A friend with several children related to me how they had gotten a 6-month-old Golden Retriever. Before long, the dog jumped up on the 5-year-old, knocked her to the ground, and scratched her face with a claw. The dog did this repeatedly, wantonly, even when the girl would begin crying, even after being clearly told "no". The dog was quickly returned to the shelter. He was clearly not a good dog and probably not a real Golden Retriever, because it's common knowledge that Golden Retrievers and Good Dogs in general are gentle and harmless to children.

The differences between happiness and disaster when owning dogs is expectations. Just like marriage, or having a baby, we can set sail with certain ideas about how the other party will act.

Owners who familiarize themselves with normal dog behavior have realistic expectations. They are ready to set boundaries and make compromises while the dog is being taught new habits. The Culture Clash is one of the best books I've read on integrating dogs into human environments. In contrast, owners who don't realize they are bringing a barely-domesticated jackal into their homes may never progress to training "good manners". It seems to them the dog is a bad apple and not worth the effort. Their childhood dog didn't act that way. Their uncle's dog doesn't do that. There's no humping scene in Lady And The Tramp. This dog must be some sort of psycho.

Another acquaintance proudly related that his teenage daughter had saved up and gotten herself a miniature Schauzer puppy. I was surprised when he led me to the farthest corner of his shady property, where the rabbit-sized puppy was tied to a sliding run. The little brat had peed in the house several times so was no longer allowed inside. While the daughter was at school, he was banished to the back of the property because he had a very annoying, piercing bark when left alone. Needless to say, about two months later the neglected dog was on Craigslist.

These sad and unnecessary episodes could have been prevented by warning the owners about the realities of owning a dog. They might think twice about whether to take on such a responsibility if they knew some simple truths. Such as

1. Your dog WILL pee in the wrong place at least once in its lifetime. Just expect it. Any dog that doesn't is a rare, deviant individual, or owned by an unusually proactive and skilled trainer. Despite numerous accidents, thousands of owners manage to potty-train even difficult pups.

2. Until painstakingly trained otherwise, normal dogs bark, jump, chase, gnaw, and bite. If you can't stand this sort of behavior, don't get an untrained dog. It takes weeks or months to train them to keep paws on the floor, bite only toys, and remain quiet and content when out of sight of their owners.

3. Individual personality trumps breed tendencies, and the reality of being a canine trumps all. There are some really snappish, intolerant Labs and perfectly friendly Akitas. Contrary to what Disney may suggest, no dog ever has or ever will act like or completely understand Homo sapiens. Let's face it, even I don't understand my own species sometimes.

4. Dogs bark. They also growl and snap. Vocalizations are part of how dogs indicate their emotional state. If you do not care to know how your dog is feeling, or if dog-talk is very disturbing to you or a family member, there are many wonderful cats and small llamas looking for homes.

5. Dogs do what works. If barking gets them out of the crate, they'll bark. If lying quietly in their bed gets kibble thrown at them, they'll lie quietly. Don't accept that an obnoxious house-soiler, chewer, or jumper will not change his ways, given sufficient motivation. Learn about what dogs can be trained to do; know what you want to see and train consistently towards the goal.

6. Training takes time. It may take several weeks to change a habit but persistence will pay off. It's easy to get exasperated after guiding the dog into the correct behavior just 30 or 50 times but don't abandon ship! If that's all the chances our parents gave us, none of us would have made it.

7. Dogs need physical and mental exercise. They can do it your way, or they can do it their way. You don't want to see their way.

8. Dogs are never easy. Sooner or later, your adorable pet will defy you, embarrass you, ignore you, cost you, exhaust you, and scare you. If you can't answer, clearly and coherently, why you have a dog in the first place, it won't be worth it. Stuffed animals are cute and controllable. Dogs are complicated.


Responsible Dog Ownership
Preventing Dog Bites