I am not my dog's mum!
Dog training has changed a lot in the past 40 years. And while many of the changes are good and needed, some are not.
When I run my foundational “Building the Bond” class, before the first class I send my students a position paper which clearly states how I feel about the relationship we have with our dogs. It was written by another trainer– Katherine Carter who is based in North Carolina and who gave me permission to use it. I love her words. This is what she says:
"My dog is not my child.
My dog is not my furbaby.
I am not her mother.
"My dog is my friend. She is my partner and my companion. To treat her like a child, to infantilize her and make it seem as though she needs my constant coddling or protection, would be unfair to her.
"She is an adult carnivore that I have brought into my human world. Because of that it is my responsibility as her owner:
To communicate with her in a way she can understand.
To provide leadership, discipline and mutual respect.
To understand her instincts and needs, and provide appropriate outlets for them.
To train her and provide her the skills to function effectively in our human world, including acceptable manners and behaviors.
"Our dogs deserve to be given responsibility and allowed to be adult creatures, not perpetual babies. Please, don't try to make them tiny humans, they aren't and they don't want to be. Dogs are wonderful because they are dogs. Let them be dogs.
"Teach them to be good ones.”
This is such an important message. Dogs should be respected for who they are, not treated like fragile children, needing a protective bubble, unable to handle the least amount of stress. Dogs are amazing creatures, who bounce back from life’s hard knocks, and move on. But somewhere along the line, we humans decided that dogs couldn’t handle life unless they were wrapped in our protective arms.
I’m not sure where it started. Maybe with the “purely positive” movement. But we have gone beyond that into calling our dogs our “furbabies”, referring to ourselves as a “dog mum”, and treating our canine friends as little people who have the intellectual ability and the right to decide what they can and can’t do. So many people seem afraid to tell their dogs “No.”
What do we get as a result?
We see dogs on leash dragging their owners down the street, dogs jumping up on people, dogs deciding who can and cannot enter their home, dogs over-reacting to the presence of another dog, dogs lacking any impulse control, dogs who are demanding and pushy, and dogs who are so environmentally stimulated that they are unable to focus on their owner. In the worst case, we see dogs being euthanized because their owners can no longer cope.
When training began to change in the 1990s it was a much-needed move to stop using compulsion and harsh punishment. Absolutely. But that doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility to provide our dogs with leadership and direction. We still need to tell them “Yes! This is what I want!” and “No, that is not acceptable!” There is a way to do that without being heavy handed or cruel. There is a way to show a dog how to behave in our society that is firm but gentle. There is a way to love our dogs by understanding them, guiding them, and respecting them. They are not babies. They are dogs. And they are amazing.