John and Karen are a couple in their 40s. They have three kids, and they both work hard at their full time jobs. Growing up, they had pets and feel comfortable around most animals. Now that the kids are old enough, they have decided to add a dog to the family. Their search online brings them to several dog sites, some of which are titled as "rescue sites." On one of the rescue sites they discover a sweet Vizsla mix named Mia. Mia all-around seems like a great choice for their family; she is the perfect size, the bio says she is great with kids, and energetic. She should be perfect for their adventurous family trips.
After completing the application and submitting the paperwork they are ecstatic to learn that they have been selected to adopt Mia. They bring her home and proceed to spoil her. After all, isn't this what was expected of an adoption family? Mia has had a hard life, and they want to give her all the things she has been missing. She deserves it, right? Her new life looks a lot like this:
She has free access to all the furniture, her food is constantly being replenished, and they even buy her a huge basket of new toys to play with (who knows if she has ever had a toy in her life!) The rescue organization also gives them her crate which they claim she LOVES. However, the family has already decided that they will not have their dog using a cage! Their rationale is that she has already suffered through enough trauma, and the cage seems heartless.
"Mia has had a hard life, and they want to give her all the things she has been missing.
She deserves it, right?"
The first few weeks in her new home are relatively smooth. Mia follows them everywhere around the house. This makes THEM feel good and they feel that nurturing her every insecurity is the best thing they can do for her. Showering her with love and constant attention has to be the right thing to do! However, when they have to leave her alone, she cries and acts out. But they unanimously agree that this is still better than the crate!
What they fail to understand is that they have innocently, and unwittingly, set Mia up to fail. How can that be possible? They have had the best of intentions, they have made every facet of her life as close to perfect as they could in the short time they have had her in their home.
I have seen this exact story play out over and over again in many different homes. After the first few weeks, often referred to as the honeymoon or adjustment period, the problems inevitably begin. They are subtle at first. The whining and crying when left alone becomes barking. A few more days go by and the barking becomes belligerent barking. Families now come home to scratch marks on the door and other destructive results. Another week goes by and the door has been destroyed. The arm of the chair that sits in "her room" has been chewed off and quite often they are returning to puddles of drool on the floor.
What was once a calm dog has become Cujo-esque when left alone. Walks have become impossible. Although she has always pulled, now she is barking at every dog that walks past. They have given this dog everything that she could ever want or need! What are they missing?
As owners, we often forget that we are bringing domesticated dogs into our homes. These animals are not simply "furbabies", although many like to call and think of them like that. In doing so, we undermine and forgo some of the most important factors in creating a balanced, well-behaved dog, such as benevolent leadership, rules, boundaries, and structure. When that natural balance is out of sync, we begin to see new behavior problems popping up.
John and Karen felt guilty about using the crate, but to Mia, it was her cozy den space. She felt safe and protected in there and it had been a constant security throughout her life. Without the crate she feels exposed, vulnerable, and alone. They nurtured her need to be with them every single second when they were home, so now, when it is time for them to leave, she has no coping skills and does not know how to deal with the alone time.
Mia is a hunting dog. She was bred to run for hours. Her current life lacks any and all biological fulfillment, doing what she was bred to do. Her walks (which are few and far between), are 10-15 minutes long and she is in a constant state of arousal. There is nothing productive about her walks, the opposite actually.
Dogs need a job. They LOVE doing jobs. They were bred to do jobs. It is a part of them, it is in their DNA. Mia has received everything for free; she has worked for nothing. Imagine a life sitting around a house where people constantly shower you with gifts, bring you delicious things to eat, hug you and kiss you constantly and ask nothing of you... ever! It may be amazing for a few days but it is no way to live. We all have to find things to do that challenge us mentally and physically and that make us feel useful.
It is so tempting to bring dogs into our homes, and because of our emotions, spoil them in the very worst ways. We need to change this pattern to one where we spoil them in the very best ways.
Something as simple as a bike attachment would have given her an outlet for real exercise, the type a hunting dog needs. By providing her rules and structure and security from the very beginning, they would have set her up for success by letting her know what was expected of her.
By providing her rules and structure and security from the very beginning, they would have set her up for success by letting her know what was expected of her.
By crating her when they couldn't monitor her, they would have given Mia a safe space that made her comfortable, while also preventing destruction of their house at the same time. By making her work for resources such as food and treats she would have found the importance in cooperative behavior. John and Karen were loving owners, who in their hearts thought they were doing what was best for Mia. Mia needed to know what was expected of her. Mia needed to feel safe. And Mia needed them to let her be a dog.
Dogs do not let their pasts define them.
To achieve success with our dogs,
we must not let their pasts define them either.
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