Canine Desperation

Catherine J. Crawmer on 5/30/2008

As a trainer of more than 40 years experience, it seems that most of my time is spent problem solving. Unfortunately, rarely does anyone contact a trainer to develop a program to teach the puppy what he should do. If only people would come to realize that the time spent training the puppy appropriate behaviors in the beginning would save time, money and heartache later on. So often the dog/owner relationship is destroyed while owners are attempting to break all the habits that developed from their doing nothing. Dogs continue to learn something whether you deliberately train them or not and sometimes they do exactly what you train them to do.

Last winter, I went to the home of a couple with a small black pit bull female about one year of age. When you see a lot of dogs they kind of get muddled in your mind but every now and then one really stands out for some reason. This was one of those dogs. All dogs see you but this one “looked” right at you. She looked smart and she was smart.

The owners, unfortunately, did not seem to share the dog’s level of intellect. First of all, they were both quite intoxicated. The bottle and the glasses were on the coffee table. They did offer me a drink but, intent upon doing my job, I chose to refrain. As the session wore on I reached a point where I regretted my decision.

My services are not cheap. When a decision is reached to pay me for help people are usually ready to commit themselves to the process. I asked the couple how I could help them. Getting right to the heart of the matter, the woman stated that the reason that I was there was that their dog kept jumping up on company, especially when they were sitting on the couch and chairs. While she was explaining this, the dog was spread out on the couch and across her lap. The woman was petting the reclining animal with one hand and balancing a near full glass in the other. I explained that she just might be giving the dog confusing information if she was petting the dog for doing what the dog was not supposed to do. While I was explaining this the dog left the woman’s lap, jumped up on the other side of the same couch and climbed up on the man’s shoulder. The woman, indicating me with a motion of her glass, told her husband that he should not be petting her to which the man replied, “How can I not pet her? Look how cute she is!” The woman then expressed a concern that they might have to “get rid” of the dog if this habit could not be broken.

At another home there were four family members. It is always helpful to get everyone together so that all concerns and expectations can be addressed. The first family member, a young woman, spoke up expressing her dissatisfaction with their dog who jumps on company. “I wouldn’t have a dog if I knew he was going to be jumping all over everyone.” Her brother spoke next expressing an opposite viewpoint. “Why have a dog if you can’t enjoy it?” He liked to roughhouse with the dog and encouraged jumping up every chance he got. As confusing as this was the next family member had the ultimate expectation for the dog. She explained that she didn’t really mind the dog jumping up most of the time. After all, she did a lot of gardening so her clothes weren’t fancy. But one day a week she worked as a nurse and she had a real problem with the dog jumping up on her white nursing uniform. As long as the dog didn’t jump up on her on Thursdays she was happy. Consider the message this family wants to convey to the dog. Never jump up. Always jump up. Jump up except on Thursdays

Everyone is aware of the fact that there are a lot of dogs picked up as strays in every municipality in this country. Lost, confused, seemingly despondent, these animals are found wandering neighborhoods often an incredible distance from the home where they have spent years, or their entire lives. More than a few of these animals run right out the doors of their homes seemingly making a beeline to parts unknown, never looking back. Like most people, I assumed that dogs just do not understand the realities or dangers inherent in leaving the loving home so familiar to them. However, after more than 40 years in animal training, I believe that I have compiled enough evidence to now prove that these unfortunate incidents are indicative of desperate decisions made by dogs who just couldn’t take it anymore.