The Family Dog

My fashion philosophy is, if you’re not covered in dog hair, your life is empty.”

Elayne Boosler

Who doesn’t love their dog?

As a pro-family blogger, I’ve never written about the family dog.  Having focussed on human marriage and parenting, my canine oversight has been significant. Hopefully forgivable.

Given his role as a face-licker, ball chaser, protector, floor cleaner, tail-wagger, guest-greeter, blood pressure lowerer, playmate and faithful companion, I can overlook the family dog no longer.  At best, my wife is maybe three of these!

How can one describe the impact a dog has on his family?

While you’re thinking about that, I wanted to relay a recent experience.

I was walking our neighbourhood recently with our doggo, Ollie, when we were blindsided by an aggressive male dog that burst through his electric fence.  He went straight at Ollie.  I managed to fend the intruder off by kicking and yelling at him.  Apart from a young, adolescent boy who tried in vain to call him back, the adult owners were nowhere in sight.  Fortunately, Ollie was unhurt.  Even still, the incident was traumatic.  I chalked it up as an anomaly, but reluctantly made the decision to invest in some pepper spray.

A month later, the event repeated itself.  This time I was with my lovely wife.  A passer-by in a vehicle also noticed what happened and was gracious enough to stop to make sure the situation ended well.  When the attack was diffused, I asked my wife to hold Ollie, as I went to the front door to confront (in a nice way) the owners.  The wife seemed sensitive and apologetic, yet unsurprised by the incident.  I told her it was the second time her dog had attacked mine.  She nodded.  I informed her of some of the local programs for dogs and their owners — training both ends of the leash, and that I’d drop off details later.  She expressed her gratitude.

When I returned later that afternoon there was a long delay after ringing the doorbell.  I was about to walk away when the husband opened the door. My presence seemed like an unwanted interruption, even when I recounted what happened.  I handed him the sheet of paper I’d prepared with a number of training opportunities, websites and phone numbers, and left, feeling a little sorry for their dog.  I speculated that little of what I recommended would be followed up on.

The problem here wasn’t a faulty electric fence or a dog that was aggressively reactive, even though both were true. Both of those situations are easily correctable. The problem here wasn’t even the dog.  He was just doing what came naturally. 

The problem seemed to be less-than-responsible canine ownership.  Maybe his humans figured they’d done all that was required of them.

Just as children need a mother and father to help them adjust behaviours, dogs need invested owners to provide gentle, and consistent leadership.  When that doesn’t happen, dogs default to self-entertaining, and doing what comes naturally to them, and that’s seldom pretty.

“If you spell God backwards, you’ll get man’s best friend.”

from Chris Young’s song, “All Dogs Go to Heaven”

Whether you have a purebred, a designer mutt, or a rescue, your dog is looking to you for leadership and guidance. Dogs are pack animals, looking for a strong leader to follow. Providing a fence, some kibble and cool toys are great beginnings, but good canine behaviour requires so much more.

“Be the person your dog thinks you are.”

C. J. Frick

Here are seven ideas to show your dog even a fraction of the love that he gives to you …

  1. Attend a series of Manners classes with your dog. They will help you better understand how dogs learn, and how you can be most effective in your training.
  2. Exercise your dog on leash in a variety of locations (forest trails, neighbourhoods, public shopping areas).  A physically or emotionally tired dog is a happy dog.
  3. Buy a 4 or 6’ nylon leash, a good buckle or snap collar, and begin to teach your dog how to walk on a loose leash.  It’s a slow process, but worth it.  (Throw away your retractable leash and postpone using a harness until later.  Harnesses encourage pulling, and no canine training professional anywhere allows retractable leashes.  Invented by a very smart dog, a retractable leash puts your dog in charge.  That’s never ever a good idea.)
  4. On walks, keep your dog on your left side, facing traffic.  Never ever put him between you and traffic.  It’s amazing how many people don’t even think of this.
  5. After puppyhood is in the rear view mirror, take a “Canine Good Citizen” class together.  It’s a ten-point test that stresses good canine behaviour in specific human social situations and in proximity to other dogs and distractions.
  6. Keep your dog on a leash or in a fenced area until you have a bulletproof recall.  That will take time, but could someday save his life.  A reliable recall will eventually provide some really fun off-leash freedom for your best friend without inconveniencing other people and pets.
  7. Once you learn how to train, think about making some of your walks “structured walks”, whose primary objective is to train (loose leash walking, heeling, paying attention to you) rather than allowing the walk to be a sniff-fest with doggo making most of the decisions.  You are the leader he needs to succeed and who he wants to follow.

A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”

Josh Billings

Who doesn’t love their dog? They give their families unconditional love every minute of every day. One way for us to give back is to get more hands-on with daily training. It’s so rewarding and it immediately deepens the relationship while providing mental stimulation. Surprisingly, it only takes ten minutes a day.

So, what impact has your dog had on your family?  I’d love you hear your experiences.

In the meantime, enjoy the lyrics to Chris Young’s song, “All Dogs Go to Heaven” here.

Blessings on your home,

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