Are Your Expectations For Your Dog
There’s a middle ground for everything. When it comes to their dogs, though, owners usually
expect too much or too little from their dogs. From those that expect too much,
it goes something like this: He knows how to sit! He’s just too
stubborn to do it when people come over.
Or, for those that expect
too little, it’s a version of this sentiment: Oh, he’s just a puppy – you can’t expect a puppy to know how to sit at
this age! (Mind you, their dog
could be 8 years old, but this is the language they use).
The problem with both of these
viewpoints is that the expectations of the owner are way off. This month’s
newsletter will take a look at our expectations and help you decide if you’re
being fair to your dog, or if you’re just making excuses for your dog’s
Expecting Too Much
Dogs, like people, need to be taught what to do. They don’t intrinsically know that we don’t like
it when they pull on the leash, jump on our visitors, or bark at the neighbor’s
dog. They only way they know what to do and when to do it is if we take an
active role in teaching them the rules of the road.
The people who expect too much from their dog are
usually forgetting about three factors our dog’s face in their daily life:
distractions, distance, and duration.
This means that just because your dog knows how to sit, he can’t automatically
sit when someone rings your doorbell, he can’t sit in place when you’re 20 feet
away from him, and he can’t sit and stay – unless…
Unless you take the time to teach him how to sit with those three criteria.
Each of these conditions must be taught
individually then (and only then), can
you start putting them together and use them in real life. For instance, let’s say I’ve taught our new
service puppy in training, Monti, to sit when someone wants to pet her. We
taught her to do this: at home (not in public – distractions), with family
members (not with strangers – distractions), and we pet her as soon as her butt
hits the floor (she doesn’t have to keep her butt down for long –
duration). For me to expect her to be
able to put her butt on the ground at the local farmer’s market is awfully
To put it in a different context: when you watch professional sports teams execute
specific plays, they aren’t running those plays for the first time. They’ve
practiced those plays forward and backward and inside out during practice (many practices – some with pads, some without,
with full contact, without contact, etc.), before those plays ever make it to
the playing field. The coach makes sure those players can flawlessly execute
the play before calling it. He’s sure those players are ready for the play. Why
would you ask your dog to do something that you haven’t adequately prepped him
Expecting Too Little
On the flip side, there are people who think their
dog isn’t capable of basic manners. We’ve all endured the large two-year old “puppy”
who is “just super friendly and wants to say hi” by putting his front paws on
your shoulder and looking you in the eye. Friendly? Maybe. Inappropriate?
Definitely. ALL dogs can learn good manners – the owner just needs to take time
to teach the dog. Expecting too little from a dog is just as unfair as
expecting too much. Imagine if your son had NFL football talent, but the coach
of the neighborhood league had him on 3rd string and didn’t develop
your son’s talent. How frustrating would that be to you and to your son?
We expect a lot from our service pups in-training. They need to be exceptionally talented dogs. However, we evaluate each dog
individually and against the job they’ll need to do (not against each
other). Take Siena, the Great Dane pup
in training that was just released from the program. Based on her temperament,
expecting her to walk into a public situation without reservation or fear would
have been expecting too much from her. But since the job required that, we did the right thing for the dog and found a
fantastic home for her where she could live a fabulous life being adored. Siena
wasn’t going to be able to make the progress necessary to become a service dog.
Instead of forcing the square peg into the round hole, we readjusted her life
so it would suit her.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Asti
Spumante, the little Labrador puppy in-training. She’s almost 16 weeks old, but we expect her to sit
before being petted, to walk nicely on a leash (no pulling), to look at us when
we call her name, and to exhibit a fair degree of self-control. When I ask her
to sit before people are allowed to pet her, the usual comment is “Oh, she’s
just a puppy, she can’t (or shouldn’t be asked) to do that.” Oh, yes she can!
Believe me, she can sit before someone pets her. Expecting any less of her
would be unfair to her, to the program, and to the people who want to pet her.
She can’t sit for very long, or if there are too
many people who want to pet her at once. But she can sit before being petted. So we adjust our expectations to
meet the dog. And in the end, ultimately we
are responsible for whether or not the dog can meet our expectations, not
As I expose her to more
distractions and increase the amount of time she needs to sit, I can then, in
turn, expect her to be able to handle those situations. But I can’t expect it
if I haven’t taught it.
Think about your dog and
what you expect from him – are your expectations fair? Or do you need to add
some training into your dog’s life for him to be able to meet your
expectations? Conversely, are you making excuses for your dog’s behavior? Maybe
a good manners class is all it’ll take for your dog to be a canine good
ambassador! Check out your local positive reinforcement trainers and get him
This is a good reminder. I think it’s time to expect more of our two-and-a-half-year-old German shepherd “puppy.”
Jana Rade says
I think just having to live in our civilized world places great demands on the adaptation abilities of our dogs. Their life conditions and requirements often have very little to do with what their instincts and innate needs are. We should always keep that in mind.
Pup Fan says
Good advice… sometimes I do need to find that balance!