The New Year always ignites a flurry of activity amongst people: slates are being wiped clean, goals are being set, and resolutions are created.
As I sat down to draft my own ambitions for the year, it prompted me to think about goals and that to create them we need to have reasonable expectations of ourselves. I could easily create the goal of going out more (pandemic aside) to socialize and meet new people, however, considering my social anxieties and preference to stay home, this goal would be naïve.
Unrealistic expectations are a daily occurrence in my profession as a dog trainer. People want so much from their dogs and often these desires do not align with the dog in front of them.
I believe that we are doing our dogs a disservice when we expect things from them that are outside of their capacity.
It's important to understand that, like people, dogs are individuals. Every dog is slightly different than the next, from their personality, their motivations to their likes and dislikes.
This might mean that the dog you own doesn't love all people, or finds loud noises concerning.
Your 12-week-old, wet behind the ears puppy may not be able to resist sampling the steaming filet-mignon sitting eye-level on the coffee table. Even though your previous dog could do so with "zero training at all, because he just knew better."
This may mean that the dog in front of you is not, what we might call, a "dog park dog."
It can be challenging for people to adjust the expectations they have of their dog. I myself have struggled with my dog not fitting into the mental mold I had created for him. This is a difficult pill to swallow.
Why does self-control come naturally to some dogs, but seem impossible to others?
What do you mean my dog isn't well suited for a dog park? It's a dog park!
Something important for every dog owner to understand is that we do not get to determine what our dog likes or dislikes. No more than I can 'make' my (human) daughter like spicy foods (she hates all spice) or tell her what her favorite color is going to be.
This was a particularly difficult concept for me to come to terms with when my own dog started to bark and lunge at dogs encountered during walks. I could not understand why my dog wouldn't want to be around other dogs.
(Note: not all dogs who lunge and bark at other dogs on leash dislike other dogs.)
As I worked through challenges presented to me as the owner of this evolving animal, I slowly realized that just because I wanted my dog to like the company of other dogs it did not mean that was what he wanted.
He in fact wants the exact opposite and prefers if dogs just leave him the heck alone!
After several months of wading through various emotions such as denial, frustration, disappointment and guilt, I was able to accept the fact that what I had envisioned for my dog was not his reality.
I decided to train the dog in front of me.
It was only then that I was able to adjust my expectations of him, and create ones that were appropriate for who he is, and what he enjoys in life. I threw away the mold I had prematurely created for him, and made one that fit him properly. As a result, I am able to set him up to be successful in life, which is a victory for both of us.
As you're writing out your own New Years resolutions this year, I encourage you to create goals that are realistic. Ones that align with the person you are at your very core.
Do the same for your dog. Put aside who you think your dog should be and what you want him to like and determine if your ambitions support the dog staring back at you.
I hope that this year is one for the books, and not because of it's shock value.
I am wishing you a happy, healthy, and realistic 2021.
Vanessa Charbonneau, is the author of Dog Care for Puppies: A guide to Feeding, Playing, Grooming and Behavior. She owns Sit Pretty Pet Services, employing force-free training techniques to work with companion dogs and their owners. Charbonneau lives in Prince George, BC with her husband, two daughters, and one dog.