We have a new dog, and he is so sweet! We are having so much fun with him and he is such a good dog – mostly – except for the biting and he does growl at us when we try to pick up his food but it’s not his fault because he was tied up outside a house for six months in all weathers and didn’t get enough to eat and his owners mistreated him and he only has this problem with men and loud noises and little kids yelling and thunderstorms and when I make him get off the couch or when my husband tries to get into bed with me but we really love him and would never give him up…Can you help us? We know he wants to be a good dog…
This is the beginning of many telephone conversations coming in on the Goodladd Hotline.
I have had the privilege to receive inquiries from dog owners of all walks of life relating every kind of scenario and a common theme running through these first encounters is the introductory story…
People want to communicate their dog’s history as far as they know it. They are contacting me as their dog’s representative and often feel that they are acting as his defense lawyer before relating the issues that have prompted them to contact me.
I absolutely understand. When I go to the doctor I need to give him some “background info” before I tell him what my problem is and we all carry some sort of resume when we apply for a job!
A little background history is a great thing…unless…
The history you are offering is hearsay…(Many adopted dogs come with a “backstory” that may or may not have a basis in reality.)
Many dogs have been given a “human” excuse for unwanted behavior…”He feels resentful when we leave so he pees on my bed!”
Many dogs display behavior that we presume has been caused by some human error.
A great many dogs have a history that is mysterious so we need to give them one because without a personal history we humans would not feel grounded and we assume the dog needs one too.
SO the idea of a background story is sometimes helpful and sometimes not so much BUT the single most problematic thing about the story is that it keeps us there.
Every time we tell the story it becomes more real. Every time we recount the events preceding the current status we invest more energy into that past history, real or no and define the dog more strongly by those past circumstances.
Ultimately we find it harder and harder to let go of that history and move forward into a new place and the more we tell the story, the more we set it in stone.
To use the dog’s history as an excuse for his behavior will not help him to change it.
Now it is helpful to know that this dog has reacted in this way to this previous action but to try to explain why is very much more difficult than you would imagine and dog behaviorists are still disputing the workings of the canine mind!
In my Life With Dogs I have been unceasingly amazed by my dogs’ ability to start from where they are and move forward…often without much of a backward glance.
I have seen hundreds of dogs with extraordinary “back stories” become entirely new canine citizens and they simply would not be able to do so while “remembering” the conditions that brought them into my life.
Dogs are really creatures of the moment and live solidly in the “here and now”. They can easily be convinced to give life another chance and often embrace their new reality with enthusiasm and a lack of regret or resentment that I would be proud to own.
When you find yourself telling a friend about your dog’s previous incarnations, remember that saying it is so, often makes it so and begin as you mean to go on!
We are in each other’s lives to bring out the best in each other and we need to highlight our possibilities not harp on our bad breaks!
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