Dog Parenting 101

I like sleep. So almost every morning around 5 AM I can count on waking up because of this one dog that barks his head off when he goes outside with his owner for his morning potty break, you can likely guess how happy I am. Granted, we live on the first floor of our current apartment complex, right by an exit gate, so hearing things from outside is bound to happen. I understand some dogs are just barkers and I accept that. But it wasn’t until one morning when I took Luna out earlier than usual and ran into this dog (I’d recognize that bark anywhere after hearing it every morning) and his owner, an older woman. The dog’s name is Teddy and every time another dog walks by when Teddy is out there to do his business, she starts yelling at him and repeatedly yells his name “TEDDY! TEDDY! STOP IT TEDDY!” But low and behold, Teddy does not “stop” and he just continues to bark and pull. Once the dog is out of sight he seems to calm down.

Then there’s this older gentleman who has 2 small dogs, a Chihuahua mix and a Pug both whose full time job appears to be yapping and barking when anything moves near them. Luna and I will walk by (on the opposite side of the street because I ain’t about to give them any more reason to bark) and the owner just stops walking and yells at them “STOP IT! CUT IT OUT!” for a solid 2 minutes until we are out of sight.

And then you have the helicopter parents at the dog park. Don’t get me started. Oops too late. There are always going to be a handful of these people at any dog park at any given time considering people are getting new dogs every day. I was this person at one point, didn’t know anything and therefore let the anxiety overcome and stood like 5 feet away from Luna at all times. Eventually I figured it out and kinda just let her do her thing. On one particular day there was a mom who had brought her 4-month-old golden retriever to the dog park on an afternoon that Luna and I were there as well. Luna is a puppy at heart so the minute fresh meat showed up she was eager to play and they went at it immediately. Y’know, just the typical dog play that you’d expect if you were aware of it or seen it before: nipping at each other’s neck’s and ears and attempting to pin each other to the ground. Most of the time if Luna is playing safely and not being overly aggressive I will sit nearby and routinely check in. The aforementioned dog mom on the other hand, must’ve been nervous because she was standing not even a foot away from our dogs. I thought this was kind of excessive but after a while I noticed she wasn’t just watching closely but was starting to pull her dog out from under Luna and vice versa. It became clear she didn’t realize this was normal (and safe) dog play. So what was initially innocent play was now being seen as threatening or unsafe to not only me but other bystanders, too. I also put me on edge because it made me think that Luna was doing something wrong and then other park-goers would assume she was an aggressive dog.

I need to point out that this sh!t pisses me off, not just because I’m being woken up from a deep sleep and won’t be able to fall back asleep or because it’s just annoying as heck to hear a dog bark early in the morning on a walk, but mostly I have extreme mood swings being either rainbows or brimstone with little in the middle, and because I know there is a way to fix it and they aren’t doing anything! They are literally doing the same thing every.damn.day, I’m assuming they think that maybe by the 497th time of yelling CUT IT OUT, the dog will magically develop an understanding of language, stop barking, and become a perfect angel. GUESS WHAT? THEY WON’T. What makes you think that, eh lets say after even the 10th time of telling them no, the dog will suddenly listen and understand what you are yelling about and fix his/her behavior? Newsflash: it doesn’t work that way unless you and your dog have telepathic abilities and if you do then please reach out to me because I’ve been trying to get that sh!t to happen between me and Luna for over a year now with no luck.

 

As you can see I get angry when this stuff happens. Other than pure frustration, I initially couldn’t put my finger on why all of these things drove me nuts. Every morning when I get to work I’ll share my latest frustration with my dog-obsessed friend, Travis and after some discussion I realized that I’m so frustrated because a) I’m a control freak and b) I know a way to fix something and see people repeatedly failing at doing so. I am fortunate to have had proper training for my dog and let’s be real, training for ME, too, on how to handle these types of situations and it takes a lot of patience and practice. It’s also pretty hard for me to have advice I NEED to offer it, but cannot to these fellow dog parents because I consider the situation to be similar to telling another parent how to “parent” their child and that probably can come off rather arrogant and unwarranted to some. I feel like I’d have to get to know the person and make small talk (blah blah “Susan omg you look gr8, how is Pilates going? Oh em gee you look fab today hun like totally. So like, how’s your dog???” no this is not how I talk but I’m sure Steven would beg to differ) and let them ask me for help before I offer it because I don’t want to be offensive – at all.

When the frustration starts to boil over, I try to return to when I first got a dog, I had no idea what I was doing, I had a lot of questions about how to address certain behaviors of Luna’s but I literally didn’t know where to start. Not to mention I got uncomfortable being around friends who’ve had dogs for years because I felt like I was doing something wrong or not doing enough or was the newbie and lacking confidence. I was embarrassed thinking I was approaching it the “wrong” way. I think we all will have different experiences and relationships with our dogs, no two will be identical. But it’s always nice to feel a little more empowered knowing you now have some tips in your back pocket that a friend or neighbor offered because it worked for them. To give you a little insight…not too long ago Travis asked me to dog sit for his dog Rylie (his foster dog at the time). That weekend I packed up Luna’s bed and crate and headed to their house to watch Luna and Rylie. Only problem is that Luna had never met Rylie. Mistake numero uno. Have you ever tried introducing two dogs before without BOTH owners present? Bad idea. It’s a little intimidating to say the least! Now that I have the opportunity to think back on it, from Rylie’s perspective, Luna and I were essentially intruders in her safe space since she had never met us. To make a long story short, this ended in lots of barking and growling and snarling (from the dogs), lots of tears and a couple meltdowns (not from the dogs) and a phone call to Travis and his wife to use a lifeline. I was out of my depth and didn’t think I was comfortable handling this situation alone. It was embarrassing for me and I felt guilty not being able to just figure it out, but sometimes you have to raise a hand and ask for help. That being said, I think there is an unspoken rule of sorts you should follow when you get a dog: to be open to criticism if it is in the best interest of your dog. It’s never easy giving or taking criticism but I think if the message is clear and specific to bettering some aspect of your or your dog’s life or to make your life easier and less stressful, then no harm no foul. I’ve learned over the time with Luna thus far that I would quite literally be crying in a corner, whipped by my own dog. I mean she already has be wrapped around her finger now BUT it would be a lot different had I not been open to the ideas of other more experienced owners who had dealt with stubborn dogs of their own.

