My foster dog Charlie passed a new milestone yesterday. He moved into the house.
Charlie’s been living next door at the training center. There are a couple of cozy, indoor kennels there along with safe indoor and outdoor exercise areas. I don’t usually keep foster dogs in the kennel but Charlie spent most of his young life being held as evidence. He missed out on most of the key early socialization experiences a healthy puppy needs. Because he had seen so little of the world, coming into the house – or even the garage – was A Very Big Deal to him. Every item he came across was utterly alien to him and it had to be processed. And that kind of processing takes up a lot of a dog’s brain power. So keeping him in the quieter, more spartan environment of the training building helped keep Charlie’s stress at a manageable level while I got him over the initial hurdles of his fear and aggression.
After a little more than a month here Charlie has discovered that he’s rather fond of Mark, Zip, Audie and I and he’s decided that he doesn’t need to attack us. Yay! He understands that being brushed and touched won’t kill him and that it can even be pleasant. He’s learned to walk politely on a leash; to sit to say “please”; to come when he’s called; to stop doing whatever he’s doing when I say ‘leave it’; and to accept being crated. He hasn’t learned to do his business outside and he has absolutely no house manners whatsoever. He’s prone to over-reacting and he still has a short fuse.
Still, I have great expectations for young Charlie.
Expectations are a vital part of the foundation of our relationships with dogs. Unfortunately they’re also a place where we often fail them.
When you get a new pet, whether you buy a puppy or adopt an adult dog, you should assume that you will need to teach this dog everything. If you start out expecting too much of your dog he will, of course, fail to meet your expectations. And if, in your disappointment, you decide that your dog is stupid and untrainable – he’ll be damned to a life of frustration and boredom.
So what do I expect? Simply that:
- It”s my responsibility to set and enforce a fair, consistent set of rules, limits and boundaries for him to follow
- That I need to put forth a significant effort to keep Charlie out of trouble until he learns to follow the rules
- That I owe him the time, attention and effort necessary to bring out his best
At this point in our relationship this means that I need to micro-manage just about every moment of Charlie’s life.
When he’s in the house he is either crated, tied to me with a four-foot leash or closed up in the laundry room. There are no exceptions. When he’s outside he is either in one of our two fenced yards or on a leash or long line held in my hand.
Because Charlie has seen so little of the world he is amazed by everything. And when I say everything – I mean every thing. Puttering around the house with him tied to my waist is a like taking a walk with a charming three-year old child that speaks a different language. He wants to – he needs to – explore absolutely everything and I need to find creative ways to nurture and encourage him. It’s completely maddening – and utterly delightful.
An incredible array of things capture his attention. It can take a half hour just to walk through a room with him. When it all gets to be a bit much and he becomes nervous or insecure I don’t console him, I pump him up. I remind Charlie how brave he is – and then I give him a break. All I expect from this dog right now is that he explore my house with cheerful curiosity so he can develop the confidence he needs to take the next step in becoming the dog he was born to be.
If I maintain realistic expectations at each step of Charlie’s training and development it will keep both of us from getting frustrated. And the successes that come from having fair expectations will eventually lead us to the great ones that will allow him to become a great dog.