Dogs can be an emotive subject for some people; especially if talking about their own. I’ll fight anyone who tries to tell me my boy isn’t my baby and will moan about dogs not being allowed on beaches during the best part of the year (Even though humans make much more mess than dogs and leave the beaches a right state). I’ll beam with pride when telling people about his latest achievement in training (even if they didn’t ask) and will go bright red when he barks at the postman as if the poor old man is going to murder us all where we stand.
I think as a society we expect dogs to be, well undog-like really, to be perfect. To come every time they are called, to only bark when they are supposed to, to not chase moving objects and to not beg for that yummy piece of toast that’s been sitting on our breakfast plate for some time. We expect so much of our four-legged companions (me included) that sometimes I think we just expect to much! We over look 100s of years of breading and expect the guard dog to be friendly to strangers (even though we have bred them to tell us that a person means danger), the lap dog to like other hounds (despite being bred to be around humans) and the ratter to not case squirrels into the woods (which quite frankly is ridiculous).
I am however guilty of expecting my naturally suspicious hound to not bark at men we meet on our walk, to not alert me to intruders …. Even if those intruders aren’t actually going anywhere near our house and are in fact going into their own home. I sometimes feel a failure when despite all our hard training Duke is still distracted when off the lead and is still easily excited by dogs and squirrels. I’m guilty of forgetting how quickly Duke’s come on in such a short space of time. We have been training in high arousal environments: full of tunnels, jumps, dogs, balls, toys and other high value distractions. And he’s come along way. He can calm down much quicker, he’s more focused on us on and off the lead and he is much more confident in himself. We’ve seen less nervous excitement and an overall much more confident Duke. We have even been able to ditch his gentle leader in favour of the collar and lead when on walks …. Something that we never ever thought would happen. We are building his off-lead time up again and introducing new distractions and environments. He is getting better and better at ignoring things and focusing on us which to be honest is amazing.
Despite all this success we will never be off lead around livestock …. because he’s bred to hunt lions and if there are no lions to hunt he will still try and entice a cow into a game of chase (no thank you !) . We will never be free of the sound of barking when anyone approaches the house …. because he’s bred to guard and guard well, I’m also very suspicious that he just loves barking. We will never have a stranger walk freely around our house without Duke checking they aren’t nicking our stuff … because believe me he will let us know if he thinks they are touching something they shouldn’t be. And we will never witness a dispute between dogs without Duke trying to break it up……I’m not actually sure where this one came from? Duke just loves to be a peace maker whether it’s in his DNA or just his personality I don’t know!
I feel a stab of guilt every time Duke sees other dogs playing and he whines because he wants to join in…. I don’t let him. Not because he can’t play nicely but I’m worried that the other owners may not like his rather noisy brand of play. I feel very embarrassed when he forgets himself and lunges when on the lead and people look at me as if I have a rogue bear on a leash when actual he saw a ball out of the corner of his eye. And I feel a little bit mortified every time we see a runner and I have to try and keeps Duke’s focus … sometimes having to wave around a squeaky pig while yelling at him “where’s the pig” to stop him barking! I’m so focused on the notion of him being a “good dog” I forget that good dogs play with other dogs and sometimes play with a lot of enthusiasm, a good dog plays fetch with their human and a really, really good dog lets their humans know when a strange person is running at them! And may even give a bark to let that strange person know that this human is protected by a good dog.
I still have to remind myself that he doesn’t need to be perfect, he doesn’t need to be a robot that follows every command without a blink of the eye. He has his own personality and his own wants and needs, he’s strong willed and stubborn but also eager to please and adorable. It’s okay if he’s startled by a bike and barks. Its okay if he forgets himself for 2 seconds and doesn’t come back on the first recall 100% of the time. Because he’s a dog, an imperfectly perfect member of our family…. Who sometimes gets it wrong but most of the time gets it right.