If I DID talk to these people, I’d try to break it down to them in a way that helps them understand why their dogs are behaving the way they are. To me it makes the most amount of sense when I can understand the motive: I can’t fix any problem if I don’t know the source or reason behind an action. An example I commonly reference is how Luna occasionally on our walks will stop walking. Right there in the middle of the walk she will suddenly stop moving and won’t budge at all and can’t be persuaded with a treat either. I swear I tried analyzing this from every angle for weeks because it kept happening. Sometimes I would let my impatience get the best of me and try to drag her along but we never got anywhere with that. Eventually I was given some advice to think about what Luna may be seeing or hearing at the time that is making her scared to continue. So, I started crouching down on her level to pet her and look around to see things from her perspective in hopes of identifying the source of her inaction. Sometimes all she needed was some sweet talk and other times she was just tired. I did however notice after a few weeks that she started to realize that if we ended our walk early, I’d take her to the park, so she figured if she stopped walking then we’d go to the park. Smart dog, I tell ya! Pain in my a$$. Anywho, I think it’s important to try and figure out why our dogs are behaving a certain way. With every case I’ve referenced so far, these dogs are probably just being curious and doing what is natural to them, right? Yes, some dogs can be aggressive and lunge at other dogs but these types of behaviors aren’t always negative. A dog could be so damn excited to see another dog because of the thought of potential playtime that they are willing to pull and drag you along. There are obviously occasions where some dogs are guarding you and want to send a message to other dogs or people nearby that they should not come any closer. If you get to know your dog, eventually you can tell the difference between playful barks and “get the F away” barks.

K, so now that you have determined the motive, breaking the dog’s habit will take more effort than just repeatedly telling them “no.” In reality you are reprimanding your dog for wanting to be social; instead they need to be given directions on how to behave. I’ll never forget my trainer telling me how I was wrong when I told Luna “no” when I found out she had peed on the couch well after it happened. Why wouldn’t I tell her no? There is pee on the couch! Hell no. Well, by bringing Luna over to the pee later on she understood that pee in general is wrong/bad. If Steven put dishes on the counter and then 3 hours later I yelled at him “no!” he would be confused as hell. It would make more sense to him if I said “no” while he was placing the plates on the counter because he would be aware I was saying that act was wrong (because they belong elsewhere) and makes you stop and think “what do I need to do differently right now.” So, catching Luna in the act and telling her no when she is active in an unwanted behavior will help her recognize the “bad” action and allow me to redirect her to do something else.

So back to our original cases, I would recommend the next time the dog(s) start barking and pulling, find a way to distract them. Does your dog love treats? Maybe they’re obsessed with a certain toy, like a tennis ball for instance. Bring it with you and start working on getting your dog to maintain eye contact with you and then reward him/her with the treat or whatever once they have successfully done your command, whether that be “sit” or simply saying their name and making them look you in the eye. The idea here is to teach your dog that it is rewarding to pay attention to you, and not okay for them to act on a distraction. It’s okay to look, but not lunge. It’s okay to look at me when you see another dog, but it is not okay if you bark. Travis told me that a while back his dogs would get so excited to go for a walk in the morning that all they would do is bark. But it was too much. He started putting the leashes away the minute they started barking, to show them that they are not going on a walk until they stop barking. Same applies here. If your dog doesn’t stop barking, and isn’t listening to you, why would you continue on a walk, which is ultimately a reward for a dog? I think a lot of the dogs LOVE being able to please their master, so why not set them up for success? I want nothing more than to empower Luna to be able to not think twice or act on an impulse because I put in the time to learn and understand what works best for her.

I have definitely been in Teddy’s owner’s shoes before. Luna would go PSYCHO on the leash and run circles around me, pull toward every dog or human being that walked by. But I had no idea what I needed to do to eliminate the distraction. I didn’t know how to keep her attention on me and for her to know that was the only option she had; no barking no pulling no nothing other than obeying my commands. I literally had no idea, and as I mentioned before, it embarrassed the hell out of me. I felt like I couldn’t take her anywhere because I didn’t know how she’d behave and I’d look like an idiot or one of us would get hurt. But the there’s one small difference between me and those two aforementioned dog owners, and no its not that they don’t care and I care more. Its that they just don’t KNOW. So share this post or any tips you have with friends or neighbors that seem open to the advice and could use it. I often have to take a metaphorical step back when I find myself being judgmental about other people and their relationships with their dogs. It’s so easy to forget that I was in that situation not too long ago and I am not perfect by any means. If you catch yourself judging another dog parenting ability, take a deep breath and remember what it was like before you knew anything.

 

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