Labeling normal dog behaviors like barking, digging, jumping up, chasing, growling and others as problems is something my colleagues and I have started seeing more often in our classes and consultations. However, typical puppy behaviors can include mouthing, housesoiling, not wanting to be alone, eating everything in sight, running away, rolling in smelly stuff, chasing moving objects, growling, smelling other dogs’ rear ends or biting and mouthing. These are all natural behaviors, but sometimes a new owner may simply not have fully realized what having a puppy entails.
Indeed, our expectations may be high as we try to get our new pups to fit in with our busy schedules, be active when we want them to be, calm when we want them to be, eat when we are ready, play when we feel like it and go to the coffee shop because we think it is fun — when in fact some dogs may consider this to be not such a fun activity at all.
Sometimes we may forget what the needs of a “normal” dog are. This can mean we don’t always have the time or energy to play with them. Yet play has its purpose and is beneficial for dogs. Some dogs and puppies — but by no means all — like to associate and spend some time with their own species, and I do think it is necessary for their well-being if that is what they enjoy. If it is not, however, then it should not be forced upon them.
Dog parks are not suitable for every dog, but if a dog likes to spend time with other dogs (and, as previously stated, not all dogs do) but is not suitable for the dog park, then he may instead be provided with a group of canine friends that meet on a regular basis, a good day care, or a dog walker who matches appropriate dogs. To have a dog spending his life in the backyard and on the leash does not cater to his needs; dogs also need to run, sniff, play, work, enjoy games, puzzles and other forms of mental simulation, and have some fun too.
Often, we get dogs as companions but may end up having to leave them home alone for the best part of the day and then expect them to be calm when we come home. Dogs are social animals, and are not made to be home alone all day every day. They also need to stretch their legs and run, especially teenage dogs. Often, though, we control every move our dogs make. They are told what to eat, when to sleep, and where to walk — with little choice in anything that is important to them.
There are, in fact, many reasons why we add a dog to our family: they are very cute, they are good company, they can be good for our health, we want a running companion, the children have been wanting one forever, to name a few. But we also need to consider how we can give a dog a fulfilled, happy life.
In my opinion, dogs are not selfless or altruistic; rather they do whatever works. While we may feel sure that they love us, they are most likely not saving others, winning competitions, being great companions, and behaving at the coffee shop just because they love us, but because there is something in it for them. This can be barbecued chicken, cheese, hot dogs, a ball, cuddles — or whatever else they find reinforcing. Even so, what dogs can do for us should not be the only concern and I believe we should see it from their perspective too. To have a happy, well adjusted dog, we need to provide suitable outlets for them to be a dog. This means creating time and places for them to meet and interact with other dogs (but only if they like dogs), giving them choices on where to go, what to eat and where to rest. Let them dig at least in some parts of the yard, occasionally sniff other dogs’ rear ends, have the ‘zoomies,’ give them lots of things to chew, and provide plenty of mental stimulation.
It also means having realistic expectations: a dog who just spent hours home alone may not want to be calm and cuddle when you get home, but to play, run and go outside. As in any relationship, it goes both ways. A dog is not an accessory and it is important that prospective puppy owners make sure they have the time for a dog before they get that cute puppy. Dogs are great companions, but we also need to give something back and treat them as real dogs and make sure their needs are met. After all, maybe the purpose of a dog is simply to be a dog.