As a professional dog trainer, I meet with amazing dogs and owners every day of the week. I evaluate dogs for training, and I also train dogs, modifying naughty behavior as well as teaching commands and tricks. I have yet to meet an owner who wanted to provide a lousy life for their dog. Not once. Usually, I meet with owners who want to give their dogs the world, but just don’t know how to do it.
For owners who have really difficult dogs, the guilt of living with them is ridiculous. In part, it comes from feeling as if we’ve failed our dogs. We’ve let them down. We’ve fallen short of giving them what they want and need. We imagine that they would have great lives with a different owner. The reality is, however, that most really difficult dogs are put to sleep unless they have owners who are willing to stick it out and keep trying.
Sometimes, this guilt is due to the judgments of friends, family, dog professionals and the like. Total strangers have no problems scolding us as we try to provide our dogs with better lives. I honestly find that too few people ask the one single question that can be the very most helpful: “How can I help you?” Because we often don’t hear this, and hear negative, hurtful, judgmental comments instead, guilt is alive and well with many owners of difficult dogs.
I had to work through a whole lot of guilt with Rugby. As a dog professional, unkind words really flew, because when you’re a dog trainer, everyone on the planet expects and assumes that your own dog is just like Mary Poppins–practically perfect in every way. I’ve had to get a thick skin, but I’ve had to learn to give kind responses to people to help educate them. When we know better, we do better. When people have learned Rugby’s story, they’ve been far more understanding. It’s no fun having to explain all of that, but in my world, kindness rules, and always trumps someone else being rude.
The reality in all of this, is that we really CAN give our dogs terrific lives and a high quality of everyday life! Not all dogs can cope with all things. And you know what? I think that’s really okay. Other dog professionals may completely disagree with this opinion, but I fully believe that it’s true. Some dogs can go anywhere and do anything, and that’s great–for THOSE dogs. Other dogs, difficult ones, can’t seem to manage day to day change, new people or dogs, new environments, etc. Those dogs probably need more structure in their lives, and to have a world that’s more predictable and small. That’s also okay. But, as owners, we have to work through our own guilt, shame and feelings of failure so that we can move forward into all of the good that we can provide for our dogs.