in our lives and ourselves.

  4. Yep, we dogs do have much to teach you humans….. if only you’d listen!

    • You’re so right, Rumpy. We’re just very slow learners and a bit hard of hearing. Please be patient with us.

  5. Choosing the breed that matches our lifestyles is a start, but we have to remember that every dog is a distinct individual and we need to respect their uniqueness and work with it or we will forever be frustrated.

  6. Let’s face it,,,people get pets for many varied reasons, and it is not for any one of us to judge whether someone’s elses idea of the perfect pet makes sense. I have my sixth “best friend” now, and, just as I have done for all of them, all I’m concerned about is giving her the safest, happiest, and most loving home that I can. I want to do for her,,,not have her do for me.

  7. My dream for Dexter? To not be so GD annoying!! He is still such a *busy* puppy and wants to see everything that I am doing.

  8. I’m really happy with the way Georgia turned out. Of course they are niggly things which worry me, but for 3 and a 1/2, I think she has quite good manners and a decent vocabulary. It’s interesting for me to see how her personality has changed and developed, in many ways by itself. The only expectations I ever had of her was to be a good dog. Every time I tied one of those special Senhor Bonfim ribbons on her collar, I would make the same 3 wishes…that she be happy, healthy and calm!

    She was the dog we needed, not the one we wanted. We didn’t want another dog at all but Rufus did.

    BTW, Is this about the bicycle cart? 😉

    • I think we’ve all been watching Miss Georgia turning into a very nice young lady. You are very fortunate.

      Of course, I’ve read she can be a bit impatient with her Typist at moments. :)

      Even so, it sounds like Rufus left you in good paws.

      We’re still having a tough time with the bike cart. But my bigger worry is wondering if she will one day tolerate living on a sail boat. :) I read about one couple who sold their monohull because the dogs felt uncomfortable with the heeling and bought a catamaran. Must be nice. Those kinds of expenses are definitely not in our future.

  9. I absolutely got the dog I wanted with Flo… but because of that I also lost the cushions and countless other things I wanted as her jaws worked their way through everything. I don’t think I’d change her. :)

    • I lost two couches back when I had Agatha and Christie. It was a small price to pay for such amusing company for so many years.

      You’re lucky to be with Flo from nearly the beginning of her life. Every month and year will see her developing into the lovely girl she’s meant to be.

  10. I think Bella is the dog that I needed – definitely. Although I sometimes wish she didn’t get carsick and that she wasn’t scared of storms, those issues pale in comparison to all the love and happiness she has given me. :)

    • Nicely said. Unfortunately, there are an awful lot of people who give upon a dog with the first sign of “imperfection” and miss all the other wonderful things they offer.

      And, don’t forget, Bella is a wonderful photographic muse. She has such an expressive face. :)

  11. I’m having trouble accepting the poop eating and the floor and cabinet licking, but you hit on something very solid here Pamela. Many dogs don’t just need physical exercise they also need to exercise their minds. Once you figure out what your dog needs, it goes a long way to helping you like each other.

  12. Kol is definitely the dog I needed, but not even one bit the dog I wanted. LOL, I was dreaming of a perfectly behaved, well-bred beagle that I could show and work with. Not getting that show dog is the BEST thing that could ever have happened. Can you imagine what a stuffed shirt I would have become with the dog I wanted?! *shudders*

    In all his glorious imperfection, Kol reminds me every day that life is FUN and funny and that good times are all around, if you just embrace them. That boy has a joie de vie that can’t be tamed – and I would never ever want to.

  13. I love this post and I am so sorry I am getting to it so late! The comments have been almost as wonderful!

    I have never shied from the fact that Shiva was not the dog I wanted. Not by a long shot. I wanted a laid-back mutt who would get me out exercising again but would also love spending Sunday afternoons on the couch. Perfection wasn’t necessary but I wanted an older dog specifically because I knew I wasn’t ready for the energy of a puppy.
    While I have always loved agility and as a kid I used to watch demonstrations with envy, I didn’t anticipate actually getting into myself so quickly.

    What is the best thing I’ve received? Passion. All my life I’ve never known what I was most passionate about. Shiva showed me. It was because she was so crazy and had so many problems that I started the journey of learning more about dogs. I wouldn’t be writing this comment today if it wasn’t for her.

  14. Both! I knew the minute I saw him at the shelter that we were a perfect pair, and that he was what I wanted. I knew the minute he got in the car with me and we left the shelter that he was and would always be everything I need. The one thing I’ve had to adjust to actually is something that changed in him. He was at the Humane Society for three months and had clearly come from an abusive situation. He was terrified of everyone and everything and trusted no one except me. It took a long time, but he got past that…and now trusts everyone. Too much, in my opinion. Mojo would never let anything happen to me, let anyone harm me. There is no doubt in my mind about that, and he is a good guard dog. I just worry about him approaching everyone who walks by so readily. I don’t trust people, and it makes me worry.

    The best thing he’s given me that I never expected? Calm. Mojo has the ability to calm me, to slow me down and bring me a little more “in the moment.” And he teaches me lesson after lesson, often making me see things I’m doing (or not doing). Actually, like another person answered above, I could go on and on about him, and about all he’s given me. Once I hit submit, there’ll be five more things that come to mind.

    Another person commented above about how dogs need mental stimulation too. I couldn’t agree more. I see this with Mojo more and more as I get busier and busier – and it makes me feel awful. If we could afford a playmate I’d get one, but for the time being, I’m just trying to play hide-and-seek with different objects. A recent article noted that keeping dogs active and mentally stimulated will help prevent them from having problems later like memory loss or confusion. That just illustrates how important it is.

    Great post – thank you!


  1. […] enough, Pamela at Something Wagging This Way Comes had a post titled, “Do You Have Dreams For Your Dog?”  After reading the post I went to leave a comment, and as I started to write I realized, […]

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