If your dog runs away from home, cries when you leave the house, or barks like a mad creature every time a stranger comes to the door, you look for a management tool or training method. Right?
I’m not going to argue you out of that. After all, roaming the streets is dangerous. No dog deserves to feel bad when he’s left alone. And a crazy barking dog can get you kicked out of your condo.
But how much easier would it be to cope with your frustration if you could learn something from your dog’s problem behaviors?
She’s Not Bad; She’s Just a Dog
First off, many things we call problem behaviors are just dogs being dogs. Roaming, staying close to the family, and alert barking are perfectly normal dog behaviors. As are butt sniffing, wrestling with teeth flashing, humping, and digging holes.
They may not be our idea of fun. Well, some of them might. But they’re perfectly normal behaviors for a dog.
Then why “fix” them? Because we’ve brought dogs into our worlds. And part of getting along in that world is modifying their behavior so they stay safe and don’t get in trouble with other people. And we want them to feel comfortable in our world, not terrified.
Are we all on the same page? Then let’s learn from our dog’s problem behaviors.
Hard To See Good At The Time
When my first dogs, Agatha and Christie, shredded not one but two expensive couches, it was hard to see the lesson.
Actually, the only lesson was probably to clean the upholstery on a used couch before bringing it into the house and to do a better job cleaning up spills on the new couch.
But as I look back at the problem behaviors of my dogs over the years, I see many things I need to learn. Here’s a list of behaviors my dogs have had that I could learn from:
When we walked by another dog on leash, my last dog, Shadow, went insane. She’d pull and lunge and bark.
It was embarrassing. And hard to manage. But I need to learn Shadow’s lesson to make a big fuss when someone or something threatens me.
Years ago I lost a small amount of money when someone threatened to push me on the elevated train tracks if I didn’t hand over my cash. It was rush hour. There were plenty of people standing around. But I was more afraid of causing a fuss than I was of being pushed onto the tracks with trains coming every few minutes.
I would have done better to act like Shadow. At least she was smart enough to let the world know when she felt threatened.
When I left Agatha and Christie alone in the house, they howled. And they destroyed my stuff. But the neighbors on the other side of our party wall were probably more upset by the howling.
I’m thinking those neighbors weren’t so stupid to start using crack. If I had to listen to that every morning, I might have done the same thing.
While there’s nothing good about a dog feeling anxious when her people leave, it is a good reminder to stay grounded in what means “home” to us.
Learning this lesson is one reason I want to move aboard a sailboat with Mike and Honey. Because home isn’t a building or a place. It’s having time to enjoy being with the ones you love.
I’m not going to start howling when Mike goes to work every morning. But I’m glad I haven’t waited too long to come up with a scheme that allows my little family to spend more time at “home” together.
When I was a girl, I had a German shepherd named Duke.
He was an athletic dog. And he loved to roam. He’d clear our 4 foot tall fence in a leap and roam around the countryside having adventures.
We’d go out in the car looking for Duke and find him miles from home.
Everyone needs to have an adventure. For some people, adventure means visiting all 196 countries or climbing a mountain. Other people feel adventurous going to the farmer’s market in the next town over.
I don’t have to jump over a fence and I don’t have nearly as many adventures as Duke did. Maybe it’s time for that to change.
I don’t think my husband ever forgave Christie for killing a baby raccoon that was living in a pile of lumber on our porch.
He would have hated my childhood dog, Duchess. He was a killing machine.
Moles, groundhogs, mice. Burrowing under the ground within a foot of Duchess was to risk your tiny, fuzzy life. But that bloody part of Duchess connected him to his wildness.
I have no doubt that Duchess could have survived quite well without kibble or other niceties of civilization.
I have fewer luxuries than the average American. But I can take a hot shower every day. I have electric light for when it gets dark. And I’m writing this post on a big old iMac that cost more than some people make in a year.
Most of us in developed countries don’t face our wild side until we’re confronted with a tragedy. But when a tornado or a hurricane hits, we recover the ability to care for ourselves that lies dormant when everything we need is at our fingertips.
I don’t think I’ll start hunting groundhogs in my backyard. But I do feel a need to recover some basic skills. And maybe just a little bit of wildness. Like Duchess.
Learning While Your Fixing
I read blogs by people coping with their dog’s chronic illnesses, extreme fear, and behavioral issues.
I’m lucky with Honey. She’s healthy and easily adapts to life in the human world.
My own dogs as well as some foster dogs have taught me that some dogs fit more easily in our world than others.But maybe our dog’s issues have something to say to us.
For my part, I wonder if the dogs with separation anxiety are the sane ones. And people commuting miles from their homes to do work they don’t find meaningful to earn money to buy stuff that doesn’t make them happy might be nuts.
Maybe our dog’s problem behaviors really do have something to teach us.
Your Turn: When you look deeper at your dog’s “issues” do you find any wisdom there? Or am I just a lunatic?
This post was inspired by my favorite trainer, Suzanne Clothier. Read her 10 Tips for Problem Behaviors.