I recently worked with the sweetest, almost-senior dog. His previous owner had taught him to be such a perfect gentleman that he no longer knew how to behave like a normal dog when out on walks. He wouldn’t dream of sniffing, exploring or doing anything but walk very slowly and directly behind his human. I’ve not met a dog quite like him before.
His previous owner was incredibly kind and treated him exceptionally well, yet had been so diligent about teaching him perfect (albeit unique) leash etiquette that he no longer acted like a dog when he left the house. ‘Doggy’ things were now reserved solely for his off leash time in the yard at home.
While this worked perfectly for his previous owner, it has proved to be tremendously frustrating for the current one who would just like to go for an enjoyable brisk walk with her dogs!
A good part of our lesson was all about teaching him how to be a dog again. It was so fun pointing out interesting things for him to smell and seeing him gradually start to come out of his shell and investigate this new world a little.
After his first real sniff in the weeds beside the path we were on, he looked up at us with a smile on his face and a wag in his tail as if to say “That was awesome!” It took a lot of encouragement from us to get him to be willing to sniff around but, after a while, we noticed him starting to take quick sniffs on his own, but only for a few seconds before he would remember his job and fall back in line behind his human again.
This was a super fun session for me and a huge relief for his new owner to have a better understanding of what was going on for him and how she could help turn things around so that they could both enjoy their outings more together.
The bottom line here is that in our quest to turn our dogs into perfect citizens, sometimes we can go a little too far and turn them into thoughtless automatons instead.
Remember, relationships aren’t all take and no give. Nor are they about forcing the other to fit your ideal without letting them retain and experience life as they truly are.
Dogs are still dogs. They live through their senses, especially their noses. They need to sniff and smell and explore the richness of the world around them. No, they don’t need to smell the ENTIRE walk or you may not actually get anywhere (you Hound and Terrier owners know what I’m talking about!), but they still need the opportunity to be dogs some of the time.
So as you focus on your training goals and work towards teaching your dog to be a well mannered canine citizen today, don’t forget to leave something in it for your dog.