Guest Post by Katie Virtue: TAKING CONFLICT OUT OF THE EQUATION – The Road to Harmony with Our Dogs
March 04, 2013
I remember when I first got my dog Scarlett, I was so hell-bent on being the “alpha” that I forgot to – heaven forbid! – enjoy her. In my eyes, everything my annoying puppy did was intended to undermine my authority and I was careful to keep her in check at every turn.
Scarlett jumped up to greet me? Knee to the chest. Ripped apart the garbage can? Alpha roll. Ignored recall? Shock collar. Found her snoozing on my bed? Surely she was planning to maul me in my sleep and then act on her plans to take over the world!
Someone once told me that if I always look for conflict in my relationship with Scarlett, I’m always going to have conflict. It was a tough pill to swallow (because nobody likes to admit they’re wrong), but man, were they ever right. The media constantly shows us extremely aggressive dogs who bite their owners or are “dominant” over kleenex, and we all vow to ourselves that our perfect puppies will never be like those scary dogs we see on TV. There is so much confusion out there about the true meaning of “dominance” that it’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees, even if you have the best intentions.
I was tired of fighting with my dog, and to be honest, I wasn’t being true to myself either. I’m a lover, not a hater, and I wanted to have that relaxed partnership with my dog that other people had with theirs. Little did I know that the only thing standing in the way of that was…shocker of all shockers…ME! Scarlett would have gladly had a conflict-free relationship with me from day one, but it was me who denied us both the pleasure. Once I started looking at Scarlett’s “puppy stupids” (I say that affectionately) for what they were, life became a whole lot easier. What a relief it was to finally just be myself and know that Scarlett wasn’t a dominance-crazed hellion who planned to take over the world! Although if you ask her, I’m sure she’d like you to refer to her as Your Highness if for nothing other than the novelty of hearing it.
Anyway, I started to look at things differently:
Scarlett jumped up to greet me? Wow! She must really love me, but she just needs to learn the appropriate way to say hello. Ripped apart the garbage can? Can’t say I blame her – there was some good stuff in there! I’ll make sure she gets more exercise and will do a better job of managing the environment in the future. Ignored recall? I probably ruined it with all that shock collar business, so let’s try something different to teach her to enjoy listening. Found her snoozing on my bed? Can’t blame her on that one either! I’ll just teach her to come up only when invited (needless to say, I didn’t succeed here, nor did I try very hard…I’m a sucker for spooning).
Breaking my Scarlett Woes down into individual behaviours made it so much easier for me to deal with each behaviour on its own, instead of looking at them under the umbrella of dominance, or conflict. Instead of one huge abstract problem, I had little goals to work towards. How you choose to read certain situations will dictate how you choose to deal with them. My Mom always told me that we could resolve our issues the hard way or the easy way. I always chose the easy way, and I’m sure that our dogs would prefer the easy way too. Dogs have evolved with humans over thousands of years to be steadfast companions and for the most part, they don’t want to fight with us anymore than we really want to fight with them. So why bother? It ain’t worth it, folks. You heard it here first.
The next time you find yourself in a situation where your dog pulls you into the busy road because A) he wants to get to that really cool dog across the street or B) he wants you to get hit by a Mack truck because he plans to take your place as pack leader (and you’re not really sure which but you’re hoping for “A”) remember this blog, and recite this little ditty in your head:
DOG grant me the sanity to accept the things I cannot change; knowledge to change the things that I can; and the wisdom to call a dog trainer when all else fails.
Our job is to help simplify your lives with a few useful tips and tricks of the trade. Having a dog is always a challenge, but it’s not supposed to be joyless. Some journeys towards harmony are bumpier roads than others, and that’s okay. It’s how you choose to navigate these challenges that really matters. When you know better, you do better. So just chill, don’t sweat the small stuff, and work through behaviours day by day, bit by bit. Small successes are still successes. It’s not about winning little battles, or even a big war for that matter. It’s about working together, because training is something we do with our dogs, not to our dogs. We want our dogs to work with us, not for us.
So go give your dogs some love, even if they make you want to pull your hair out. Life’s better when you’re burying your face into their furry necks. I can tell you that from experience!