Honor Your Dog, Honor Yourself

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By Sean O’Shea

Not every dog likes, feels comfortable, or enjoys the company of unfamiliar dogs. And not every dog likes, feels comfortable, or enjoys the company of unfamiliar people. It’s easy for us to have expectations and beliefs about how dogs should be, what they should enjoy, and what should make them happy. But when we don’t honestly take into consideration (and honor) our dogs actual individual personalities, demeanor, limitations, and preferences, we do our dogs a massive disservice, and we put them at risk for possibly getting into serious trouble.

I get many questions from folks and see many clients who have a vision of what their dog should like and dislike, and what a dog needs to do to be fulfilled. Oftentimes this vision is at odds with what their dog actually enjoys or feels comfortable with.

The dog who is uncomfortable and insecure with other dogs having to endure another day at the dog park, and often getting into scraps or all out fights because of it. The dog who is uncomfortable and unsure around people having to be “social” when guests or over or a party is happening – being tense, growling, snapping, or worse. The dog on a walk who is shy and insecure having people come up excitedly to pet and engage with him while his eyes are wide with fear and his body tense and ready for fight or flight.

These are super common situations that many dogs find themselves in. Often it’s because people feel their dog should like other dogs or people, that they need this interaction or “socialization” time, and sometimes just because people don’t know better. But our job as our dog’s leader and guardian is to protect and advocate for them. To understand and prioritize what’s best for them rather than what’s best for us and our wishes or beliefs. We need to be honest with ourselves about our individual dog, what his limitations are and what helps or harms.

There no shame in saying my dog doesn’t like other dogs, or that he’s not safe playing with dogs he doesn’t trust. There no shame in putting your dog away in his crate when you have guests over if your dog is terribly uncomfortable with that situation. There’s no shame in saying no to folks who want to pet your dog on walks if your dog doesn’t enjoy the interaction, especially if he’s tense or possibly dangerous. In fact there’s not only no shame, but putting your dog’s comfort and safety first (and other dogs and people’s as well) is actually your primary job and responsibility.

Don’t let others pressure you to compromise your responsibility or let them question your decisions. If you know your dog and you know what’s best for him, than do it, and don’t let others influence you. Social pressure, especially when it comes to our dogs is a heavy one. Stand firm, and challenge yourself to be assertive in the face of pressure. (It’s good practice for life in general!)

Of course we want to always be improving our dogs and their ability to cope with their world and to thrive in it, but we also need to temper that desire with reality. Be sure you’re being realistic and fair to your dog. Don’t put him in situations that overly pressure him, make him terribly uncomfortable, and possibly put him at risk for making a bad choice. Tune into your dog, be honest, and understand his limitations and honor them. And most of all, give you and your dog permission to always do what’s best for you both, regardless of what mythical doggie stories suggest, or what others request.

Your dog is an individual, be sure to treat him that way.

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11 comments
  1. Doug H said:

    Jeff Gellman and Ed Frawley make it clear to “be your dog’s advocate” … with people and other dogs. Your dog relies on you to act like a leader and protector, which you ARE. You may be lousy at it because of your own shortcomings, but a dog cannot do anything about that. It’s up to people to take care of a dog in every way: food and medical essentials, training, spay/neuter.
    To ‘babify’ a dog is to objectify it as a toy or object. A dog is an animal that is very compatible with people, but it remains a lower animal and will always be so. But it needs humane and caring treatment, not intrusive meddling.

    A person who cannot control their dog on leash has not taken training classes. A person who allows strangers to handle the dog or other dogs to run up on the dog while on leash, is ignorant. But it remains the responsibility of the owner no matter if he ruins the dog or helps it. He still ‘owns’ it in more ways than one.

    To be assertive about telling someone, ” No; don’t touch him ” requires no excuses or explanation. A person is not entitled to handle your personal pet dog. And that includes your own children. They have to show that they will follow your guidelines and stop when you tell them… just like your dog should.

  2. Thank you! Just recently my 1 1/2 yr old Pit/Boxer started reacting to smaller dogs. Although he lives with one, and goes to day camp with other dogs, I took it really personally. I felt I had done something wrong some how.

  3. Jeana said:

    You certainly have your finger on the pulse of dysfunctional dog handlers! (Such as myself, I should probably add). While I don’t force the dog into situations that are too close for comfort, I do feel bad sometimes that she doesn’t get to say hello to other dogs, like some do, but that’s my feeling! Not hers! Great post!

  4. Well stated Sean. Thanks! Permission to share?!

  5. Well said as usual Sean! We need you on TV spreading the good word. I live in Brooklyn/NYC and so many dogs in such small area wanting to “Say Hi”. Also working with many fearful rescue pups I find being an advocate for our dogs is so important for their success in the crazy world. Thanks for the post, I have and will share to help spread the word.

  6. Lindsay said:

    So true! It’s so important to be realistic when training a dog, and living with them. People tend to think every dog needs to be friendly and play with dogs and people they meet on walks, but it’s really not a dog’s true nature to be THAT outgoing.

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