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What is a "Good Dog"?

I recently received a call from a woman whose dog had snapped at someone. She was concerned because her dog is generally very aggressive around guests , especially children. As we discussed the seriousness of the  problem I told her that there was no guarantee that the problem could be fixed or that the dog could ever be trusted with children. Her reaction was not uncommon. Instead of grasping the gravity of the situation, she said,  "Oh, but she is really a very good dog." Sorry, that is not a true statement.

Attempting to avoid reality is often a part of pet ownership. As we build strong relationships with out pets, it is only  a matter of time before we start overlooking their shortcomings. Even though Fido has destroyed the carpet and scratched the door to pieces, we imagine that these behavioral problems are "normal". After all, a few 1/2 inch  deep scratches on the door aren't really that bad. Fido is so affectionate most of the time, he just doesn't like SMALL children. He's fine with most people, it's only men that he hates. He does soil the house occasionally, but  most of the time he's perfectly housetrained. He only barks when I leave him alone all day. The list of extenuation's is potentially endless.

 To understand how far we can stray from reality, here are a few ideas about what a good dog should be.

A good dog should be fully housetrained. Unless a dog has a physical problem, learning to eliminate outdoors is a  fairly easy standard to achieve. Most dogs can "hold it" for eight to nine hours per day, while the owners are at work. Dogs that have regular accidents over night, or during short periods of confinement, either have a medical  problem or a training problem.

A dog should be able to greet strangers without displaying aggression or objectionable affection. Few people  enjoy the experience of having a dog greet them by growling, barking, jumping or improperly sniffing them. If your dog insists on displaying these behaviors, you have a problem whether your friends complain or not.

  A dog should be able to walk on a leash without pulling you down the street. With the advent of head halters, this is no longer matter or jerking them by the neck with brute force. If your dog takes you for a walk you have a problem.

  A good dog should be able to respond to commands without the threat of force. If your dog does not know how to sit, come, lie down or stay in one place, you are not holding up your part of the relationship. Your dog is  incapable of learning those behaviors by himself. Find a training class, private instructor, training book or video and get going.

A good dog will tolerate medical care, examinations and grooming. At the San Diego Zoo, trainers taught a  captive, adult, male, wild baboon to give blood samples and take insulin injections. Teaching your dog to accept a rectal thermometer is a simple task, by comparison. Professional groomers are often willing to give you tips on  how to trim your dog's hair, give baths and trim nails. Learning how the pros do it can help you teach your dog to accept regular grooming, at the shop or at home.

  A good dog should be able to ride in a car quietly, and remain in a car without lunging at passersby. Wild and crazy behavior in a moving automobile is obviously dangerous. Owning a dog that tries to bite people as they walk  by your parked car is likely to get someone injured.

A good dog should be mannerly enough to stay at home, in your absence without destroying the furniture.  Separation anxiety is a common canine problem that can usually be solved with a little patience and work.

A good dog should be willing to tolerate occasional loud noises, such as thunder. If your dog claws desperately  to escape from thunder or fireworks, you have a problem. Gradually desensitizing the dog to loud noises is easier now, with the aid of CD players and quality sound effects recordings.

 Although these simple "good dog" traits seem obvious, you might be surprised at how many people learn to live with canine chaos. If you are beginning to realize that your dog is not as good as you formerly imagined, you have  taken the first step toward correcting the problem. The next step is to decide if the behavior can be fixed by brushing up on old obedience training, finding a qualified behaviorist or merely raising your expectations. The  creation of a "really" good dog is always the result of a good owner.

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Copyright 1997 by Gary Wilkes -- No portion of this web page may be reproduced without permission.