This isn't the dog I was hoping for. What now?
Does the below conversation sound familiar to you?
"... well my previous dog was a *favorite breed here* and he was the best dog ever. We never had to train him to *good behavior here*! He just was naturally great and understood what we wanted. But *new dog's name here* is driving us crazy with his *challenging dog behavior here * and that is not acceptable!"
Or maybe this one?
"... we always pictured that we'd get to *walk off-leash/go to the dog park/play with kids/etc." with our dog, and she seemed great when we met her, but now she just *barks/pulls/jumps/hides/etc...* the whole time and we don't know what to do!"
I have had conversations like these with more clients than I can count and it's easy to see why. These types of thoughts quickly become our default pattern of thinking when our pet's behavior is (understandably) causing us stress. So many of us have had that one great dog who seemed to fit into our life so effortlessly. It was that one dog you never had to train to come when called because he naturally stayed by your side. Or the one who loved getting to gently cuddle with the children. Or the one that ran at your side from the first day without ever pulling on the leash. I could keep listing things forever, but many of us already have a picture in our head of our "the one" dog. Some haven't had that dog, but wanted it, which is why they got a dog in the first place. So what do we do when our new dog doesn't live up to our expectation and is driving us crazy with it's behavior? Here are three of our recommendations.
1. Be okay with the fact that you might be disappointed by your new dog. Dogs, like people, are all different with different personalities and I cannot emphasize the following statement enough: you are not a bad pet owner or person if there comes a day when you think "I liked my old dog better" or "This isn't the dog I was hoping for". The guilt/disappointment that gradually builds when you avoid admitting you are disappointed or the frustration that you (and your dog) will experience when you try to train/force them into a personality or lifestyle which doesn't fit them, will only slow down the time it takes to resolve this situation. You are not alone or a horrible pet owner for dealing with this. Sometimes our dogs don't turn out the way we were hoping. So accept that moments when you liked your old dog better (or regret getting your new dog) are sometimes a part of pet ownership and then decide what you are going to do about it. Just because you are experiencing this situation, does not mean you have to live forever frustrated about it- be willing to accept that your disappointment is reasonable and then take action to improve the situation.
2. Talk to a professional. It is really difficult to see a situation clearly when you are the one frustrated and exhausted from being in the middle of it. Even many professional trainers will seek out other trainers to help us for this very reason when we reach the end of our rope. Find a professional (read: an educated and qualified individual who utilizes techniques based on behavioral science not just experience) to analyze your current dog's behavior and help you determine why certain behaviors are happening and how they should be managed. Keep in mind that if on a daily basis you are feeling frustrated and unhappy with your dog, your dog is probably regularly feeling somewhat frustrated and unhappy too. A good professional should be able to help you process through various options to help you (and your dog) have a more healthy, enjoyable life. If your dog's behavior has become dangerous in any way, we highly recommend reaching out to a veterinary behaviorist. They are one of the only professionals truly qualified to perform a risk assessment then diagnosis and treat severe behavioral problems.
3. Find something special that your new dog enjoys.
As we've said before, every dog is different. So no, maybe your new dog won't be able to play at the dog park like you had always envisioned (even though there is a great one right by your house), go for an off-leash hike, long run, or accompany you to the kids' baseball games (despite the fact that yes, those other people can bring their dogs); BUT there probably is something your new dog enjoys that your old dog didn't! So be creative and find a new way to spend time with your dog! Maybe your new dog would love agility or swimming. Or try using clicker training to teach your dog new games and tricks (some dogs LOVE the challenge of training games). Maybe your dog would enjoy nothing more than getting to play an appropriate game of tug or fetch. If your dog is easily focused on scents, perhaps try taking a "nose-work" class so that you both learn the fun skill of tracking and detection.
There are dozens of different ways you can spend time with your dog, so if the one you were originally hoping for doesn't seem to be an option- be willing to try something else and you might be surprised by finding something new you both enjoy!
We all hope that the dog we bring home will fit relatively seamlessly into the current life, schedule, and hobbies we envisioned; and, many of us have had the joy of having that happen. But often it doesn't work out that well. The dog we got to be a couch companion, really just wants to have a stimulating job to do. The friendly, social "family" dog we were hoping for, is afraid of new people or kids and just wants a quiet space to call their own. Or the dog that we wanted to take to the dog park, really doesn't like other dogs and would prefer to play at home. That happens sometimes, and it is disappointing. But try not to let that disappointment or the frustration of trying to force/train/mold her into the dog you were hoping for- add unnecessary stress to your life and take away from the potential of a good relationship with her. Accept that the situation wasn't quite what you were hoping for and then decide what to do about it. Sometimes this might mean finding a home better suited to your new dog's needs, but often we just need to be willing to step outside of our comfort zone, change our expectations, and try something new with our dog. It probably won't be what you were originally expecting or hoping for, but the joy that comes with living life cooperatively with your dog has a way of making the differences between your new dog and old dog not so bad after all.