We’ve all been embarrassed by our dogs.
Some of us know the pain of our dog running off as we impotently call his name. Others suffer dismay from having our courageous canine,with teeth flashing, protecting the house from the UPS driver. Maybe your dog has pulled you across the street to “tell off” the neighbor’s dog for having the audacity to live on your block.
If you’re really lucky, you’ve dealt with all three. And more.
But does having training fails make us bad dog owners? And does anyone have the right to judge?
I Judge Therefore I Am
Polls asking Americans to name their favorite hobbies include the results of reading, watching television, and gardening. But I think our favorite hobby is judging other people.
If it wasn’t true how could we ever explain the Kardashians, bad celebrity dance contests, and road rage?
My judging hat looks like a bike helmet. I don’t even wait for a driver to do something stupid before I assume he’s out to kill me. Things that didn’t faze me when I drove a car freak me out now that I’m a year-round bicyclist.
I judge every driver who rolls through a stop sign, takes my right-of-way, and doesn’t see me signal a right turn to be a homicidal moron instead of someone who is just distracted or innocently misjudging my speed.
Here’s the crazy thing about my judgments: they don’t make me feel better and they don’t do a thing to improve anyone’s driving.
Funny, but it’s also true that no one’s judgments of me has made me better looking or a good dog trainer.
It’s Not Easy Being Judged
When we feel we’re going to be judged, we change our behavior. Instead of seeing the UPS driver as a training opportunity, we shove our dog into the bathroom so at least his barking is muted. And even if it stresses him out enough to chew up a roll of toilet paper in between “let me out” barks, at least we’re less embarrassed.
We get flustered by our dog’s lunging and pulling on leash. All we want is to get away. And we miss out on a teaching moment.
We need to be strong enough for our dogs that we don’t care about the judging that comes. And yes, it will come.
Where do we get the inner strength to stop worrying about other people judging us for our dog’s actions? By remembering two things that everyone should consider before judging:
Some behaviors are perfectly normal for dogs
Barking at a stranger is normal behavior for a dog with strong protective instincts. Yes, we want to teach our dogs they don’t need to go into protective-mode every time a stranger comes to the house. But we’re working against nature.
And don’t forget, context is everything. As embarrassed as I’ve been when Agatha and Christie frothed to get at a delivery person, I was equally thankful for their instincts when we returned from a walk to find two burglars hiding in our dining room.
It takes time to train dogs (and people)
Five years ago my neighbors down the street adopted a dog from the SPCA. He was insane on a leash. He pulled in all directions, tripping people and bringing a sense of mayhem to his every step.
When I see him today, I have to work hard to remember that rude little dog who didn’t know how to walk politely on a leash. His people did a great job with him. But it took years—not just of training but also of him growing up to teach him calmness on a leash.
Honey Teaches Me To Worry Less About Being Judged
I try to make our walks fun for Honey.
She gets to pick the route. I will lengthen a walk if she’s not ready to come in. We explore different settings each day.
But we’re not always in synch.
If we walk to the south, when we get to the intersection one block from our house, Honey will stop. No coaxing will urge her forward.
Of course she’s most likely to do this when there are people walking by and cars driving through the intersection wondering if we’re going to cross the street or not. It’s embarrassing.
Sure, I should be past any humiliation after sixteen years with the devil dogs, Agatha and Christie. But I’m not.
I could pull treats out and bribe her to go forward (and I have when I’m in a hurry which contributes to the problem). But I want to figure this out through communicating better with Honey.
So I’m learning to ignore the people who laugh when they see me trying to coax a dog to move whose paws are glued to the sidewalk. If I have to sit on the sidewalk until she approaches me, I’ll do that too.
Because a stranger walking by might judge my failure for a few seconds. But my relationship with Honey is for life.
And my learning to ignore the judgments of other people is good for Honey and it’s good for me.