Yes that’s right, its been on my mind a few times over the 5 years I’ve had Cooper. I’ve even had him booked in once, obviously I couldn’t go through with it, as the donkey is still here!
Am I a bad person for wanting to effectively kill my best friend? To end his life because I can’t seem to help him? Can I even help him? Am I the one making his behaviour worse? Quite possibly, in fact I’d have probably said it was more than likely…
Cooper arrived at 16 weeks old from a friend who couldn’t cope with the whole puppyhood thing (the peeing, pooping, constant need for attention) … a term used in the business as “Post-Puppy Depression”. Many would argue that he was still only a baby, so he shouldn’t have that many issues, right?
Wrong… see Coopers puppy development stage was at the SOCIALISATION phase, and that, at 16 weeks, had just closed… very important stage in life where between the ages of 11-16 weeks if you want your pup to grow up confident and accepting of most things in life, do it in that little 5-week window, anything after that, you’re going to struggle. The flip-side to this, is that if you don’t teach them good things and they only experience bad things… the bad things will affect them their whole lives… manhandling can make a dog sensitive to touch, being overwhelmed by bigger, or more excitable dogs can make them defensive or even fearful, being left alone and not taught to cope with it can make them anxious to be left as well as not getting them used to different people/animals/situations… all of which can have a devastating effect on your puppy’s confidence. In Coopers case, he was taken to work in the van with his previous owner, came home and slept in a cage overnight. He wasn’t allowed on the furniture in the evening, even though he really wanted to, and left outside to play by himself on occasion.
He wasn’t treated badly or abused… He just wasn’t taught to function as a confident dog in a human world, so how does this affect him as an adult dog?
Well he travels great in the car, because he was socialised with it during his development… however, being left to his own devices in a cage, meant he learned to be a dirty puppy (anyone who has researched crate training will know that a cage manipulates the fact dogs wont naturally mess in their bed however, if left long enough, they really won’t have a choice.) He doesn’t like to be left alone or separated from the action. Not being allowed on the furniture as a pup would have meant that he would have got frustrated and not given a way out of this frustration, and tolerating frustrating situations is key to anyone’s life, dog, cat, human… I want a million pound, but I can’t have it… so I have to learn to live with it. The same for dogs, so if Cooper had been taught to quit trying to get on the sofa and move onto something else, like playing with a toy or going to settle on his bed instead, maybe he wouldn’t argue with me now if I tell him to leave something alone… you should really see him, literally an exchange of moans and groans until he decides “fine, I give up” then he just moves to the other sofa and stares at me in disgust! Cooper will leave anything I ask him to, but if I turn away or get distracted, you better know he would snatch it away in a heartbeat!
The main reason he is still alive, and a very much-loved part of my family is because he is the most loving, dopey, funny and incredibly smart dog I know, and I see his potential. Understanding why he sometimes acts aggressively to others and towards myself, or he pees up everything at least 10 times if I leave him out of his “safe space” and knowing when to back off from him in certain situations has meant that we have progressed in ways I couldn’t have dreamed of 3 or 4 years ago. There was a time when I had him in my kitchen with 2 baby gates on the door and he still jumped over it (the gap was about a foot wide at the top of the highest gate!!) but not before he had smeared the whole of the kitchen floor and the cupboards in dog crap! Yes, it was bad, very bad, and this was everyday… he was never really a chewer, thank god! Id have been homeless!! Some days I cried, he exhausted me…
Through careful training and understanding his behaviour, we have made massive steps towards him being a “normal” dog. He will now stay in the house, quietly and comfortably, and sometimes even without the other dogs there (which is a massive step for any anxious dog!). He will also meet new people without lunging and barking at them. He also gets to know new dogs, when done constructively and calmly.
My training is designed around teamwork and having your team mates back. A few years ago, I would have said I hated him, and at certain times in his life, I can honestly say that I probably did. When you start to see a tiny little bit of a difference in your “naughty dogs” behaviour, all the other stuff falls by the wayside. I try so hard not to focus on the negatives of Coopers training, and really focus on his victories, for my own mental well-being, and also his. We can celebrate together then, what better way to build your dogs confidence??
Why not then draft in a behaviourist to fix him?
I’ll be honest with you, I know plenty of fantastic behaviourists that are also my friends, and the main problem for myself and many others has always been cost. That’s not to say these people aren’t worth it because my god, they really are! A good behaviourist is worth their weight in gold, and they don’t come cheap. The amount of time, effort and money it costs a behaviourist to get where they are is phenomenal, something a paper qualification based on a couple of online modules certainly can’t buy. I have a degree in Animal Behaviour, I’d still say that doesn’t qualify me to assess a dogs behavioural problems.
Below I have included a list of things to keep in mind when looking for a trainer or behaviourist:
1. PREPARE - When you get a puppy, use a reputable and qualified dog trainer to help you through those important life stages. An online qualification from "pet-trainerz-r-us" does not a good dog trainer make.
2. DON’T BE AFRAID TO ADMIT YOU’RE STRUGGLING - If you are struggling, get help, sooner rather than later. A good trainer can help you through most things before a good behaviourist is needed.
3. DO YOUR RESEARCH - Word of mouth is a wonderful tool. Look at reviews on a number of social media platforms or ask around people you know. Have a look at what they’re posting online, is it helpful? Is it knowledgeable?
4. DON’T BE TOO HARD ON YOURSELF OR YOUR POOCH - Be prepared to put in maximum effort for maximum reward. It will be hard, at times you’ll want to scream, you’ll want to cry, you may even want to slap the bloody dog – its only human, its frustration… anger is an emotion, you can set up camp in it, just don’t live there. Don’t let emotion take over, think rationally and go back a step to progress once again. Your emotions can have a huge impact on how your dog progresses… Help them succeed by remaining calm, I use mindfulness.
5. OBSERVE THEN ACT - If you do find yourself with a dog that’s developing behavioural problems, seek help, and FAST! Don’t let the behaviour fester and grow. I would recommend a clinical behaviourist, one that only takes cases through a vet referral. This way your vet can rule out any pain related issues that may be affecting your dogs behaviour.
Til next time