Dear Didi: How can you possibly love a dog TOO much? -Doggy Daddy
Dear Doggy Daddy: As a Canine Behaviorist, I am basically a life coach for families and their dogs. My job is to make sure the dogs are healthy psychologically. Your vet makes sure they’re healthy physically.
For some reason, very few people question anything a veterinarian suggests. Physical health is easy for even an untrained eye to witness the effects of not listening and following directions. However, in my field of behavior we struggle daily with getting humans to understand and comply with our “prescriptions” for mental health. There are different kinds of “love” that humans dish out to their fuzzy companions. It is, indeed, possible to love your dog too much or maybe I should say it is possible to “spoil” your dog too much. Some people may not understand the difference and feel those things are one and the same.
If you “love” your dog so much you forego social activities with other humans because you won’t leave your dog, there is an issue. If you are willing to lie about Fido being a Service Dog so he can go everywhere with you, there is a problem. If your life revolves around anticipating your dog’s every need before the dog even has a clue, there is a problem. What harm is this causing? As much as we want to use terms like fur baby, four legged kid, hairiest family member and call ourselves mommy and daddy of the dog, it should be in good fun. We all know the repercussions of handing a human child everything they desire without having any rules, boundaries or expectations. The same applies to dogs. Some dogs can handle the lavish spoiling but many become anxiety ridden messes with diagnosable psychoses such as Separation Anxiety and Resource Guarding.
Dog body language is very subtle and you may not even realize how manipulative they have become until a behaviorist helps you learn to read their body language and their true intentions behind their actions. Anthropomorphizing is applying human reasoning or emotions to an animal and although funny in the comics, it is not productive for solving actual problems in the home. You wonder why they won’t walk nicely on a leash, threatening other dogs with obnoxious barking and growling as they walk six feet out in front of you. If you truly love your dog in a healthy way, you want what is best for him or her. This means raising them to be respectful, polite and mannerly. Guide them to these end goals in happy positive ways whenever possible. If you see having rules and expectations as being mean, you may need to reassess why you have a dog. If it is all one sided, meaning, you only care about what you get out of the relationship then it isn’t balanced or healthy. It can’t just be about hugs, kisses, love, and acting happy when you come home from work. Spend time with your dog in productive ways such as signing up for an agility class. Get some exercise together while learning to work as a team to negotiate obstacles. Going for a walk at night does very little for the well-being of the dog psychologically and could actually be doing more harm than good. Learn how to let your dog take ownership of her actions to appreciate the abundance of love you have for her. Trust me … if you think you love your dog now … it will only get stronger.
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. For a free consultation with Dierdra or to ask your dog behavior question, email www.CaliforniaCanineUnleashed.com.