How to Have it All With your Dog….Washington DC Dog Trainer Blog
I love my dogs. No – I REALLY love my dogs. I actually love most dogs (there is the occasional jerk that even I can do without). I love puppy kisses. I love when a dog leans into me or places a paw on my foot or just comes over and snuggles with me. I love waking up to puppy breath (and sometimes a fart or two). I love coming home to a wiggling butt and excitement. These things give me great joy and pleasure.
For all of this joy for a long time I thought I owed my dogs unconditional love. I fell victim to the thought process of many people – well my dogs are all rescue and they need unconditional love to know that they are now in a safe place. What they REALLY needed was the right information about acceptable behavior. Instead, I gave very few boundaries. I didn’t provide the leadership that they needed to understand how to be calm. Especially since they were all rescues what they needed was more guidance, more information and more HELP from me.
The thought process I should have started is that MY love is a pretty darn wonderful thing and that they are LUCKY to have me in their lives. When I gave them unconditional love without asking anything in return from them, such as heeling on the leash, respecting my rules and boundaries, I actually set them up to fail, and fail in a spectacular way. They became leash reactive, aggressive, anxious dogs because I couldn’t set the right boundaries.
Allowing my dogs to do what they wanted when they wanted and how they wanted actually made my relationship with them really very stressful. Before now I never knew what they would do during a walk….react to another dog? Lose a marble or two over a squirrel? It was embarrassing to me to walk my dogs. Always looking around a corner to see if there was another dog coming or whatever might trigger a reaction.
In fact, it wasn’t living because I was constantly afraid. I couldn’t take them to all the places and events I wanted to because I was afraid of what would happen. In reality I limited my dog’s lives by limiting their world to a much narrower and insulated and protective bubble. I was managing their behavior and reactions (for example, I would walk them at odd hours to not run into other dog’s. They couldn’t go off leash anywhere because I didn’t trust them.
Today, I enjoy my dogs so much more. Walks are a pleasure (with all four at once!) I know what it takes to keep them calm. It ensures that now I can enjoy them so much more and all those quirky things (like getting a fart in the face in the morning). They get to run at the park off leash.
Establishing boundaries, rules and expectations leads to unconditional love. I want my dogs to not just live – but to THRIVE. The more I help them understand this crazy world of ours, the more freedom it gives them. There is no concern about hey what will happen if I walk by a dog at the beer festival and she loses it. My dog knows that she belongs by my side. Making the entire experience that much more enjoyable for both of us.
The narcissistic piece of me also loves when people are like…. “OMG how are you walking four dogs and they don’t react to XXXX” Or “OMG you have the friendliest, happiest dogs I have ever met.” Okay maybe I am adding the OMG stuff. But, generally this is how conversations go when I take the dogs out. I can literally feel my chest puffing with pride when I hear these kinds of comments.
I love my dogs. I love that they can go anywhere with me. I love that I can curl up with them. I love that they are sitting with me right now outside just enjoying the air. This did not come without some learning pains and lessons, but at this point what I do know is the boundaries have changed everything.
I LOVE MY DOGS UNCONDITIONALLY and THEY LOVE ME UNCONDITIONALLY but it’s a mutual relationship now. It’s always going to come down to balance. Once you have that, you can have everything.