Sunday, July 24, 2011

Anger Management

Here is a scenario that most of you will probably be able to relate to very well:

I was heading home after a busy day; spending some time with family, running errands, taking Matt to work, cleaning the house and dropping the car off for new tires even though we had already dumped a few hundred dollars into it for other reasons within the past week. The sun was shining not cheerfully but violently because the heat index was well over 100 degrees (Fahrenheit). Relaxing would have been amazing but I had to finish cleaning first. Still, I managed to keep in pretty good spirits because it was Saturday and I didn't have to go to the job that has become the bane of my existence.

Finally, I arrived at my front door and the promise of air conditioning. I turned the key, I turned the knob, and I stepped inside. The air was refreshing but the sight before me was... some mixture of shocking and impressive? The eight month old bull terrier puppy had managed to open the kitchen gate, find the new package of toilet paper we'd just bought, and TP the living room confetti-style. Upon this sight, my mind went rushing back to that moment in the store when Matt and I were discussing whether or not we should get the twelve double rolls (they are equal to 24!) or the less cumbersome four-pack. An optimist would agree that even in hindsight we made the best decision as Obi-Wan wouldn't have had nearly as much fun with four measly little rolls.

No Obi-Wan, you will not be replacing those
cute little puppies in the toilet paper commercials
anytime soon...

So, how did I react? After quickly assessing the damage I clipped on Obi's leash and took him outside for a very high-spirited potty break. Despite escaping the kitchen and having a wild TP party, he had not made a single potty mistake on the floor! I already knew why he destroyed the toilet paper, that was a no-brainer. It was fun, it was accessible, and he's an eight-month-old puppy. You'd be surprised how many dog owners obsess over issues such as this and ask how to "fix" it! We are sometimes ridiculous in how we process dog behavior. :)

Of course, later that night when Matt got home from work and Obi-Wan got super excited, he did end up peeing on the floor. However, I was able to catch him in the act immediately because some of that pee happened to splash up right onto my toe. The moment I said Obi's name, he looked more remorseful than I have ever seen him. It was actually pretty tough to keep a stern tone at that point because I knew right away that he had not done this on purpose. In fact, Obi is nearly completely potty trained at this point and in his excitement he had just stopped thinking. We went right outside, and he finished up his business there. No big deal. No need to rant and rave and ask the heavens why, because I already knew the answer and that Obi would improve on this in the future as he clearly understood what he had done wrong.

None of this is to say that I've never gotten incredibly angry about something a pet has done; that would be a lie! Dogs are fantastic at doing things that frustrate us and sometimes downright infuriate us. To deny this would be to avoid a very important lesson in understanding ourselves and our animals. I believe that many of the harsher "training methods" out there were created due to knee-jerk reactions, frustration, and misguided expectations. Maybe deep down, we feel ashamed when we get angry and so it helps to have justification for that anger? It quickly becomes easier to believe that the dog was trying to take over your household, dominate you, or spite you. This is especially true when you're not sure why something really did happen. This is also why we must be dedicated to understanding animal behavior at its core.

Please keep all of this in mind next time your dog frustrates or upsets you. There are many reasons for dogs to do certain things and if you take a moment to use common sense and read your dog's body language, you'll see just how complex this can get. There is no blanket answer to the question "why" and be wary of any trainer or "behaviorist" who seems to think otherwise. A well adjusted dog is the result of an owner who has learned to communicate clearly, carry themselves appropriately, and train with respect and understanding.

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