wtorek, 25 lutego 2020

Being an owner of a difficult dog sucks

Being an owner of a difficult dog is very taxing thing. Or to be more precise, being a RESPONSIBLE owner of a difficult dog (otherwise, you just don't care and let the world deal with your problematic dog). By difficult I mean dogs with behavioural issues such as fearfulness, aggression, anxiety, reactivity etc., not dogs that for one reason or another fail to fulfill their owners expectations of perfect show / sport dog. That's another story and I don't really want to discuss it now.

Being an owner of a difficult dog engages so much of your mental and psychological resources. 
You try to control the dog, so you need to be always vigilant and ever watchful. If your dog doesn't really like other dogs, you need to watch for all those fucking friendly golden retrievers, who are always off-leash with the owner hundreds of meters away yelling joyfully "he only wants to say 'hi'!", in order to distance yourself before your dog lunges, before you get into yet another verbal fight with the said owner after his stupidity caused you a major setback in your work with your reactive dog. You tend to walk in those abandoned places or in unearthly hours to avoid meeting anyone. The walks are hardly the fun they were supposed to be when you decided to get the dog in the first place. 

You try to control the environment, keeping your dog under threshold, which quite often is impossible, because well, the world is unpredictable and full of children on bikes, birds, dogs wanting to say 'hi', plastic bags flying over from nowhere and also, unfortunately, people deprived of even tiny shred of imagination and consideration. Seriously, you never notice that, until you have a difficult dog and then of course the weirdest things happen exactly when you are working with that one dog that might have problem with them. Like you know, of all of our dogs, Flaszek used to be the fearful one, and of course it was him I was running when some lady decided to shake off her blanket in the very precise moment when he was weaving two meters away from her etc. I mean Brego wouldn't even notice, so it didn't happen to him. 

You try not to lose hope, while at the same time progress might be unbelievably slow and more often than not it feels like you're taking one step forward and two steps back. 

You try not to blame yourself, but you do. After all, there must be a reason why other people have normal dogs, dogs that behave, dogs that don't bark their heads off when the agility judge pulls a hood over his head in the rain, dogs that don't vocalise when left alone in the appartment, dogs that never attack other dogs or people, dogs that are ok with being touched by strangers, dogs that are not resource guiding like maniacs and so on and so on.

You try to find help, while at the same time ignoring all the unsolicited advice of self-proclaimed experts, people telling you that you're doing it wrong, people telling you that you're not trying hard enough, that you are trying too hard, that it will never work, that it's not for you. People who offer you platitudes that everything will be fine, you're doing just great are also dangerous, as they either lie and badmouth you behind your back or don't really know what they are talking about. 


First of all, not all dogs are created equal. 

So no, it's not your fault. You were dealt a shitty hand. You were faced with a situation that you didn't sign up for. Did you make mistakes? For sure you did, but don't beat yourself about it. You were doing your best at that time, with the knowledge you had, with the abilities you had, you progressed by trial and error. Some mistakes can be repaired. Some can't. Could someone else do a better job with that dog? Perhaps. Would someone else give up long time ago or mess things up even further? For sure. 

Secondly, at the end of the day, there are only some things you MUST do. You must ensure safety and relative comfort of your dog, other dogs and people. This is your responsibility and your duty, especially if your dog is aggressive. 
But don't forget about yourself. As I said, taking care of a difficult dog is exhausting and stressful and prolonged stress is one of the leading causes of depression. Seek help for yourself if you begin to feel this is just too much. 

Otherwise, you don't have to do anything. You don't have to fix your dog. Sometimes it's not even possible. You don't have to explain yourself to anyone. You don't have to make a success story out of your difficult dog - you might manage to do so and it's great as it gives hope, but every great trainer has a story of failure as well.

I do feel that in the end you get rewarded for all that trouble one way or another. Maybe all your hard work pays off eventually. Maybe one day you realise how much you've learnt and that you have knowledge and experience you would have never gained otherwise. Maybe your difficult dog gets old, a little deaf, a little blind, a little less active, a lot less reactive and suddenly you enjoy peace and understanding in your relationship as you never knew before. Maybe one day you get another dog that is that easy-going soulmate you've been dreaming about all that time. But that doesn't change the fact that while it lasts, being an owner of a difficult dog sucks. Cut yourself some slack. Take care of yourself.