For years, as a professional dog trainer, I have found it curious that clients seem to hold back describing the depth of their dog’s behavioral issues. It is as if they don’t want to say something bad about their cherished family member. And yet, they are ready to write out the check for a sum that would suggest they know there’s a problem. Who would spend hundreds of dollars on a non-issue?
I first met Paulina and her husband Rob eighteen years ago. Paulina was a writer for the small, local newspaper. We had registered a new dog training business in town, so she contacted us for an interview. Paulina is a real animal lover. She and Rob live on acreage in the country and her weekly stories often included details about the donkey or the pet goose or Rob’s prized long horn cattle. Throughout the years, they have brought a few of their farm dogs through our beginner training classes. Now, at 85 and 87 years old, less agile and dealing with typical senior health concerns, they decided it might be prudent for their six month old puppy to come for a couple of weeks of Board and Train. Why they chose to acquire a puppy rather than a senior dog from the local shelter is a different story.
During the drop off appointment I was informed of the labradoodle’s maladies, albeit they were sandwiched in-between stories of Emma’s brilliance. She was a talented one, she was. It took forty minutes before I learned that she often jumped up and bit Rob in the elbow when he took her outdoors. Descriptions of her naughty behavior were always peppered with stories about her remarkable aptitude to follow Paulina about their home, or to watch Rob through the window when he ‘forgot’ to take her along on chores. Of course, I knew there was more to the story. There always is.
Less than twenty-four hours after they left Emma with us, Paulina called to check on her pup. The next call came in about twenty-two hours later.
“All is well, Emma is doing fine,” I would say. Paulina would promise not to bother me, again. But, I received a call nearly every day during Emma’s entire stay. I get it. I’m not complaining.
When Paulina called on the third day, I felt it best to be honest and give her an actual status report.
“Well, Paulina, Emma is settling in very well. She is eating and drinking and pooping on schedule and I think she understands that we are reliable and predictable and that she can trust us. Now we can begin working with her on some of her problem areas. The first thing we really must address is her pulling. Paulina, Emma is a pulling-fool,” I said knowing full well that Paulina was well aware of the problem, even if she did not mention it when they brought Emma to us a few days earlier. Emma’s extreme pulling was a potentially hip-fracturing, forever-life-changing, unacceptable behavior. It was why they chose to bring her to us for Board and Train, even though Paulina couldn’t admit that.
“Oh, yes, that’s true,” Paulina conceded. Then she shared a frightening story about how Emma had nearly dragged her off the deck. “We trust you and Robert to help us. But, we sure miss our little girl.”
“I completely understand how you feel. I think you and she are going to be better off once she learns to respect and obey you,” I replied.
“Well, Tammie, I know that’s important. But, you aren’t going to take away her wonderful spirt, are you?” Paulina’s voice cracked a little. I could tell she was worried.
It was time for a Come-To-Jesus moment.
“Paulina, Emma is a crazy-ass.” I paused briefly to let that sink in. Paulina wasn’t one to use curse words, and I figured she’d have to take a moment to process what I had said.
“If we don’t address her unruly behavior, Emma is going to damage you or Rob. We are going to teach her to have manners and reverence for your position in her life. We will teach her to walk properly on a leash. But, we cannot extract her personality. We cannot take away her spirit.”
Let it be known: Crazy-ass is not a personality trait. It is a behavior.
Behavior can be changed through learning about boundaries and standards. A dog’s innate personality can make that more or less complicated for the trainer.
Just like humans, every dog has a unique personality. Nearly all of them are capable of learning how to become socially compliant. However, someone has to teach a pup about those expectations so that he learns the boundaries in which his behavior will be tolerated. It perplexes me when someone believes that a dog’s outrageous, over-the-top, offensive, ill-mannered behavior represents the dog’s innate character. It bamboozles me more when folks think that rude behavior is something to preserve.
Character traits are qualities like pensive, alert, gregarious, reserved, creative, independent, affectionate, confident, clever, courageous, energetic, dependable, tenacious, low-key, intelligent, loyal, and work-oriented. The Affenpinscher is described as famously funny, the Clumber spaniel is mellow and amusing, and the Border terrier is happy and plucky.
While the Afghan hound is considered to be an aloof dog with an independent nature, those features do not prohibit it from learning and obeying house rules like ‘wait at the door’ or ‘keep your teeth off of people,’ or ‘walk without pulling on a leash.’ One of the most impressive dogs I ever watched in an Obedience Ring was an Afghan hound. That was back in the 1980’s at the Gaines Classic, a competition exclusive to invitees who had earned top scores in previous trials. In its breed standard, the Beauceron is defined as gentle, faithful and obedient. However, when a puppy isn’t taught about boundaries from a young age, regardless of breed type, it can end up appearing quite rough and defiant. Might I be as bold as to say I have known a Beauceron that met the definition of “crazy-ass.”
Over the years, I have experienced many dog owners who struggle understanding the difference between their dog’s behavior and its personality or innate temperament. It is when I inform a client that unruly behavior can be resolved, that I am likely to hear the plea, “please don’t break my dog’s spirit,” or “please don’t take away my dog’s personality.”
Consider the US Marines, an Olympic athletic team or NASA astronauts. Most often, there are critical requirements necessary to achieve such greatness. Adherence to rules as well as respect and loyalty to the team, coach or leader is essential. Yet, those same individuals are able to celebrate their accomplishments with unencumbered spirit and attitude. I would suggest that many of the most spirited individuals are also those that are the most self-restrained and obedient when necessary, regardless of their inborn dispositions. I believe this is true of dogs, as well.
Unregulated “spirit” is just plain crazy-ass. Nuf’ said.
To read more about the difference between dog personality versus behavior, click here