By Sean O’Shea
So many folks have great intentions. They want to love, nurture, and enjoy their dogs, but somewhere along the line they get off track. They may not even realize that they’re using their dog in place of a child, or an outlet for the love they’re aren’t comfortable sharing with people, or they simply go on “love auto-pilot” because it feels good.
And with some dogs you can get away with this with little fallout. But with the wrong dogs – those that are already prone to insecurity, anxiety, and difficulties dealing with stress, or extremely pushy and entitled dogs – you can hit the wall. Hard.
For these dogs, when given too much affection, love, and freedom, with not enough rules, structure, and guidance, they crash. They become highly anxious (separation anxiety is common), are unable to comfortably deal with stress or pressure (you’ll see lots of reactivity in the house and on walks – barking and reacting to everything), you can get overprotective behaviors (growling at guests and others), you can get resource guarding (of people, space, food, or toys), and you might even get serious aggression in the form of biting (could be your typical fear biting where they pounce when you turn around, or more overt and proactive).
This happens, because many dogs are already prone to elevated stress and anxiety levels. Once you remove the comfort of a believable authority figure and dependable structure and rules, the stress and anxiety levels go through the roof. These already vulnerable dogs now have the perfect ingredients and environment for serious trouble. And behavioral issues are almost always guaranteed.
These dogs now become highly insecure, highly stressed, highly anxious, bratty, unsure, nervous, pushy, you name it.
Why? Because we all (dogs and people) depend on dependable guidance. Dependable rules. Dependable accountability. Dependable structure to lean on. But who needs it most? Those that come with already compromised experiences, those without great genetics to lean on, those that are already vulnerable.
This is how our good intentions can lead us and our dogs into unfortunate places. Mistakenly believing these guys simply need our softness – or because we simply enjoy sharing softness and what it fulfills in us, and/or that discipline is much harder work – we leave them feeling the opposite of what we want: Alone, scared, worried, dependent, unsure, insecure etc.
Because we won’t do the hard and sometimes uncomfortable work of sharing with them what’s expected of them, and how to cope and behave – because we won’t guide them and show them – they will do their best to figure it out in their own. And let me assure you, for already stressed, anxious, nervous dogs, figuring it out on their own is the worst sentence you can give them.
This is how we create doggy train wrecks.
Instead, if we’ll walk the path of balance, doing the hard work of sharing disciple, structure, and rules – and if we’ll truly lead them as much as we love them – we can create dogs that excel instead of struggle. Dogs that consistently improve instead of slowly falling apart.
Hopefully this helps explain how our good intentions of helping often turn into hurting. How by way of “love” we often sentence dogs to struggle and suffer.