Puppy Love!

Love at First Sight....

...or maybe not?

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Congratulations! You’ve added a new canine member to your family!

It’s very exciting to think about, search for, and finally choose a new canine family member, but it’s a huge decision that can impact our lives for many years. We put forth a lot of effort and consideration, research, and thought into choosing just the right dog to add to our lives… while making sure we have just the right situation to offer that dog. It’s a lot of pressure!

The expectations are enormous: we assume we should instantly be enamored with whichever dog we have chosen; of course, we will fall in love, right? Well, not so fast. There can be bumps and second-thoughts and self-doubting as we navigate our way through the process of choosing and then getting to know our new pup. “Love at first sight” does happen sometimes, but I’m guessing it’s not the norm.

Do not despair or be too hard on yourself if you aren’t completely swept away by your new dog. It’s okay. Relationships take time to develop, grow, and blossom. It takes a while for dogs to get to know its new family and for the family to get to know the new dog. This happens in all friendships.

Confession: it took me a very long time - about a year - to fall in love with our dog Astro when he joined our family in 2009. Sure, I loved him, but the bond I expected to have right away didn’t happen. Astro had very challenging fear and anxiety issues, he was not resilient like our Dory was... in fact, there was so much he "wasn't" that it was hard to say I "loved" him. With time, training, and working through his behavioral challenges, we really started to bond. Now, of course, he's just as beloved as Dory was…but in a different way. Actually, I think he's the most wonderful dog on the entire planet!

Is this new dog coming after the loss of a previous dog?

It's really hard not to compare and to miss the pup we’ve lost even more intensely when the new pup comes along and doesn't fulfill some of the expectations we didn't even know we had. That’s right, “expectations we didn’t even know we had.” We can’t help it; even if we try not to have expectations, they are still there underneath the surface, and they bubble up more than we want them to. Even if the new pup is a first pup, there are still expectations. It is very difficult - embarrassing, even - to admit that we aren’t yet in love with our new dog.

A wonderful dog trainer friend of mine in Europe struggled with these challenges. It’s hard enough when one is a regular family dog owner, but if one is a trainer, the expectations are enormous that any dog a trainer gets will somehow be without fault or can be magically “fixed.” My friend lost a lovely dog prematurely to illness. This dog was a local celebrity and had garnered much attention through her trick demos, commercials and even late night television appearances. The connection they had was palpable. Bonding didn't happen quickly or easily with her new puppy. My friend is, quite frankly, devastated not to feel much for her.

Relationships are complicated, and I’ve not known of any that are without challenges. The same holds true for the inter-species relationship between us and our dogs. Each dog is an individual with her own idiosyncrasies, habits, and motivations; it can be a beautiful process to see a pup blossom… and to see the connection blossom along the way.

Take your time with your new dog. Do as much positive training as you can possibly do – this can be the catalyst for making that bond happen, both ways.

"Don't Blame the Dog for Failing to Live up to Human Expectations" (Jean Donaldson, I think)

Note: If there are serious issues such as aggression, destruction, guarding, or other behaviors that are a safety concern, be sure to contact a professional dog trainer right away! It’s important to address those things as soon as possible. Also, it’s important to recognize when the relationship is absolutely not going to work - not all matches are meant to be, through no fault of anyone's.