Every Family Needs a Dog … Maybe Not!

I was not born into a world with dogs in the family.  I was adopted by parents who valued dogs as companions and family members.  We celebrated the family dogs’ birthdays as well as our own.  When they were pups, we taught them as children are taught, by encouraging good behavior with rewards and praise.  We discouraged bad behavior by repeating actions to reinforce good choices.  We respected our canine family members and regarded them as individuals.  They were all inside dogs with impeccable housetraining, good family and “company” manners, and a few engaging behaviors (formerly known as tricks).

Throughout my life, I have always had a dog, or two, or many; cats, too.  I followed my family’s early example by providing structure and training.  My experience has run the gamut, from family member/companion, to show champions, and now I train Service Dogs (and use one as well).  Rules abound in my life.  Some are mine, some are theirs.  I only feed dogs in the kitchen and everyone must sit politely before being rewarded with their meal or a treat.  My dogs don’t like the sound of fireworks, so I arrange my schedule to exclude being away in the evening on Independence Day.  Lightning and thunder are not a favorite of any of us, so we have chosen to stick close together during rain storms.

I am often approached by people who admire the behavior of my Service Dog.  They remark on his training and wish their dogs would exhibit similar skills.  They have two things in common.  They don’t know what it takes to get to the level of commitment and ability in order to train my Service Dog and the hard-earned accomplishment that I have achieved as a Team, and they are not willing to invest the time and consistency to achieve good behavior from their Companion dog.  Evidently, they think a “good” dog exhibits “good” behavior spontaneously.  They forget how they potty-trained their children and how much effort and reward was involved.  They expect a puppy to make choices it doesn’t understand … to be house-trained immediately, to not chew on furniture or shoes, to walk on a lead without training, etc.  The list of expectations is endless.

They also expect to leave their dog at home alone for hours on end while all the adults in the family are away, working at their jobs.  When they return home tired, they expect to let their dog “out” or walk him/her for a few minutes and call that exercise.  They don’t play with their dogs, brush them, rub their tummies, or train them except when they, the humans, are in the mood.  Substituting supervision by family children is not the same as adult supervision; it’s not fair to the children, or the dog.

There is definitely a time when a family needs a dog to complete its loving picture.  That time is when one or more adults are available to provide comprehensive care for the dog.  That includes the cost of regular immunization, discretionary funds for what may be very expensive medical care (or pet insurance), regular dental maintenance, licensing, and structured and realistic training, as well as companionship. 

Beverlee J. Engle, HSD, PhD.
Volunteer Trustee/Executive Director/Whatever Else Needs Doing
The Jasmine Charitable Trust

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