Updated: Sep 12, 2020
It has caused a lot of our problems with our dogs, in both extremes. On one end you have the purely positive thinkers; the ones who over treat and never expect anything from their dog other than what the dog decides to give them. On the other end, you have the strict mindset of "your dog must earn every resource, food, praise, toys; everything". Like most things, you don't want to be at either end of this spectrum. At best you and your dog will be unhappy deep down, and at worst something dangerous could happen.
So often we get dogs with the best intentions but no real plans. Maybe we want a friend for a current dog. Maybe we just feel a void only a fluffy puppy can fill. Or maybe scrolling through facebook that salt and pepper muzzle caught your eye and you couldn't say no. So you bring said dog home, but now what? What you should be preparing for if you are even considering a dog is the rules you will enforce from day 1. It is true that any dog you bring home, from an 8 week old puppy to any age of rescue, will need an adjustment period. Where the mistake is made is people allowing the dog to have a free for all during that time. "It's ok buddy, just do whatever until you start being disruptive or desructive, then we'll work on it". Listen folks I've worked in rescue for 12 years now, I get it. I get the heart ache of knowing what a dog went through, or only being able to guess. However most dogs are resilient creatures. You'll find they adjust and are content much quicker with rules! Dogs want to know where they stand and what to expect, even in a new situation. Following are some examples I use to show new dogs to our home the ropes.
For a start, a brand new dog to our home is not allowed to free roam every room. Generally they are "confined" to whatever room I am in, either by having all other doors closed, hallways/stairs gated off, or tethered to me. This ensures they are not getting into trouble where I can't see them. It also shows them that I am the one who grants access to resources. I do not free feed, as again this shows them I am a resource giver. Food and treats only come from me when I say. Now I don't abuse this power. I do not make them sit and watch me eat breakfast before I feed them for instance. I feed them at roughly the same time everyday (unless work schedules don't allow it) and they always get their proper amount. We start our formal training generally the day after they come home, starting with recall and place (and potty training if they need that). I put a stop to any dog dog interaction I do not want to continue. As an example our newest dog Winston (our little Shiba mix) has a habit of jumping up to bite our Shepherd's thick neck hair. It must not hurt her as she doesn't do anything about it and never yelps, but I don't allow the little guys to pick on the big dogs and vice versa. So when he does it, I call him off of her or remove him from the room for a few minutes. This teaches him what I don't want him to do and Stella that I will stick up for her. You can not have a relationship with your dog without trust. They must not only know you are the leader, they must trust in your willingness to advocate for them. This bond takes time to build. It is not enough to say "I give them treats, they sleep in my bed, and I spoil them". My dogs sleep in bed with us or on the couch, however there are still rules. If asked to get down they are expected to do so. One of my favorite trainers put it this way "Be as soft as you can be and as firm as you need to be". I pet my dogs when they ask me for attention (yes some trainers advise against giving out these "freebies") but if I give a command I expect it is followed. Because I laid this ground work from day one with them, I can be softer with them.
You do your dog a disservice by just "letting them be a dog". This leads to reactive dogs who don't know if they have a leader or not so they try to assume that role. There are no short cuts, you must put in the work to get a proper bond with your dogs. Chemistry can only take you so far. Consistency is key. Do not expect a ton of obedience from them in public and none at home. Rules are rules no matter where we are. Jumping up on people is not ok at home or in public. Barking without stopping when told is not ok at home or in public. This is where owners also get into trouble. When we are out of the house around others and scared of judgment we ask our dogs to behave in ways they are not normally expected to at home. The work starts at home folks. If its not solid at home it will not be solid elsewhere. And you can't have two sets of rules. (I am talking about general pet dogs here, a service dog for instance knows when they are on duty and when they are not) If you learn nothing else from us at BP4W please take that, consistency. You and your dog will be so much happier and have a truer bond if they know expectations. If you need help enhancing your bond give us a shout, we love to make dogs and owners closer!
For the Dogs,