When we are five years old we start learning the basics about how we deal with other people, react to social situations, and how to survive in the world. Most of us continue this education at varying speeds and success rates for the next twelve years. Then fewer of us decide that we are gluttons for punishment and continue our education for four or more extra years, and for those of us who are really crazy, and decide we want some extra letters after our name, we do even more. When it is all said and done we can look back and see that we have spent somewhere around twelve to twenty years just learning how to meet the expectations of being an adult and succeeding in the world. This is what we would consider “normal”.
Imagine a parent who has a newborn baby and says to themselves, “I expect my child to move out of the house by the time they are fifteen.” Many of us would laugh, some of us may shed a little tear for that kid knowing that they are in for a frustrating and tragic childhood, and others would brush it off, knowing how ridiculous that statement sounds. Because for the most part it’s placing an unrealistic and unreasonable expectation on most children. This expectation sounds rare, but I see it almost everyday…with owners and their dogs.
One of the first things I teach my group classes is how to manage expectations. In fact, most people who take classes are in class because they want their dogs to be more cooperative, which is a very understandable desire to have. You want your dog to make “the right decision” in the heat of the moment, no matter what level of stimulation or distraction they may be experiencing. But in a culture where we can have almost anything we want right away we humans get frustrated when we keep our expectations too high for our dog and those expectations aren’t met right away.
Let’s look at it in terms of “dog years” as the American Kennel Club would calculate it. When your dog has lived for one human year, it is fifteen years old. He is a teenager. He is still growing, becoming more socially understanding, and starting to establish his “world view”. He doesn’t always have the best self control even in the best of circumstances. When he feels threatened he puffs his chest and wants the threats to know what may happen if they get too close. When he sees something he wants, he has a hard time letting go and accepting that he can’t just have it. Whatever is in his bubble, is the only thing that exists. His biggest influence in life…are his parents! Sound familiar?
So why is it that by the time our dogs are fifteen (one human year) we expect that they should act as mature and seasoned as a grown adult? If it was an unreasonable expectation for you when you were fifteen, isn’t it probably an unreasonable expectation for your dog when he’s fifteen? If taught and socialized properly they should know some boundaries, have some ability to predict some consequences, but they simply lack the maturity to be as perfect as you want them to be. If you think your dog “doesn’t listen” or is “stubborn” it’s actually more likely that at least one of two things are missing; understanding and incentive. Both are things that only you can provide them.
I believe that training is most effective when there is consistency. It is up to you to make sure you have all the tools you need to help you and your dog understand each each other, and how to supply your dog with the correct incentives so they can grow and learn the most effective, efficient and rewarding ways. And if you don’t know where to find those tools, or how to use them, find the right resource to help you. Like children, it starts at home and what your dog communicates through action is how you know if you are on the right path to helping your pup grow into an independent but cooperative twenty-something (2), a mature thirty-something (3), but most importantly, live their whole life happily to the fullest as a member of your family.