Canine Appreciation – A Dog’s Joy
It should come as a shock to no one that I love dogs. That seeing a dog’s joy fills me with joy. That I feel their wins and triumphs together with them. I love their quirks, the way their genetics compel them to do certain behaviors, the way their attitudes can be shaped by their environments, their very “dogness” is one of the most endearing traits to me.
A dog’s joy can be so wholesome and truly cause us to pause to enjoy the smaller things in the moment. To enjoy the feeling of wind, or thoroughly greet a family member with gusto, or the singlemindedness that can appear when a dog has the zoomies.
It’s infectious to me, and I think many of us dog owners share this trait. We love dogs for who they are. A dog’s joy is very much our joy. This is why we have dogs!
But what happens when there are misunderstandings, unrealistic expectations, and over idealization of our dogs?
Humans vs Dogs
As two different species there are bound to be miscommunications between us and our dogs at times. It’s only natural. However it should not be the norm, and these days it is very common.
A lot of times there is a mismatch between the expectations of the humans and fundamentally who the dog is. This could be on an individual level or even with entire breeds. The needs of our canine companions, are somehow becoming lost in the shuffle, downplayed, or even just ignored. This alone causes chaos in the relationship we have with our dogs.
Our dogs very much need the space to be dogs and to perform natural dog behaviors. Things like digging, barking, chasing, running, exploring, sniffing, these are fundamentally written into our dogs genetics. Without outlets for natural behaviors, there will be dysfunctional behaviors that develop. A dog will be looking for ways to fulfill their biological needs, and without them they will be a wreck.
It’s only been within the last handful of decades that things have changes so drastically for our dogs. They’ve gone from being farm and ranch animals, active hunting, herding, livestock guardians, etc, to house pets. Additionally many dogs live in very urban areas, which can wreak havoc on certain breeds.
This series of changes is at the heart of many behavior “problems”. The reality of it all is that a lot of these “problems” are traits that the dogs have been bred for for generations and that are merely incompatible with the lifestyle the dog has found themselves in. The dogs are not broken and there actually is nothing wrong with them, the problem is with the environment not being suitable for them as a breed or individual.
There are needs going unmet creating dysfunction.
Many times I speak to owners and through our discussion about their dog and the unwanted behaviors happening it turns out that the dog doesn’t have the right support from their owners or the environment they are in. It is never an easy discussion to have when we begin to talk about how environment can impact behavior, or when we discover that an owner’s lifestyle is completely opposite of what that particular dog needs.
As hard as it is though, this is the first challenge that every owner with a challenging dog will face.
Creating Unwanted Behaviors
The path to dysfunction and trouble with a dog is a very easy one to go down. This is a story that I hear all the time from owners with huskies and husky mixes (but not restricted to just this breed). It is so common that I can usually guess the breed correctly before asking the owner when they describe what is happening.
One of the most common unwanted behaviors with these dogs is escaping and wandering off. These dogs dig out of yards, chew themselves off of tie outs, force themselves out of doors and bolt, break out of crates and pens, and also potentially have destructive behaviors if left alone for long periods. On top of this, good luck with recalling your husky if you see them running way from home.
In general these dogs are very frustrated by the lack of stimulation and breed fulfilment they are getting at home, and so their innate drives and genetics compel them to fill their needs any way they can. Which means that they will pounce on any opportunity to escape that they can and will not let anything stand in their way. And there is nothing wrong with these dogs! The problem is not with them, but instead with the environment and breed requirements
All breeds have quirks like this and certain breeds naturally are better suited to suburban lives. This is why it is SO important to choose the right breed for the lifestyle they’re going to be living in. It is critical not to try to bend a dog into a life that they will struggle to be successful in and to respect the fact that all breeds are different. This is a beautiful thing about dogs.
You might be surprised to learn that my household and the things I let my dogs do is not the same as what people might think. For example, my German Shepherd Pip, is a barky bitch (she barks enough for everyone). Her joy can easily be measured by barks and every day she barks at me for one reason or another. If I were to punish her or try to turn her into a quiet dog, this would not only remove part of her joy of life, but most likely be an unwinnable battle. It is a way that she expresses herself.
The way I deal with this is I allow her to bark, giving her that outlet, and making it clear that there are specific times that it’s ok and acceptable for her to do so. She is able to get it out of her system, I have a great barometer of her health and mental wellbeing, and we both win.
Another one of my dogs, Forte, loves to carry things. When she gets excited she finds great pleasure in carrying an object, running around the yard, and when she passes near me, growling and grumbling in happiness (if she barks she’d drop the object). This is one of the things that brings her joy and how she expresses herself. Once again of course I allow it, and have plenty of toys and other things that she is allowed to carry around to her heart’s content. If I did not allow this or provide items for her to do this with, my own personal things would fall victim to this behavior and most likely it would change from a simple carrying behavior to outright keep away.
I don’t want to detract from a dog’s joy in their life, I want to be enabling it safely, finding ways that they and their family can live in harmony with each other. I am not in the business of “fixing” dogs who aren’t broken in the first place, they’re just misunderstood or in environments that cause friction and conflict with their family.
We have a duty to our dogs to care for them the best we can and provide lives that fulfill all members of the family.