Not expecting to hear these sounds in a clothing store, I scanned the area and saw a chihuahua staring at me from a small shopping cart
. The woman pushing the cart was clearly embarrassed and hushed the small dog. In these situations, I typically just smile and walk away. However, this time I decided to share that I was a dog trainer and behavior consultant
. As the woman and I made out introductions I found out that the growling chihuahua was only 4 months old. Then the question came, “Can you give me any tips for potty training?”
My response surprised the woman when I stated “Although potty training is important, the growling is far more concerning.”
I briefly explained that the growling is fear
based but could eventually lead to biting. We only spoke for a few minutes but our conversation made me contemplate how people often misunderstand training priorities
It is not uncommon for people to make training a priority over the social-emotional health of their dogs.
When I hold my puppy classes, the priority is introducing the puppies to novel objects, people and other puppies. Although we also practice basic behaviors
like sit, down and come, the emphasis is on the socialization
. If a shy or fearful puppy is not exposed to a variety of people, places and things when they are young, they may react by barking, growling or biting
(this is a “fight” response to the fear). It won’t matter if they have a perfect sit or down, the fear can lead to unwanted behaviors
Another situation I commonly encounter is the dog that pulls on leash. In some cases, these dogs just don’t understand the “heeling” behavior you desire. In other situations, the dogs may be overly excited when on a walk. Alternately, dogs will sometimes pull because they are scared when they are on the walk (this is a “flight” response to the fear). Before we can help a scared dog go on a walk, we must first focus on decreasing the fear then teach the dog how to “heel”. For many of these dogs, we will discontinue the walks until the fear or anxiety is managed.
“When a person is drowning it is not the time to teach him to swim” is one of my favorite quotes from Between Parent and Teenager, by Haim Ginott. If a person is drowning, we first remove them from the water and make sure they are safe. Then we would give them swim lessons, at their level or readiness (they may need to overcome the fear of water after nearly drowning). After overcoming the fear and taking the lessons, they would be able to swim. Dogs deserve the same respect.