In this season’s reflection, I’d like you to consider for a moment the range of behavioral issues that dogs can exhibit – pulling, resource guarding, chasing after moving objects, aggression, etc. – and I’d like for you to ponder a different way of interpreting such behaviors. Specifically, we begin to have problems with our dogs when we treat them as the pets we want, rather than the dogs they are.
“Pet” and “Dog” are not the same thing. A “pet” is something that the dog learns to become but that’s not what it was at birth. The dog was born “dog” – animal, canine, predator – and that predator often surfaces when too much of what we do with our dogs runs counter to their essential nature.
When we hand-feed dogs, touch them while they’re eating, take their food bowls away from them, with the goal of making them better pets, they eventually remind us of their predatory nature and begin guarding their food.
When we “socialize” dogs in extreme contexts such as daycares, playgroups, and dog parks, with the goal of making them like everyone and everything, sooner or later they manifest fight or flight reactions, again turning wild on us. Blasted with media messages that we ought to be socializing in such fast and furious ways, we think we’re acting in the dog’s best interest.
When we unload our emotions and feelings onto them, and at the same time worry about them and coddle them, we make them lose touch with who they really are. That is how anxiety kicks in, as it reflects a dog’s sense of disconnection from its fundamental canine nature.
Look at your dog carefully and objectively. Think about the range of behaviors you’ve seen your dog display – from barking at strangers and shaking toys, to licking your face and curling up next to you. Where do you see the pet? Now, where do you see the predator?
If you happen to be dealing with a behavioral issue, what is it? Can you reflect on how it began and might have resulted from having overlooked the dog’s fundamental identity as a canine? Remember I’m here to have that conversation with you and coach you through a way out.