For those of us who tend to be overly polite, having dogs is one more excuse to beat up on ourselves.
Not only do we strictly police our own behavior so we don’t irritate or offend someone else. We also feel intense guilt any time our dogs act “rude.”
Here’s the short list of dog behaviors that have mortified me in public:
- aroma sampling someone’s private parts
- girl-on-girl humping in the middle of a dinner party
- a dog bark alarm that doesn’t shut off no matter what
- puppy high jump competitions
- channeling her inner Cujo any time another dog walks by on leash
- howling at fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, and just because
When my dogs did these, or any number of other behaviors, I wanted to sink through the floor.
Luckily, I’ve gained some perspective over the years.
These aren’t moral issues. They’re just what dogs do.
Dogs jump. They bark. They sniff. They howl. They hump.
Sometimes they even pick fights with other dogs.
Now for those of you already planning your response in the comments telling me how important it is to teach my dog good manners, I’m not saying these things don’t matter. They do.
They just don’t matter so much that our embarrassment over them prevents us from teaching our dogs good behavior. Because that’s what happens when we get embarrassed, doesn’t it?
Our dog lunges at another one, we get a dirty look from their person, and in mortification, we start yelling and pulling our dog away from the scene.
Or he jumps on your husband’s grandmother and you pull him down and hold him in place.
Or he barks at the mailman and we yell, “shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!”
Here’s what’s true about those reactions:
- they’re a natural, human response to feeling embarrassed and out of control
- and they do nothing to correct the behavior that’s embarrassing you
I remember when my last dog, Shadow, would bark and lunge at dogs walking by. I was so embarrassed I kept apologizing to the other person.
In the meantime, Shadow’s behavior was reinforced by the dog walking away from her as quickly as possible, making it more likely to continue.
It wasn’t easy to ignore the looks of disapproval when Shadow acted up. But I had something more important to worry about—teaching her how to behave appropriately around other dogs.
If I was doing it right, I didn’t have time or attention to spend on feeling embarrassed. I was busy spotting situations before they occurred, taking action, and reinforcing good behavior for however few seconds it lasted.
After a few more years of experience and practice, I’m able to avoid the worst situations, even with dogs I’m just getting to know. Like our various foster dogs.
And if I mess up, I’m even able to choke out a quick, “Sorry,” while redirecting a dog’s focus back to me (and my turkey hot dogs).
I don’t feel bad about barking, sniffing, jumping, etc. anymore (well, not too bad; old habits die hard). After all, it’s not a moral issue. It’s just what dogs do.
And embarrassment is a rotten state of mind for dog training.
Your Turn: Does your dog embarrass you? Or have you learned to be more relaxed about normal dog behaviors (even when humans consider them rude)?