Recipe for a happy canine family

Your relationship with your dog needs respect and compromise too

Happy families, winning football teams, loving marriages and good friendships --- what do these things have in common? All these relationships need respect and compromise in order to be successful. These same ingredients are essential to a long, happy relationship with your dog, too!

Like you, your dog is a living creature with a mind of his own. He has likes and dislikes. Like you, he feels pain and loneliness. Like you, he has needs, the most basic of which are food, water, companionship and a comfortable place to live. Like you, he also has a need to be himself, to play and have fun.

Unlike you, your dog is an animal, not a miniature human being or a wind-up toy. He thinks but not in the same way that you do. His mind isn't capable of the same kind of reasoning that yours is. He looks at the world through different-animal eyes. He doesn't have a conscience and he doesn't know the difference between right and wrong. Through training, he can learn how to please you and what makes you upset with him but he doesn't understand the why's of things.

For example, your dog can tell from your reaction that it makes you very angry when he scatters the contents of the wastebasket all around the house but he isn't able to understand why you don't like it. If he's housebroken, he probably knows that he's not allowed to use the living room rug as a bathroom but he has no idea that it's because his urine will ruin the carpet.

In order to get the most out of your relationship with your dog, it's important to accept and respect the fundamental differences between dogs and people so you can work out compromises that will make those differences easier and more comfortable for both of you to live with.

Q: How do I keep my dog out of the trash can? I've scolded him over and over but it doesn't help. The last time he did it, he got sick on spoiled food and threw up all over the dining room! I'm afraid he's going to eat something that will hurt him and I'm tired of cleaning up a big mess!

A: Dogs love food more than almost anything else. Any kind of food is a temptation, spoiled or not. Dogs can be trained to stay out of the garbage as long as someone's always around to reinforce their training. Left alone, though, most dogs just can't resist the temptation.

People have tried some very creative things to keep their dogs out of the trash including booby trapping the wastebasket! It'll be much easier, though, for both of you if you respect your dog's weakness for food and compromise by putting the garbage out of your dog's reach altogether. Using covered wastebaskets or storing the trashbin in a cupboard or broom closet is a stress-free and permanent solution.

Q: I've just about had it with my dog! He's chewed up two of my daughter's dolls, three remote controls, a pair of expensive running shoes and I can't find a single sock to wear that doesn't have a hole chewed in it. I don't understand this - he has plenty of toys of his own. What am I going to do? I can't afford his destruction anymore!

A: No, you certainly can't and the problem can be solved very easily if you're willing to make a few changes.

Few dogs can tell the difference between a costly pair of Reeboks and the old tennies you were going to throw away. The socks left lying near the bed don't look much different to your dog than the soft knotted chew toy you bought for him. To your dog, your daughter's doll is very similar to his own stuffed bear. If an item is within easy reach, has your scent on it and is chewable, your dog is going to consider it fair game to play with. When your daughter was small, she couldn't tell the difference between her toys and expensive forbidden objects either. She wanted to investigate everything. If you couldn't supervise her directly, you put things out of reach if you didn't want her to touch them. As she grew up and was able to understand, you taught her why she couldn't play with certain items.

Because your dog is a dog and not a child, he's never going to be as smart as your daughter. He's never going to understand why it's okay to chew on a plastic toy bone but not on the plastic remote control he found on the coffee table. When you're there to watch him, you can keep him from destroying your property but when he's left to himself, he's going to go by his own very limited judgment.

Since we're smarter than our dogs (at least we hope!) and since we can understand the why's of things, it's often easier for us to learn new habits than it is for them. Can you train yourself to put the remote control on a shelf when it's not being used? Can you teach your daughter to put her dolls in her toy box when she's through with them? Can you put your socks in a hamper and your shoes in the closet? Sure you can and far more easily than you can teach your dog to resist temptation and leave them alone!

By respecting your dog's limitations and working toward a compromise, your socks will have fewer holes, you'll have a lower stress level, a tidier house, a fatter wallet and your dog will be much happier because he's not being scolded all the time for something he can't understand.

Vicki DeGruy

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