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Let Them Grow Up

Posted on 09/04/2015
Filed under: The Dog's View How Your Dog Thinks

dog in pushchairFor most dog owners/carers, we love nothing more than ensuring that our dogs are well fed (but not overfed), in good condition and are as happy to be with us as we are with them. Unfortunately, this can so easily bring out the over protective side of our nature, especially when other people criticize everything from our choice of dog to the way that we choose to live with them, often imparting  their wisdom accompanied by the classic,  'Oh, I wouldn’t let a dog do that if I were you'.  Little wonder that many owners find the companionship of their dogs so preferable to that of such people.

The problem for many of us, faced with such criticism, is that we can easily forget to balance this protective attitude with the willingness to actually allow our dog to grow up a little and really learn how to take responsibility for their own actions. If we keep seeing them as an eternal puppy we actively prevent them from achieving anything like their full potential. All infants can, and sometimes will, frustrate and embarrass us but we make allowances because of their age, however, most people have found themselves less than happy with an adult that acts in a childish manner and the same attitude applies to dogs that are allowed to act in a juvenile manner.

Happily this can be different and if nurtured correctly, they will be able to develop the most important of all disciplines, which is to control their own actions and not to simply robotically rely on a command from the people in their lives to guide their every action, leaving their embarrassed owners to make excuses for why they are allowed to behave in an uneducated manner, such as pulling on a lead or jumping up at guests.

Growing up does not always require taking responsibility for others but the process should  enable the individual to become an educated, positive team member, contributing and making the whole “group” experience a joy and this is something  we can give to our dogs. However, if we think of our dogs as our 'babies' or refer to them as puppies and treat them as such, even when they are physically past that stage, then we risk becoming unfairly frustrated with them when their behaviour doesn’t improve with the passing of time.  

When we work with nature, we understand that even a five month old puppy, just like his seven year old human equivalent; will thrive on being given a little responsibility, especially when their achievements are accompanied by sincere praise from their guide. Once they have experienced appropriate praise they will want to happily repeat the process and all that we have to do is ensure that they are put into situations that enable us to sincerely reward them again.  Think of the pride involved when a seven year old child finally learns to tie their shoe laces,  or assist with  the evening meal by setting the dinner table, well, dogs take pride in a job well done too and more particularly, in being a valued team member and contributor.

This desire to contribute is why AB works so well for all of us and our dogs. When our dogs naturally react to something unfamiliar and give a warning of this threat by barking, they have contributed. When we then thank them for bringing this possible danger to our attention, they have done their job and received praise for it. They know that they are a valued part of the team and that their contribution is respected.

When adopting  AB, we never used any form of punishment in the process of helping a dog to learn, only a quiet consequence of action when their behaviour is undesirable, this enables the dog to work out for itself how to obtain what it wants, as long as we are patient,  they will get it and start to demonstrate only that behaviour that results in a positive outcome.

Of course, we can never give them the ultimate responsibility for the major decisions concerning our families, as it is impossible for them to understand how our modern societies work, but by allowing them to grow up and assume some responsibility, we can open the door to them being able to achieve far more than we ever thought possible and capitalise on their instinctive team player mentality.

Letting them grow up and take responsibility for themselves to this extent is a total joy to see, as they are able to quickly work through many different situations or problems and, like us, be rather proud of themselves when they succeed. 

Jan Fennell