Having a dog is supposed to do all sorts of wonderful things for us – reduce stress, increase exercise, increase social interactions, and generally make life better. But what happens when your dog has a behavior problem? We endlessly talk about managing behavior problems, where they may stem from, how to improve them, but we rarely talk about how they impact the human side of the relationship. And I’ll be honest with you – it’s a pretty shitty impact.
I recently watched a webinar by Kelly Ballantyne and Kristin Buller about how living with a dog with behaviour problems affects his owners, and as a behaviour consultant, it made me think about the amount of time I spend listening to people’s feelings about their dogs. The worst part about this situation is that people are often alone in dealing with these challenges.
Think about the dog with separation anxiety – it becomes painful for the owners to go out – soon, they are missing all sorts of social gatherings because they don’t want to leave their dogs alone. For the people with reactive or aggressive dogs, they may be walking at odd hours of the day to avoid people and other dogs, and they are likely walking in quiet areas, where they aren’t going to see others. It may be difficult to have friends and family members over to visit.
Think about the feelings that come along with these issues – anxiety, resentment, frustration, anger, disappointment – yet we all still love our dogs. A lot of the concessions we make to manage our dogs comes from a place of love. Yet everyday, dogs owners with behaviourally challenged dogs hear phrases such as “There are no bad dogs, only bad owners” and “It’s all in how you raise them”. I can tell you, without a doubt, both of these phrases are wrong. Just plain wrong.
For those people with behaviourally challenged dogs, what can you do? Call a behaviour professional, as soon as possible. Don’t make yourself suffer for months on end because you’re ashamed to call a trainer or behaviour consultant – get help for your dog and yourself. Find a veterinarian that will support you. Let people know your dog is in training – we all hate those members of the well meaning general public who say things like “who’s walking who” when you’re struggling to walk your large breed adolescent on leash through the neighbourhood. Get a leash or make a badge for your dog that says “In Training.”
In some areas, there are actually support groups for people with behaviourally challenged dogs, and there are therapists and social workers who specialize in seeing people with these dogs. A huge part of my Breakfast Club class is the support and encouragement that people receive from other dog owners – I am pretty sure there have been weeks where there is not much emphasis on training but more emphasis on talking and receiving that encouragement and support from others. Not advice, but support.
And for those struggling with the big decision or have made the big decision, it’s OK. In the words of Steve Dale, “euthanasia is the last show of love.” We extend this grace to owners of dogs with serious medical issues, but we often fail to extend it to owners of pets with serious behaviour issues. Guess what? It counts for you too, and I think it even counts more.
For all of those out there with dogs with behaviour issues, get help. You’re not alone, don’t wait, and
don’t settle for mediocre help. Find yourself an empathetic team of professionals and find others in the same boat as you. They’re out there.