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Is This Really My Dog?

Your Dog’s Got a Personality. Get Used to It!

You know how some parents want their kids to grow up to be doctors and they end up with musicians? The same kind of thing can happen with dog owners and their beloved pets. We sometimes hold our puppies to expectations that they can’t fulfill, nor should they. They, like children, manage best with acceptance. So do we.


Ringo is my first dog. I adopted him a year and a half ago, and he gives me tremendous joy. Through him, I’ve been given sense of loving purpose with which I’m sure many of you other packpeople out there have long been familiar, but to me, it’s still something new.

Once in a while, so is his behavior.

I can’t lie: when I adopted him, with his sweet little face and quiet disposition, I imagined he would change the world, one melted heart at a time. He seemed a perfect candidate for therapy dog training, and after he aced his first obedience course, he earned his American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen certification at the local dog club. He was on his way, I thought, to a career of healing, visiting local hospitals to spread his warm, magical fuzziness wherever it was needed.

Then he started growling.

About six months into our relationship, Ringo got comfortable enough to reveal his true self. He’s not that “into” people. He trusts only a few, shows affection to even fewer, ignores many and downright dislikes the rest (“grrrrr…”)

Sure, I was disappointed, but I’ve come to accept that he’s a living, thinking being, full of his own opinions and tastes. His behaviors I can train (treats have proved helpful in meeting new people), but his personality is his own. He’s “aloof.”

“That’s okay,” said one of his trainers. “He doesn’t have to like everybody; he’s just not that kind of dog.”

When he likes someone, however, he really shows it. That’s the kind of dog he is. He’s also the kind of dog who sits on command, leaves my things alone and never makes messes in the house. He may not be therapy dog material but in other ways, he’s a dream.

Nobody’s perfect, and the same goes for dogs. The best that we can do is encourage their best assets, despite the expectations we place on them.

If you’re new to dog ownership, take it from me. More likely than not, your dog’s behavior will change in some way during your first year together. That’s not necessarily bad, but character-building, for both of you. You’ll need to practice acceptance, discipline and the diligence to research the most effective ways to deal with negative behaviors. In doing so, you’ll see that your pet’s brightest traits and talents will truly shine.

Ringo may never be a therapy dog, but that’s okay. He may never be a doctor, either, but if he decides to take up a musical instrument, I’ll pay for lessons. What matters is that I encourage him to be the best Ringo he can be.

Good, Ringo! Good boy!

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Dogs, Discipline and Deferring to the Leader

Insist on Consistency!

Being a packleader is a full-time commitment. That doesn’t mean it has to be work 24/7, I’m just saying that the commitment itself has to be honored 24/7. For instance, Ringo and I have rules.

For the most part, Ringo observes them and so do I; the problem is other people (and isn’t it usually?).

I may manage my dog differently than you do, and that’s fine. I, however, am a fairly strict disciplinarian. I believe that domesticated animals should adhere to standards of behavior that separate them from their wild cousins. Their lives are dictated by their surroundings, and as Ringo does not live in an untamed forest but a small, tastefully-appointed apartment in Glendale, I train and expect him to coexist with my furniture, my friends and my daily life. Yes, he’s an animal. He’s just not a savage (until he eats, let me tell you).

So, we have rules. Rules strengthen our relationship. I feed him, care for him, give him exercise; he stays on his doggy bed while I eat, he sits before he exits a doorway, he doesn’t jump on beds. That’s right. No people beds. It’s just a thing of ours. I’ve spent many a night cuddling with him on the couch, but he’s been taught the no-bed rule ever since I got him. It may change sometime in the future, but that will be up to me. For now, I like the no-bed rule. It defines a boundary, and I believe that observing boundaries reinforces obedience in a dog.

To my knowledge, at least three people in my life have thought it okay to make “exceptions” to this rule. Recently, when someone let him stay on her bed (knowing full well that this is a no-no), this deviation from what he knows completely broke his training and he started jumping on beds without a second thought. I have had to discipline and re-train him.

Also, I’ve noticed that people by and large do not care if you tell them not to feed your dog. They will anyway. They will also find ways to bend the rules, i.e., dropping food on the ground for your dog, letting them lick plates, fingers, etc. As someone who has been trying for two years to get his dog to stop begging, I find this absolutely maddening, and quite honestly, inexcusable.

Consistency is important. Dogs don’t understand “exceptions”, they accept conditions as a norm or a deviation. And deviations affect their behavior in a lasting fashion. If I have put two years into enforcing a rule, someone’s whimsical “exception” can shatter all that work like a piece of glass.

Am I passionate about training? Yes. Am I sensitive? You betcha. But, in the world of my own little pack, I’m also right. And no one has the right to interfere with the pack if their rules are structured for the best interests of dog and owner.

Making up rules is easy; sticking to them is the hard part. Along with your dog, you may have to discipline yourself and your loved ones as well… but trust me on this: consistency is the best teacher of all.