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All Dogs are Good Dogs!

Dogs and Cats
Yes, all dogs are good dogs (cats too, of course), which is what came to mind the other day when Sophie did her business right where she was supposed to, versus my rug or my bed (What a relief, those days are over). I repeated to her over and over, “Good Girl, Good Girl” in my usual high pitched voice gently clapping my hands and jumping for joy like a good little girl myself. And indeed, Sophie really has come a long way to doing all the things I set out to want her do. But the thought hit me right then, “yes she’s a good dog”, but “All Dogs are Good Dogs”. So I’ll say it again as I said it to myself, all dogs are good dogs even when they do something we prefer that they don’t. And I’ll add, “There are NO bad dogs”!

What we do have are poor training techniques, and poor behaviors ourselves. Now, I have mentioned before that I prefer conditioning and reconditioning versus training our best friends because too many times I witness people using “no” too often and especially too harshly when “training their dogs”. I personally have only used the word no two or three times in 8 months, and it isn’t because Sophie came home with me behaving perfectly (Don’t want a perfect dog anyway).

Now I am not an animal behaviorist so please know that I am not writing as a professional here, but the training methods including “corrections” are just not in my repertoire. Yet, I can say that positive reconditioning and reinforcement techniques are and have worked for me, while I have witnessed people correcting their dogs over and over for the same behavior that they want changed.

Here’s just one example.

My neighbor tugs and jerks her little dog’s collar every single time he barks quite ferociously as a bigger dog is coming down the block. Her dog starts barking when the bigger dog is about ¼ of a block away and continues while lunging as the dog passes. Yet, each time that she jerks his collar calling him a bad boy, he continues. Good dog, poor reconditioning. Some people may call it poor training, but I hope we can “recondition” ourselves to never say bad dog.

While I did touch upon animal behavior in school, I learned more about some wonderful conditioning tips from a book titled “For the Love of a Dog” by Patricia McConnell. What I did do with my little Sophie was to reward the positive behaviors and ignore the not so positive behaviors. The rewards were and are anything from me lightly squealing in a high pitch voice repeating good girl jumping and clapping with big smiles, to giving her little pieces of chicken. And boy did she catch on fast. While all dogs have individual personalities with individual temperaments generally they want to please us, and getting a favorite treat doesn’t hurt either!

You might ask, but how does that prevent the not so good behaviors? That is where part of the reconditioning comes into play. If we can catch the behaviors beforehand, we can distract and reward another behavior that is positive immediately. So if we have our dog turn away and sit at the first sign of another dog approaching before he barks, rewarding him, then over time this reconditions the behavior we want. The point is to gradually reward the positive behavior as an approaching dog gets closer and closer until he realizes that he will be rewarded for not barking and lunging. Of course, I’ve really simplified this. Let me say that along the way, I developed more patience, a more positive behavior myself as well.

Adopting Sophie has been much more rewarding than I ever expected. I had my own expectations and quite a few surprises from Sophie about her many behaviors, which now are well on their way to being all positive. One, which I mention in my first post, would have been a deal breaker 20 years ago.

Behavioral problems are one of the top reasons people bring their dogs to shelters, and bring back their adopted dogs to a shelter. Is it a dog’s fault? Is the dog bad? Absolutely not. One major problem is a lack of positive conditioning, knowledge, patience and commitment.

Of course there are other reasons people give up their dogs and cats, including not choosing the right species, breed, personality, etc. when they pick a new dog or cat. I know that 20 years ago I chose a wonderful dog but the one wrong for me and my lifestyle. Good dog, wrong decision on my part. All Dogs are Good Dogs. So while some reality shows have titles such as Bad Dog, or The Cat from Hell, these titles are meant to grab our attention. Bad Dog shows the mischievous ways our friends can behave, while doing so in a humorous way, and The Cat from Hell I am pleased to say addresses what behaviors we humans need to change versus blaming the cat. I can only hope that we change our perceptions and behaviors so that we don’t need to name these shows with sensationalized titles reinforcing how we use animals in a negative way in our everyday language (He treated me like a dog, for instance).Maybe then we can contribute to less good dogs and cats becoming homeless.

Adopt and Save a Life.

Next: What studies suggest about selecting a best friend!

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Sophie is Home!

Sophie & the BowWhen I first wrote about Sophie, I gave the first post the title “Sophie’s Homecoming”. Now, my title reads “Sophie is Home”; so what’s the difference?

