There are many different styles of pet parenting, just like there are many different schools of thought on how to best raise children. Each parent has his or her methods that feel natural and make sense to them. When learning something new about pet parenting, or trying out different techniques, you may find that it does not work for your dog. This can sometimes lead to a sense of failure or the idea that you’re just no good at this. But you and your dog don’t have to follow everyone else’s rules. Each dog is different; they are motivated by different things and learn in different ways. There is no “do X and your dog will do Y” approach to living with dogs and there are many different philosophies on how to train, what to feed, how they should play, where they should sleep, etc.
Take for instance the decision to allow your dog to sleep in your bed. You’ll often hear some very divisive opinions on the matter. Many people couldn’t imagine relegating their pups to a crate or doggie mat on the floor while they are sleeping. They’ll tell you all about the benefits of sharing your comfy bed with your fur baby. Then, there are people who don’t allow it, or just don’t like it. They might say they don’t sleep as well, or that it’s unhygienic. Some dogs prefer to share the bed with their parents, but some would rather have their own space. The point is that there is no right or wrong answer to this, it’s all about what works best for you and your dog.
Some people look at doting on your pup as coddling and spoiling them, making them less like the wolves they’re descended from. Others will tell you that a pup’s life is short and they should be able to enjoy it to the full. Some throw puppy birthday parties, others may just get them a little treat or toy that day, yet others may not even celebrate the occasion and would rather celebrate the anniversary of their pup’s adoption.
There is even some debate in the animal care world about what language we should use surrounding certain types of behavior in dogs. I tend to steer clear of the word “aggressive” because of the connotation it has with violent or vicious displays of behavior . Other caretakers I know try not to use the word “submissive” for the exact opposite reason – to avoid portraying the dog as a victim of mistreatment or abuse. But hey, if there are certain words that help you identify with your pup or describe their behavior, then that’s up to you. Again, not all of what is out there in the world of raising pups is on the side of being either completely right or wrong. Your opinions may also change as you learn more about working and living with dogs.
Of course there are instances that are absolutely, without question, the wrong way to raise a dog. Any type of physical abuse is obviously wrong and completely abhorrent. Leaving a dog out all day and night chained up is simply neglect, regardless of whether their food and water bowls stay full. Screaming at them only causes them to become fearful of you and can damage their sense of trust in you.
If your daily interactions with your pup come from a place of love and respect, you can find your own way of raising him or her. Positive reinforcement (like a reward for a good behavior) can be combined with negative reinforcement (for example, the game ends when fighting over the toy begins). Negative reinforcement does not mean hitting or yelling – it just means that when they’ve misbehaved, that fun thing that was just happening stops. Some dogs respond better to praise and belly rubs while others don’t care what you have to say as long as they get a treat. Training can involve a clicker, a key word, a certain tone of voice – whatever seems to best get their attention.
The one piece of advice that will be the most helpful is to find what works and stick to it. Dogs are creatures of habit and the more something gets repeated the easier it is for them to know what is expected from them. Try a few different methods to get the desired response, but when you get that response that’s what you’ll need to continue with. Progress comes from practice so you’ll often find that you have success with a certain method because 1) it gave you the response you were looking for and 2) you’ve continued to hone that technique.
There is a ton of information out there on how to live with dogs. Much of it comes from people who have worked with dogs for years and they’ll tell you their methods work best and their philosophy is the best approach to communicating with your canine companion. There can be some very useful lessons in there, but not all of it may apply to you or your dog. Not everything written about dog behavior or psychology is carved in stone. We are still learning about how dogs think and behave which contributes to the ways in which we interact with them. Ultimately, you know your dog best and have his or her best interests in mind. So if you read one day that the best way to get a dog to be quiet is to put your hand up in a “stop” signal and you’ve tried this a few times with no result, don’t get frustrated, just try something else. If you’ve been told that the best type of leader is the one who is quiet and does very little talking to their dog, well, you’ll know if that’s true of your relationship with your pup. Every dog is different just like every person is different. The way you both navigate the world together is going to be unlike that of every other pack out there. And that’s o.k.