It was like any other day, not very different from the one before. I was feeling ok, I just had my coffee, and the sun was shining. But for some reason, I felt the notion of making conversation right then to be overwhelming. Seeing any other person at that moment seemed intrusive. I was enjoying the day on my terms.
As I looked at my dogs that morning, I thought of our lives the past year and a half on the road. Camping is a different kind of life, often throwing an introvert like myself into panic. You walk outside of your door…people. You take a walk…people. You are inside your house on wheels…you hear…people. And sometimes, it drives me crazy.
We have all heard that our dogs are so called social, pack animals. And I agree, most of the time. But shocker…they don’t want to see other dogs all of the time. They don’t want to see people all of the time. I am not sure when we decided that our dogs, even though they are supposed to want to be around other dogs, should want to be around others all of the time on command. Or demand.
Some of us may have adopted rescue dogs and are unaware of their fears or past experiences. We may feel embarrassed when they growl at other dogs or people. I’ve been there. I have tried to make excuses. “They’re older”. “They are tired”. And I suppose it is nicer than saying they don’t really want to be around you today. The truth is, they can’t tell us their past experiences or why they may be having a bad day. So do we recognize this when it happens? Do we take into account their individual personalities? Do we try to make them into something that they are not, or don’t want to be?
I had a foster dog, one that didn’t particularly care for most people and tolerated some dogs. I thought by exposing him over and over again to other people and dogs that this would somehow make him want to be social. And I guess some trainers would recommend this. But one day, I realized that it was like I was dragging him to a party every day. As I have said, I am an introvert by nature. If I was made to go to a party every day, would I learn to like people more? Yeah…no. So why was I trying to change my foster dog? The happiest he was was laying in the sun alone or eating dinner in peace by himself. Was I trying to change him as an individual? I will tell you that no matter what I did, his personality did not change. And it took three more foster families to recognize that he could not be changed. And yes, he finally found a home that let him be himself. And happy.
Now, I am not saying that under some circumstances, for our dog’s own safety and well-being, training is necessary. And I am not a trainer and don’t want to be, so I can’t say when this would help your dog. But for my dogs, I have realized their bad days are often a warning. Dogs have a “fight or flight” instinct. And I don’t want them to be in that position. There are days Brickle growls at every passing dog or person at camp, wanting to protect our space. There are days when he cries to see the same people. I realize that just like that day I wanted to relish my cup of coffee alone, perhaps he feels that way as well. So instead of exposing him to an irritating situation, we change our situation.
Some may say I am giving in to bad behavior. But my view is that I am respecting their needs while making less problems for myself! Were dogs made to be around others on our terms all of the time? Do we not put our dogs in situations that may be unnatural like eating at restaurants or in large crowds? I try to think about what situation I am putting them in, judge their reaction for that day, and if we need to leave, we do. There have been days when they met another dog at a dog park that they didn’t like. There have been days when just the sight of a kid irritates Brickle. There have been days when Digby jumps on other dogs at random to hump them! Yes. It’s real life with our dogs.
Being a dog parent includes respect. Respect for our dogs, respect for others. I am not saying I am the best dog parent. But truly recognizing their needs as individuals I believe is a great start. I forget about the rules and the books I have read because my dogs are worth more than that. I don’t need anyone to tell me the right and wrong way of taking care of them. They tell me…if I listen.
-Rachael Johnson, Girl Person, Owner, 2 Traveling Dogs