Who Comes First: You or Your Dog?

iStock Lab with woman.The woman on the phone sounded anxious. She needed a trainer to come to her house today. When asked about the urgency, she replied that she was bringing a four-month-old puppy home, and needed help introducing her to her other dog. The resident dog was a 10-year-old small breed who was dog-aggressive. When I questioned politely whether that might not be the best situation for either dog, she replied that she also had a two-foot-long lizard, and although the small dog had been aggressive toward the lizard at first, she’d taught him to turn away and not make eye contact. That had put a stop to the aggression, she said, and she planned to do the same when it came to the new puppy.

She went on to complain that two different rescue groups had brought dogs over for potential adoption, but when they’d let the dogs down on the ground together, the 10-year-old had gone after the other dog, and the rescue groups had refused the adoption. Oh, and by the way, the puppy she intended to bring home was a shy, fearful dog. I took a deep breath. Then I patiently explained why it was a terrible idea. First, bringing a dog who is already shy and afraid into a home with a dog who is dog-aggressive could only make things worse for the poor pup. Second, the resident dog has already demonstrated more than once that he does not like other dogs, and certainly does not appreciate them in his home. If you were a senior who didn’t particularly like the company of other people, how would you like it if a rambunctious child moved in? Even if the dog could be taught to ignore the puppy, think about the stress it would cause him. I listed the physical issues that chronic stress can cause in dogs (including suppression of the immune system, which opens the door for all sorts of disease); and this was not a young dog. There’s that plus the emotional and mental stress to consider, for both dogs and everyone living in the house. The woman listened, and by the end of the conversation, she said she could see my points, and would consider what I’d said.

I don’t know whether she ultimately decided to adopt the puppy. But the whole situation begs the question: when do we stand back and consider what’s best for our dogs, as opposed to our own wants and desires? I know people who do agility with their dogs, and the dogs absolutely love it. I know others who wanted to participate in agility so they got a specific breed—only the particular dog doesn’t seem to like it anywhere near as much as the person does. In fact, the dog seems not to enjoy it at all, and yet the pair continues to compete. I know people who bring their dogs to the dog park because they enjoy socializing with other owners. The dog, in the meantime, does her level best to stay away from other dogs, and becomes defensive if any come near. She clearly does not enjoy herself and seems perpetually stressed. And yet the park visits continue.

We all have an idea of what we’d like life to be like with our dogs. Depending on our own lifestyle, we might need a dog to be social around kids, be athletic, be dog-friendly, or any of a host of traits. But sometimes the dog we get is not the dog we want (hello, have you read Hit by a Flying Wolf?). And that’s okay. We can certainly do our best to train, socialize, countercondition, and habituate our dogs to the things we’d like them to be okay with. But in the end, sometimes it’s we who have to adjust our expectations and perhaps even our lifestyle. Because in the end, it’s not all about us—it’s about our dogs.
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15 Responses to Who Comes First: You or Your Dog?

  1. Heidi says:

    Luckily, my dogs and I pretty much agree on everything. 🙂

  2. mary says:

    Love this article!!! Compromise……When I ask something of my dogs that I see they absolutely dislike or feel uncomfortable with…. I ask myself, “How do I feel about someone trying to force me to do something I dislike”??!!

  3. Margaret Moran says:

    Applause for this, I’ve adapted my life for my reactive GSD cross to the extent of adopting a retired greyhound as a companion for her. Together they have made me adapt my life further – and it’s made my life better!

  4. I stopped doing therapy visits with my dog when he finally got it through my thick head that he did not like being a therapy dog (took pulling me AWAY from the hospital. I’m sure he was thinking “Do you get it NOW stupid?”) Getting out of your own ego and doing what is best isn’t easy. I have seen dogs that really hate agility, or therapy and yet, the person continues because THEY like it.

  5. Linea says:

    I am one of the ones who ended up with a different dog from the one I set out to find & adopt. I was looking for one who weighed no more than 15 lbs, was older than 5, & was mellow. I am in my late 60’s with pretty bad arthritis everywhere, so I didn’t think I’d be able to handle a dog younger, heavier, & not so mellow. And who I brought home was Ranger, a dog who was 2 years old, weighed 35 lbs, was part Whippet & part Kelpie, so very rambunctious, who pulled me down the street on the leash. Not long after I brought him home, I was walking him when I fell & they thought I’d broken my knee. I was beside myself; what was I going to do with this dog??

    He wasn’t like my previous dog who would do whatever I asked him to do for nothing more than a smile & praise from me. I listened to a friend who kept telling me how I *had* to train him. And then one day, I realized that we weren’t having fun anymore, so I changed my expectations of him & observed him more until I knew what he was happy doing & what he’d do because I just couldn’t have him jumping up on strangers, knocking them over! And along with the high praise, he got lots of treats.

    He changed my life; he made it oh so much better, so the least that I could do was o make sure that he was getting his needs met also. I love this big enthusiastic lover of life so very much. He taught me while I was teaching him. My dog definitely comes first!!

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Linea, I am loving reading about everyone’s relationships with their dogs. Yours in particular struck a chord with me, because it’s similar to my experiences with Bodhi (if you read Hit by a Flying Wolf, you’ll know what I mean). I also wanted a much more mellow dog than what I got. In the end, I also had to change the way I saw my dog. And I will say that having two energetic northern breeds has definitely kept me in shape. I highly doubt I’d be out walking miles every morning had I gotten my mellow dog. You put it perfectly in the last few sentences of your comment. Thank you. 🙂

  6. Lili says:

    I had a dog aggressive jack russel, I got her as a pup and she just never liked the resident dogs. As they passed away only my JR was left. I BADLY wanted another doggy but I could never put Kita through that. She spent the last 4 years of her 13 year life being the only child and she loved it.

