(To skip my rambling scroll down to bulleted points!)
Our dogs, Marble and Bo, are our best friends. Maybe this is a story for another day, but Bo was Griffin’s chocolate son before I came along. His life pre-step mom was mainly hunting/hunting dog in training, and being a good boy in the back yard where he lived. He shared his kennel with his brother from another mother, BJ. BJ was an old man when I met him and yet he lived another happy 6 or so years with us and got to roam freely on our 160 Kansas acres before he died. I came along and didn’t love that he was outside full-time but also didn’t care to make an issue of it.
At about 17 years old I set my sights on a puppy. I was working at a grocery store after school and a coworker’s mom was a boxer breeder and was desperately trying to rehome a litter of “oopsy” puppies that her purebred boxer birthed with a purebred lab. (My thoughts on “purebred” dogs, breeds, and breeders also a story for another day…) Griffin, like any smart human would do, originally said getting another dog when we had two in the back yard wasn’t a great idea. I, like any 17 year old girl would do, protested. Griffin agreed we could get a dog but he wanted a particular breed and he wanted to get it for me after doing his own research. I didn’t listen, and shortly after I brought our brindle baby Marble home from the boxer breeder.
Marble lived inside with us and was spoiled as could be while Bo and BJ lived outside in a kennel. I took Marble outside to potty multiple times a day and never stopped to think how Bo and BJ felt about seeing her roaming the yard freely and going back inside. I just assumed since they’d always lived outside that they wouldn’t do well indoors and it would be a huge disaster to bring them in. What the heck?! Stupid teenagers.
Then we moved to a home where none of the dogs could be inside. All of them lived outside and since we were on 160 acres they got to roam freely for the most part, but they slept in a larger kennel at night and came in the garage if the weather ever got downright nasty (which happens in KS!). When we moved to Spokane we were short one dog (BJ) but still had to find a rental that allowed our two big dogs and our cat. We found a place that took us on and the dogs lived inside together for the first time. It went as smoothly as having two dogs inside could possibly go. Bo is an extremely well mannered, well behaved gentleman. I felt like a real jerk for having left Bo outside those few years ago.
My point is Bo could have shown me that he was the perfect indoor dog, but I never considered giving him the chance. How frustrating that period must have been for him! There’s a million other ways we slack as dog parents and even more so in the past, but as we learn, we improve our behavior. I’m here to try to help you learn, document, and learn from you as well.
Ways we don’t realize we’re driving our dogs crazy
- Domestication of animals is not a mutual decision, and we need to take that into consideration as “owners” of animals. When humans domesticated dogs, we took so much from them. It’s so important to keep in mind that they are still dogs and they are way closer to wild beasts than we give them credit for. I keep this in mind when my dog rolls in something stinky, makes a mess, chases another animal, etc. It’s impossible to be frustrated at these situations when you understand we’re forcing them into a lifestyle that’s extremely inconvenient and restricting to them.
- Along with the domestication topic, when we domesticated dogs we essentially made them extremely vulnerable. Because we think it’s cool to own these cuties, there’s millions of displaced and/or abused dogs in the world that don’t have the skills and resources to survive on their own as a wild canine would. I’ll say it clearer: because we think it’s cool to have dogs, dogs are suffering.
- The standard dog owner is not nearly educated enough on the nature of canines to show them what they consider respect. (Really if any of us were as respectful as we should be we wouldn’t “own” a dog.) We think we respect them when we tell them they’re good, give them treats, or give them space to run… But some things we do that they can find extremely distressing and disrespectful include making direct eye contact, touching their shoulder area, handling their paws, shaking a finger or a hand at them, physically moving/manipulating them to meet our agenda, and so much more. And quite simply, if you’re not respecting them you’re not going to get respect out of them.
- Speaking nonsense to them can cause them distress and confusion. Our dogs love to understand what we’re saying. Since reading how dogs listen to everything we say and get frustrated when they can’t understand us, I’ve noticed Marble behaving differently when I’m talking jibberish to her (by jibberish I mean using big sentences and words she doesn’t understand AND baby talking her). She acts on what I’m saying, trying to please me as if I’m asking something of her and she can’t figure out what it is. If she’s not able to get me to stop talking she will stare at me with her ears up and sad eyes as if she’s straining to spot a word that resonates with her. However, when I say things to her she understands like “Need a drink?” “Breakfast” “Dads home”, etc. she has the opportunity to listen + understand, respond however she pleases, and carry on with her day.
- Disciplining dogs for the wrong reasons is huge. Often times, we are simply too impatient to properly redirect and train a dog on disagreeable behavior. Barking at noises, begging, crying/whining when they want something, or doing things that are normally ok but doing those at a time that is wrong for us are all instances where we may be too quick to discipline. Being inconsistent in disciplining is also unfair to dogs. It is difficult to not discipline in anger when our dogs do something we thought they knew better than to do, but acting out of anger won’t redirect them to better behavior in the future and it pins them against us and makes them uncomfortable in their own home.
There are dozens of other ways in which we can be difficult for dogs to deal with, but hopefully these few listed above will open the door to recognizing what behavior is beneficial to them and set us all on a path to cohabiting smoothly.