Are You Burdening Your Dog With Unnecessary Emotional Baggage?

There were two really exceptional posts that caught my eye this week in regard to dog owners who burden their dog with unnecessary emotional baggage.

The first from Robin MacFarlane, owner and training director of “That’s My Dog, Inc.” in Dubuque, Iowa who writes:

If you send me an e-mail that says something like: I’ve rescued a 3 year old dog. He was living with a neighbor who didn’t pay much attention to him. I “believe” he was abused…he has bit me several times, but not hard bites, just scratches. I tried to take away a piece of garbage he had and he came at me. He’s a beautiful dog. I feel so sorry for him, he must have been abused…I love him and cuddle with him, he gets a couch to himself and I feed him as much as he wants…why does he treat me this way? I will put it to you this way: I have rescued a 30 year old man. He was living with his mother. I “believe” he must have had a hard life. He has pulled a gun on me several times, but no direct shots, just grazed the skin. I asked him to move off of the couch so I could clean and he came at me. I just feel so sorry for his having a hard life. I tell him how great he is and feed him and he’s just so handsome! I can’t understand why he treats me this way.

We will need to get on the same page that sympathy over perceived abuse will not fix the problem. Unacceptable behavior may have been learned, but it can be unlearned through work, structure and rules.

If you can change your mindset about what rescuing should really mean…then we will begin the journey together of rehabbing an attitude of entitlement into one of becoming a productive and well mannered member of society.


And the second from Lynn Stockwell (DPTrainer4 on our dog training discussion forum) in answering a question from one of our members:

emotional baggage
Are you burdening your dog with your own emotional baggage?

It is extremely unfair to burden the dog with such an albatross around its neck.

The best way to help a dog is to move it forward. Dogs don’t live in the past, and you are not abusing him. Rather, you are giving him a fair home, feeding him regular meals and undoubtedly giving him a bed. The least you can do is ask him to respect your house, respect your rules, and learn how to be a regular dog in a human society. He needs structure, not the world at his feet.

Now, when Adam asked about the training collar, be advised that the tool itself is not how you achieve your goal, but it will help you get there a whole lot faster, when used humanely and effectively.

Let me give the best example that comes to mind: my college professor. Dr Durkin (linked just so you know he’s real :P) was a man who demanded our respect, gave it right back to us students if we pushed ourselves in his classes, and it only made sense that he adopted and raised several crack-house babies. The fact that they were born and temporarily lived in situations far beyond even my imagination did not entitle them to have the world handed to them on a silver platter, nor did it exempt them from any negative consequences in life.

I never got to meet any of them, but he showed enough pictures and told enough stories that we knew they grew up to be solid, hard-working, respectable members of human civilization who truly earned their keep in life.

Think about it this way: obviously, in most situations, a firm “no” suffices.

But what about the situations you describe, such as when you are out on walks? Obviously, the “no” is not doing it.

The best thing you can do is be confident–that you are not afraid of other dogs, that you are in control, and that you can get past this problem. Even if you’re not, act it. You are King Tut or Cleopatra, and the world knows this–this is the type of confidence I like to see when watching someone work a dog. It’s not gloating or lording over the dog, it’s just knowing that You Are In Control of your little corner of the world.

Dogs on leash must be under control in such a way that, at the very least, their owners can prevent them from coming to you. You must learn how–and I’m not just paying lip service, I had to learn this as well, and I can be a wonderful doormat given the opportunity–to demand your space. Check out how Linda puts it; she provides several examples of how claiming your space is far from being rude to other people and their dogs. It is helping your dog understand that YOU are in control and he doesn’t need to meet everyone (if he is a social butterfly) and not everyone with good intentions needs to meet him (if he is fearful).

Now, as long as he is more concerned about the other dog or person and barking at them, whether at the end of the leash or hiding behind you, shows that he needs to start learning about control and focus before you can begin to teach him that the world is not out to get him. The loose-leash exercise is a GREAT way to do this, in a low-distraction environment where he can learn to focus on you rather than worry about the big bad world around him. This way, when you start to work out in public, he can connect what you are trying to communicate to him (stop worrying about the Big Scary Thing over there) with what he is supposed to do (stay by your side and walk on because he has learned that’s the right thing to do).

Hurting him is the last thing we want to do. And truly, a good collar correction–even on a large Rottweiler wanting to take off your hand–hurts the trainer more than it hurts the dog. Done right, a correction is simply an interruptor: Stop Doing That and Do Something Else Please.

Stop pulling on the leash and stay by my side where you can watch me.
Stop jumping on people and sit instead.
Stop being a nut and grow a brain (or in the vernacular, sit down and be quiet–you can’t learn anything jumping around like a bucking bronc on the end of your leash).

In the meantime, Adam is right: dog parks are not really recommended. There is no need for a dog to “socialize” with other dogs in order to live a full life, and the likelihood that your dog will pick up parasites or disease from a dog park is phenomenal (working as a vet tech, we can pretty much predict which dogs go to dog parks or live in places where there is common “dog area” based on the parasites found in their fecal floats). You had your bad experience there…that should be enough. The dogs at parks are not under control, not taught how to listen–their owners may be under the impression that they are “being dogs” (again, Linda’s writing is worth a read), but in reality, a dog running around wildly out of control, allowed to bully others as commonly happens in parks, because of excess energy that is not properly released through more appropriate physical and mental exercise is a sad situation–it speaks volumes.

This isn’t to say that dogs should be denied the chance to run around and blast out, but it should be in a place and in a manner that isn’t going to cause any issues.

“Socializing” a dog has been misinterpreted these days as meaning “social interaction with other dogs,” which can’t be farther from the truth. True socialization is teaching a dog how to be confident in situations, environments, aroun people, in strange places, and around strange noises. When I first got my dog (you’d be interested to know that she came from a research environment, in which she underwent regular venipuncture, radiograph and anesthetic routines), I had no idea how she would act in a home environment. Sweepers are scary things, the TV makes strange noises, I live down the street from a sheriff substation (think sirens) and my road connects to a major highway (think semi trucks). This dog didn’t bat an EYE at any of these noises from the first day I brought her home (however, she does draw the line at gunshots, which limits her time with me at the range). I take her into Home Depot, with permission, and she doesn’t care at ALL about shopping carts, heavy machinery, wood saws, or screaming children. She falls asleep when I run the sweeper, even up to her bed. She doesn’t bat an eye at my movies or the insane variety of music to which I expose her.

She is socialized almost to the max. I feel comfortable throwing her (not literally, please) in almost any situation,and she will not lost her focus, or her mind.

She is also dog-aggressive, hence my limitations on the situations in which I feel comfortable throwing her.

And when she gets all chuffy on a walk upon seeing an out-of-cotrol dog being allowed to approach us, I am firm to the other person that my dog is NOT friendly please lock your Flexi or else you are paying all vet bills (after all, my dog is on-leash, under control and obedience-trained), and I am not afraid to give her a correction to direct her focus back to me. She is not demo-dog material yet, but getting there. I am not hurting her–I am reminding her that This Is Not Necessary.

The correction collar is simply a tool that allows me to communicate to her through means other than verbal or signal commands. How YOU feel about it is going to be how the dog reacts to it: if you use one with the thought that it is harmful and not what you want to do, then the dog will react accordingly. This is how good trainers can pull out remote collars and pinch collars, and their dog will absolutely dance in excitement: this means that they are going to WORK or go somewhere FUN and do something. This is Adam’s dog…

I’m going to leave things at this, since I’m starting to lose my train of thought. Please let us know if you have further questions or need clarification on any points I’ve presented.


Good job, guys!