“Regular Dogs”

Going back to see my family is like entering an entirely different world as far as dogs are concerned. My family and larger circle of acquaintances thinks the stuff we do with Silas–crate training, obedience classes, keeping him on leash outdoors–is crazy weird.

Some of what I see there is just wrong. Even on busy roads, for example, people allow their dogs to roam freely. Very few of them are altered or provided with adequate veterinary care. There’s also still a lot of misguided punishment–my cousin, for instance, saying that her dog “didn’t want to come when I called, because she knew I would spank her for barking at the mail man when she got back.”

What I found a lot more interesting was what I’ll call the better side of hands-off dog rearing. The dogs themselves were, by and large, friendly and outgoing. My aunt’s sweet and friendly nine week old puppy got passed around a family gathering of 30 people, which my aunt hosts every week. Her older dog watched quietly from the sidelines, but clearly wasn’t phased by the crowd. This wasn’t a deliberate effect of “puppy socialization”–it’s just living life and assuming that your dog can handle it.

Interactions between the dogs were interesting, too. One food dish shared peacefully among three resident dogs and one guest. Two adult dogs reacting appropriately to two puppies, two puppies playing well with everyone.

It made me wonder, thinking back to my own “well-trained” dog who could never have handled the crowd, if the most modern and up to date training methods are maybe too structured and regimented. Or, more to the point, if things like “puppy socialization” are a crutch we’ve come up with, because by and large modern people live extremely isolated lives.

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17 thoughts on ““Regular Dogs”

  1. Not to bash your cousin, but…REALLY? Call a dog and when it responds, punish it? I feel very sorry for pets like that. Perhaps with your example she’ll learn about POSITIVE reinforcement.
    My other thought is that there are different personalities in dogs similar to the different personalities you find in people. I think that the important thing is knowing your dog and allowing/helping them to adapt to your lifestyle. My Hiker and Azule would absolutely love, love, love a large gathering of people, Forest would have a complete melt down and Bill would be a nervous wreck. Could they be trained and conditioned to react differently? Absolutely, but that’s not the lifestyle we lead.

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    1. I try. It’s a fine line between being helpful and just being “that crazy dog person.”

      It helps to know that my cousin, who has never been a dog person of any kind, saved this little pregnant dog off the streets and spent a small fortune that she couldn’t afford when the large litter of large puppies caused her a calcium deficiency. So, it isn’t all bad.

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  2. Maybe people are over structuring the lives of dogs the way they do the lives of kids, i.e. instead of a fun game of baseball in a vacant lot, they are funneled into Little League with all sorts of adult regulations.

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  3. One of the basics in dog rearing is to NEVER call your dog to you to punish him/her. It appalls me that things like that still happen even with all the free resources on how to properly raise a dog. I see a lot of things that are wrong too with certain family members and friends and how they treat their dogs/cats. It can be difficult to educate them – they are often resistant. However, I do notice that when they are at their wit’s end over a behavior or health issue – it’s generally me they come to for advice (not that they always follow it). So hopefully some of your positive training methods will rub off on your family too!

    I agree with acd6pack and what she said about knowing your dog and helping him/her adapt to your lifestyle, whether that be social or anti. Blueberry is actually the more social one so I often find myself stepping out of my comfort zone because I know she is energized by crowds and enjoys meeting a lot of new people and even other dogs as long as they are friendly.

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    1. I don’t feel like much of an authority on dog training in this kind of situation, I have to say. I mean, their well adjusted, happy dog is at a family function, and my neurotic one is home in his crate. It takes a little of the wind out of my advice sails. I know my way is better, but there certainly isn’t any visible “proof.”

      I wish we’d faked being social a little more with Silas. He liked people when he was tiny, but I didn’t know how to handle his excitement and jumping up on people.

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  4. I really like Jan’s comment and I never thought about it that way before. It is possible we go too far trying to do everything right instead of letting things flow naturally. Scheduling our dogs into a corner, so to speak. Like everything else, it’s all about balance.

    My family probably would think I was nuts too, if they knew about my website. πŸ˜‰

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  5. Kids and dogs both are overscheduled these days i think…some kids have so many formal activities there’s no time left for unstructured “play” and i fear dogs having the same rigid schedules…not to say i think training and classes is a bad thing…just leave time for a run in the woods…Balance is key…BTW, Gizmo would have loved that party…He’s a clown and a showoff and the more folks petting him the better as far as he is concerned…but sharing his food bowl? I think not…when he was young, a roommate’s dog would nip at him and chase him away from his food so he’s pretty protective of it

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    1. No such thing as a “perfect” dog. And, honestly, one person’s perfect dog would make another person crazy.

      We struggle a lot with how many play rules to have, because Silas can be obnoxious while he’s playing. Fine with us because we know him, but then he tries it with everyone else.

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  6. Sounds similar to my parents house in the mountains, but not as severe. The dogs are well cared for and treated nicely, but dogs are never leashed and often wander around the neighborhood on their own(though the streets are quiet and people drive very slow). It is not uncommon to pick up a dog or 2 when out for walks and they eventually go back home or find another friend. But they are all super friendly, relaxed and playful. I feel way more comfortable letting my dogs play with random dogs in that neighborhood with no owner in site than I do at my local dog park. I am not sure what that says about modern training methods, but maybe it’s just an outdoor lifestyle, constant stimulation and more exercise that makes the dogs different.

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    1. I can’t let Silas interact with these dogs because I know that *one* of them is seriously dog aggressive. My mom’s dachshund mix was almost killed by some dog somewhere in the neighborhood before my parents fenced him in.

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  7. Wow, I’d have a hard time shutting my mouth if I saw or heard of someone spanking their dog.

    I do think it’s tough to find a balance sometimes, keeping them safe but still allowing them to be dogs. Sometimes I feel like we over-socialized Sampson because he cannot wait to be in touch with people. He will whine and roo until he gets his way. But what’s the alternative?

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