What if you woke up in a new place and you didn’t understand the rules or the language. What if you needed to go to the bathroom and didn’t know how or who to ask? When a dog goes home for the first time, or to the vet for the first time, or out to the park or store, they may not understand the rules. This can cause our dogs to feel fear and anxiety. And sometimes it causes their dog guardians embarrassment.
“Life lived without guidelines is confusing and troubling.”
There are moments when my practically perfect puppy is, well, just a puppy. She’s a puppy that doesn’t always understand how to navigate a world according to human rules. Human rules can confuse, or worse, frighten, my puppy.
Give guidance to your dog to help her navigate the human world
Moonie has a pretty good grasp on the house rules, most of the time. Like most dogs, she has her moments of counter surfing.
“What?! That sweet potato was just sitting there…I was SURE you saved it for my snack!” – Moonie, innocently munching on a whole sweet potato
She still gets excited and might jump on a guest.
“Look who’s here!!! I’m SOOOO happy to see you! I haven’t seen you is SOOO long” - Moonie, greeting our dog walker who was just at the house two days before
She’s 10 months old and she IS a big puppy (140 pounds and growing!). Her excitement can cause temporary memory loss, which may result in her making undesirable choices (from my perspective). Moonie does many more things right than wrong – she comes when I call her (most of the time), she lies down when asked (most of the time), she is calm in her crate, she’s housetrained, she walks nicely on leash (most of the time).
We’re also working on community rules. That’s a bigger challenge. I can’t control the environment or how people approach us or how other dogs react to her. Being a big puppy, she gets a lot of attention, which can be good or bad.
While I can often predict Moonie’s response based on her body language, I’ll be perfectly honest – sometimes I make a mistake. Sometimes her response catches me by surprise - a bark, a growl, jumping up, cowering. When I look back on the situation to better understand, most of the time I can identify a signal she was giving me to help her – a slightly tucked tail, taking a small step backward. In those moments I failed her, not the other way around, even if I’m the one who’s embarrassed.
So what are Moonie’s guidelines for community manners? The most important skill is looking to me when she’s uncertain. I can’t prepare her for every situation, but I can teach her to look to me when she needs help. Beyond that, I have a few simple guidelines:
Walk politely on leash
When greeting people, please keep all four feet on the ground
When greeting dogs, please look away and for good measure, sniff the ground
When at the store, stay close to me, however you may look/sniff as much as you like
When in the car, relax, sniff the air – head hanging out the window is optional
Trust me – I may ask you to do weird things (like cooperate with the vet), but I won’t intentionally put you in any situation that will cause harm
This last guideline is the hardest to achieve and the easiest to fall apart. By providing realistic guidelines that prevent confusion, fear and uncertainty, Moonie will learn that I am trustworthy. In the mean time, I’ve got veggies on the counter that need to be put away and a puppy that’s ready to get out in the community and practice good manners.
Delores & Moonie