Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Uphill Battle to Save a Dying Breed - DO something about it.

We are losing a very important type of dog in this country.  They used to be seen regularly - but they got a bad reputation somehow, it seems.  And now they've all but disappeared.

I'm not talking about German Shepherds, or Pit Bulls.   Nope - not Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Chihuahuas, Terriers of any sort, Greyhounds, nor any of the Retrievers.  Not Poodles, or Great Danes.  Not Border Collies, Chow Chows, nor Pointers of any kind.

In fact, I'm not talking about any one specific breed or group - but instead an entire community of dogs and their humans.

I am talking about the well-behaved, socially adept, well-adjusted dog and its owner.

Now, before you get offended - scoffing, sputtering, and jumping up and down to defend your own lovely pooch and his or her behavior - let's look at the facts, as seen through this dog trainer's eyes:

FACT:  In the past few years, I have seen a sharp rise in the number of cases that contact myself or at least one other trainer about aggression in their family pets.  In fact, the number of aggression or re-activity cases we see at Front Range K9 Academy has increased by 400%!

FACT:  More and more often when I spot a dog out in public, the dog is completely out of control - oblivious to the existence of its owner, let alone that there are things to be doing other than dragging about at the end of a retractable leash, peeing on everything, jumping on strangers, lunging and barking at other dogs - the list goes on and on.

FACT:  To make matters worse, the humans attached to these oblivious, unruly dogs seem to think that this state of affairs is completely normal.
Image result for dog pulling leash
Dare I say it? ...They think it's natural (and even worse), appropriate dog behavior.

 I suspect some of these same humans think that kids yelling and screaming and throwing things in public places like movie theaters and restaurants are also normal, appropriate behaviors.

Think about that.  An entire group of humans thinks this is just how dogs are; just what they do.

That appalls me.

Not only because I'm a dog trainer.  But because I am a dog lover.  A dog enthusiast.  A dog aficionado, if you will.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I live, eat, and breathe dogs and their behavior.

To see so many dogs bouncing off their environment, their owners, and each other with no help, no information, no communication from their humans is just sad.

No matter how you cut it, dogs are socially driven creatures that are simply happier when they have the same things that human children (another socially driven creature) need:

  • Information
  • Boundaries
  • Communication

These 3 things are missing in too many of America's dogs' lives.  We are letting them down.

If you're one of the people that this post is mildly (or even extremely) offensive to...

Or if you didn't know that dogs pulling on leashes, barking and lunging, jumping up, etc. are not normal, appropriate behaviors...

...DO something about it.

I don't care how you accomplish it - cookies, clickers, remote collars, old school methods, new school methods, scientific methods....Read a dog training book.  Or several.  Watch some YouTube videos.  Contact a training school and enroll your dog.

Just wake up and DO something about it.

How any one person chooses to train, socialize, or bring up their children or their dogs is not the subject of this post (I'll save that for another day).


To those of you who are smuggly nodding your heads  - don't be too hasty.

Just because you took your dog to puppy class, or read about and trained the basics at home doesn't mean you're off the hook.  Over half of the dogs I work with each year have already graduated from some sort of training - sometimes 'with honors,' which makes me scratch my head, since they're often coming to see me for major aggression or other behavioral issues.  But I digress...

Your commitment to feeding and caring for the physical needs of your dog is for the life of the dog, right?

Well, your commitment to the mental, emotional, and behavioral health of your dog doesn't end when you get your puppy school graduation certificate.

Dogs are incredibly intelligent animals who need continued engagement and education from their humans for their entire lives.

You wouldn't stop communicating with and teaching your children as soon as they finished preschool or kindergarten!  Or at least I hope you wouldn't!

If you've already gotten the ball rolling, that's great - now your next step is to keep training.  Think of new, fun challenges for your dog and yourself.

I know that dogs who behave well are still out there.  I know they are - The trainers at Front Range K9 taught a little over 750 classes last year, and worked on teaching both dogs and their owners how to navigate a world where the dogs often seem to be as poorly behaved as many of today's human children.

I began this post saying that this 'dying breed' of dog (the well behaved companion) is disappearing.  And sadly, that is the truth.

Somewhere along the way, the word 'discipline' has gotten a bad reputation.  'Discipline' has become synonymous with 'punishment.'

But when we look at the definition of discipline, we see the following:

"training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character"

"the ability to keep working at something that is difficult"

"an activity that is done regularly as a way of training oneself to do something or to improve behavior"

None of these definitions appear to be bad ideas - for either dogs or humans.  We seem to have forgotten that just because a dog is made to behave at home and in public, doesn't mean the dog is unhappy, or the owner is mean.

I hope the next time you see a dog out in public you stop and look - not only to determine the breed, or to see how cute it is.... but really look at the dog's demeanor.

Is it truly happy?   Or is it frantically trying to figure out a world that is overstimulating - a world that would make much more sense if it's human slowed down and taught it how to behave?

Jennifer Hime is the owner and training director of Front Range K9 Academy in Wheat Ridge, CO.  She has been working with dogs professionally for over 25 years.  She can be reached through her website at www.k9counselor.com

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