    I then adopted a 6 month old Daxie x Min Pin 4 months later and she loved her friends, so a year later after I worked through all her issues (shyness, fear and lack of confidence) I adopted a 3 year old spaniel mix. It took a month for the spaniel mix to accept her (frankly she had no choice if she wanted to stay with us) but now they’re best friends!

    I’d love to foster but know my spaniel mix won’t be able to do it. It breaks my heart but alas my girls come first. They always will! They are trained differently since their needs are different and sometimes the one has to take a back seat to the other but they both get what they need in abundance and I have two happy girls who love being together.

  7. Kitty says:

    This is fantastic! Thank you!

  8. Muriel says:

    This is such a good article. I have 2 dogs & have had for more than 10 years now. Each time I’ve been bringing a 2nd dog into my family I’ve always been mindful of how the 1st dog will cope – my main priority has always been that it must be a positive experience for them.

    I remember the very first time I went to see a potential “2nd” dog – I took my girl, Molly, with me to meet this boy – an 8yo golden retriever called Horrie. He spent the whole time chasing Molly & trying to hump her – while Molly spent the whole time trying to hide behind my husband’s legs. Horrie was 8yo, unsterilised & socialised. He wasn’t in a particularly good situation & it was very tempting to take him just because I felt sorry for him. I realised, however, that he was not the right fit for our family & definitely not the right dog for Molly so we kept looking. About a month later we went to meet another golden retriever boy, this time a 3yo called Cornflakes (later renamed Ghillie). He & Molly greeted each other but didn’t take a whole lot of notice of one another but I felt he would be a good addition to our family. Ghillie came home the next day & within 90 minutes I was taking photos of the 2 of them playing a rousing game of Bitey Face! Molly & Ghillie were the best of friends for the 6 years they were together until we sadly lost Molly. He really reinforced for me how important it was to get the right dog when adding a new member to the family.

  9. ThePayferPack says:

    Reblogged this on Payfer Pack and commented:
    Fabulous article. Not all dogs are good with other dogs and they should not be forced to live with another dog just because you want a new puppy. We recently struggled with this decision, knowing that one of our dogs is not fond of other dogs. However, he is not dog aggressive and only likes certain dogs. So we attempted integrating a new puppy into the house. With good management practices and proper introductions, we have a harmonious household again and the older dog and the pup are now good friends. We lucked out that the puppy is good at speaking dog and understands when the older guy is telling him to buzz off.

    Nicole’s article hits the nail on the head!

  10. Larry says:

    Another great piece Nicole. Put me on the list of getting “not exactly” the dog I thought I wanted. She’s a 3 or 4 year old rescue pointer/hound mix, (they think) with energy to burn. She also has dog issues, which is the major area we’ve tried to work on. But, you’re right, we’re out the door super early(usually in the dark) every morning and off to the park as soon as I get home. When my neighbor ask how my dog was doing, I replied, “well, I know now she’ll never be a nice golden retriever who will walk nicely and play with other dogs etc., but I do see her improving ever so slightly as time passes.” And when she snuggles up next to me on the couch I realize maybe she IS the dog I was suppose to have.

  11. Melissa J says:

    I was at the dog park this morning with my Moxie, who’s been going through a lot lately, a relocation, a recent fight that left her with some stitches and she hasn’t always been the most social to begin with but she’s turned a lot more shy and even fearful in the last month or so. We still go to the dog park, during quieter times, so she can play with the ball and explore. She likes to sniff other dogs and generally be around them. But then I always get asked “why isn’t your dog playing” as if she’s doing something wrong or I can control her or read her mind. Maybe it’s because she will run up to a dog and start to play and get scared and run off. I just want her to be happy so I will keep bringing her, every so often she will have a good wrestle, but if she goes to the gate to leave, we leave, that’s the rule. If she doesn’t want to go in, we won’t go in. It would make me sad but that’s how it is.

  12. Anne says:

    This article is so true and so relevant to what people expect from their pets. It really isn’t about them, and when you bring any life into your home, you have to be prepared to change course a little, and not have specific expectations. I learned this the hard way. I researched cattle dogs for a year, then went shopping at the shelters to find the dog I wanted. I found a gorgeous girl, 10 months old, at a shelter, and adopted her. She bit three people in the first few weeks I had her, she was fear aggressive. In the next two years our lives changed forever. We learned so many things about dogs, found force free training, became experts in body language, (had less parties at the house!), and began to help fearful dogs. We are on our third one, and we will never turn back, and never have set expectations again. Our choices made us better dog owners, better handlers, and better able to understand and help others with the same problems. My cattle dog? Five years later, she’s the awesome dog I wanted, just so long as you don’t invade her personal space…..

  13. violagirl says:

    Do you know how long it took me to figure this out?!! Just because I think it will be fun and enriching does not mean that my dog will enjoy it. It took me 4 years to finally figure out my Jack Russel/Dachshund mix only liked a few dogs, and even then had to be in the mood to be with them. I had to give up the bad dog parent guilt and leave her home when I know we are going to be in a situation she will not be able to handle. Took me 4 years to figure that out. Also, took me that long to admit I cannot walk my 3 dog reactive dogs at once. It is stressful for everyone.

    I discovered sometimes I overlooked my dogs body language because I didn’t WANT to see it.

  14. Outstanding story there. What happened after? Take care!

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