Sophie’s homecoming was about her behavior, reactions, and adjustments that first day, week and first several months that I observed. Now, eight months later, I sense from my observations, that she is truly home. Truly home meaning totally relaxed, confident, playful and all the things I surmise feeling at home might mean for her. In so many ways, I compare this to when we humans feel at home after arriving in a new place.

She has her favorite spots, her favorite toys, routines; she plays, has her” I want to rest spot”, goes pee pee exactly in the appropriate place, runs away like a little devil when the brush comes out, along with all the little habits, which take time to form, and well I can go on and on.

You may think I’m anthropomorphizing, but all I can say is that she is a completely different dog than eight months ago, and even than 6 months ago, and I’m not the only one noticing. In fact, all my neighbors have noticed too.

So what’s my point? Well, my point is that when we humans adopt a human child, we usually get counseling, and ongoing support, with all sorts of information from social workers, adoption agencies, school teachers, etc. We’re also told all about the adjustment stages children go through after being in foster care, etc., and the amount of time it may take to achieve that “I’m Home” feeling. But what are we told, or counseled in about the adjustment and time needed when we adopt a dog or cat for them to feel at home?

While human needs are more complicated of course, the dogs and cats we adopt have deep feelings, and need adjustment time too. Maybe much more than many people realize. And just as matching children to the right family is vital to the success of the adoption, so is matching a companion animal to the right family also vital for success. Unlike human adoptions, animal adoption decisions are commonly made within a visit or two to shelters.

According to a recent study,

“The majority of the 6 to 8 million animals that are homeless each year are dogs (National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy, NCPPSP 2009; Humane Society of the United States 2010). Of the dogs that end up at shelters each year, most arrive there because of owner relinquishment. Worldwide, studies reveal that a significant number of adopted dogs are returned to shelters. The return rate of dogs to shelters ranges from about 15% +(Mondelli et al. 2004) to 50% (NCPPSP 2009). Approximately 60% (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ASPCA 2011a) are euthanized.

In an attempt to keep so many dogs from being euthanized, pet adoption has been promoted, but with limited success. There is a need to reduce the number of dogs relinquished each year by owners. One way to achieve this is to understand the factors related to pet satisfaction”. 1.

Calling upon my own psychology studies, I’d like to add that expectations play a large role in success or failure of the things we choose. Unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointments, and my guess is this plays a role also in why so many people relinquish their dogs, adopted or not adopted. Whether this means unrealistic expectations of the companion animal chosen and the adjustment period, expectations of the responsibility, or not choosing the “right companion animal” or all of the above, realistic expectations prior to choosing an animal is part of what will make it successful.

The research paper goes on to give some reasons for relinquishing their dog based upon a unique study

“The problem of relinquished dogs is a worldwide concern. In Italy, in the first study of its kind (Mondelli et al. 2004), researchers reviewed questionnaire responses of people who returned a dog to a shelter. They found that, during a six-year period, 86.3% of dogs were adopted, and of these about 15.2% were returned. Of the people who returned a dog, 71.2% completed a survey. Responses indicated that 38.8% of these people returned the dog primarily for behavioral reasons. Some of the problematic behaviors were “vocalizes too much, hyperactive/stereotypes, destructive/soils house, escapes, and disobedient and problems with other pets.” Next, 34% stated management problems, which included “animal medical issue, no time for pets, personal or family reasons, pet conflict, small house, and no apparent owner”. Other reasons people returned dogs were aggression (14.9%), allergy (5.5%), and apartment block regulation (4.5%). In a few instances (2.3%), people did not give a reason for returning the dog (Mondelli et al. 2004).

I can only speak for myself. I had my own expectations and a few surprises from Sophie about her behavior, which as I stated in my first post would have been a deal breaker 25 years ago. Although I admit I would have never left a dog at a shelter. But since then I learned how deeply they feel, and I am still learning every day.

Sophie really is home, and my experience of watching her blossom from her previous unhappy life has been a joyful and fulfilling learning experience that I can’t help writing about.

Next: More on choosing a companion animal for a successful adoption.

Adopt and Save a Life!

1. Lisa A. Curb, Charles I. Abramson, et. Al, The Relationship between Personality Match and Pet Satisfaction among Dog Owners, ANTHROZOOS VOLUME 26, ISSUE 3