Behavior - It's not you, it's me
Finding the fit, building the fit, sometimes accepting it's not a fit
You’ve always dreamed about the perfect dog. You met a beautiful Golden Retriever who was so well behaved and sweet you just couldn’t wait to take one home. The two of you will enjoy leisurely walks, s/he’ll greet you happily when you come home, love you unconditionally, potty right where you want him or her to, and come when you call. So you go out and get a new companion.
A dog in the house can bring joy. But it can also bring chewed shoes, ruined furniture, drool, poop and barking. Behavior problems — , things like separation anxiety or leash reactivity — add another layer of challenge, and are all problems we see every day.
Setting up for success
1) Research your breed. Learn what was your dog bred to do and whether you can or will meet his daily physical and mental needs. Some dogs love nothing more than to lounge on the couch all day while others need ample exercise and room to run and play. Not all breeds will fit your bill; my Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Jack Russell (JRT) mix are both couch potatoes. They can sleep all day, go for a short walk, and then sleep all night without a problem. Not all Staffies or JRTs are like that — if you have one you may be wondering what tranquilizers I give mine to get them to stop moving!
2) Meet your dog’s basic needs:
- Environment: Provide an enriching, low-stress environment. Notice where your dog likes to sleep, what s/he likes to play with, assess their breed needs and make adjustments. Look at daily stressors, too. If my Terrier has access to a window she will “protect” the house from invaders, barking at every person who passes during the day. Simply closing the curtains, creating a visual barrier like paper, or moving furniture so she can’t see out the window reduces her stress substantially and helps her feel more relaxed during the day.
- Physical Exercise: Can/will you provide daily walks or running, play, chase, etc.?
- Healthy diet: Is your dog getting the nutrition s/he needs? Talk to your vet — sometimes a change is in order.
- Mental Exercise: Can/will you provide training, food puzzle toys, play, ample time to sniff during walks, etc.?
3) Train some more! Training provides ample mental exercise, which will help your dog feel tired and teaches them what you want them to do.
Sometimes it’s just not a good fit.
What to do when it’s not a good fit? One thing I love about pet parents is their commitment. They have taken a dog into their home and they want to make it work, they want their dog to be happy, and they’ll do whatever it takes. However, sometimes whatever it takes involves re-homing your dog and finding a better “match.” I recently helped a client family re-home their two-year old Golden; it was a very hard decision for all involved. He is a beautiful dog, and they are a wonderful family — they were just not a fit for each other. Four kids, busy jobs, and an unfenced property made meeting their dog’s needs nearly impossible. I am proud of their bravery in deciding to re-home him; it’s a tough decision to make, but it was the best decision for their dog. A little work, a few phone calls, connecting with local rescue groups, and we found a home for him that is absolutely perfect. He even has his own instagram page!
Jennifer Biglan, owner of Training Spot in Eugene, OR, is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner in Eugene, OR. She knew she wanted to work with animals at a young age. After graduating from the U of O and volunteering at a dog shelter, she found her calling. Jennifer is well known through the community, and by many area veterinarians for her work in solving behavior problems, and she has extensive knowledge and background training dogs. Learn more about Training Spot at trainingspot.us or firstname.lastname@example.org.