On New Dog Expectations

I’ve been pondering lately on the expectations people have when they bring new dogs into their lives. My personal best advice is this: the closest you will ever get to a plug-and-play pet is a hamster, and even a hamster is going to take some adjustment on your part.

Here’s my personal expectations for dogs: any dog under a year is going to try to eat the entire house, harrass the cats, poop and pee everywhere, and refuse to listen to a word you say. Any dog over a year, you will have accidents in the house while the two of you figure out the Getting The Dog Outside In Time issue, try to eat the entire house, and harrass the cats. Any deviations from these standards are cause for jubilation and are probably temporary. You can relax when the dog is five and hasn’t tried to eat the house, use it for a toilet, or attempted to sodomize the cats with his nose in at least 12 months. Unless you’re adopting a dog over five, in which case you can relax when the dog is ten.

I just find it’s easier on everyone this way. My expectations for dog behavior mean that the dog is set up to succeed, because I’m taking steps to make sure they don’t eat the house, use it for a toilet, or terrorize cats. The dog is happier, because she gets clear messages about what is OK to do in this house and doesn’t have to experiment. I’m happier, because I’m not constantly doing damage control. The cats are happier because they aren’t being terrorized.

There’s also some solid reasons for my low expectations. Speaking broadly, dogs don’t generalize situations and words all that well without work. They also learn rules very differently from how humans think they do. For instance, a person may think a dog has learned “don’t go to the bathroom in the house” when what the dog has really learned is “don’t go to the bathroom on carpet.” My house is mostly laminate floors, so a dog who has learned not to go on carpet may see my floors as acceptable, and needs to learn that we don’t go to the bathroom on hard, slick floors either. On the training front, I will neither look nor sound like the dog’s former person. Even the brightest dog may be uncertain whether “sit” means “sit” when I say it or signal it, because I do not say it or signal it just like the last person to train the dog. Granted that it’s going to be faster for me to teach a dog what I mean if the dog already has a foundation, but unless the previous owner specifically worked with the dog to teach it how different people ask for “sit” then the dog will probably have issues.

All of this, of course, is extremely relevant to my current situation, while I am pondering bringing a puppy into the house. I have had the talk with the husband about low expectations and setting dogs up to succeed, although I don’t think you can really adequately prepare someone for the whirlwind experience of puppyhood until they’ve actually experienced the attempts to eat the house. So far I’ve had one really easy puppy (Beowulf) and one total terrorist of a puppy (Tink), and it was post-Tink that I developed my low expectations for new dogs. It’s ended up serving me well because really, it’s just easier on everyone if you assume from the beginning that a puppy is a weapon of mass destruction, and go from there.

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Comments (1) | Dog Training,Life at the Manor — Tags: , — Andrea @ 0430 on 18 January, 2011

One Response to “On New Dog Expectations”

  1. Marji
    1304 on January 18th, 2011

    Low expectations make life simpler and more fun for both dog and human.

    I’ll be welcoming a 4-5 mos-old foster puppy this Saturday (if all goes well) and my expectations are low enough a snail could leap over them. Also, his name is Sherman. The Tank. ‘Nuff said.

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