Social Pressures for Perfection…

Social Pressures for Perfection…

Who would have thunk that peer pressure would have such a drastic effect on dogs. No, I’m not talking about dog-dog peer pressure, I’m talking about the pressure that GUARDIANS feel from society. Friends, family members, strangers on the street, and those perfectly trained dogs on youtube all actively or even passively put social pressure on dog guardians to have perfect dogs.

I is perfect little angel!

I is perfect little angel!

There is so much social pressure to turn living, breathing, thinking, and feeling creatures into inanimate objects. I mean, people’s idea of a perfect dog (or the perception of a perfect dog) is a dog who can go anywhere, do anything, obey instantly at all times no matter what’s going on, who tolerates all sorts of rude greetings, and who never EVER barks, whines, or growls–oh, and certainly never EVER EVER bites.

That perfect dog is not a realistic expectation for ANY dog. Yes, sometimes even good service dogs will make a sound, sometimes great therapy dogs will walk away from saying hi, and of course, sometimes a dog trainer’s dog will not respond to a cue. It happens.

The expectations people put on their dogs as a result of social pressure are often so completely unattainable that it creates a strain on the relationship. Dogs cannot live up to being that ‘perfect dog’ (as defined by the social pressures a person is feeling) so the handler starts to resent the dog’s doggy-ness or starts to get frustrated.

Okay, so not ALWAYS and angel.

Okay, so not ALWAYS and angel.

We’ve got to start remembering that dogs are living and breathing creatures who have motivations, wants, and minds of their own. Yes, we can do a lot to make those motivations, wants, and minds align with our social norms but the fact remains they are dogs. They will bark, they will whine, they will growl, they will get overwhelmed, they will decide to choose what they want over what you want–at least occasionally.

I’m sure we’ve all felt embarrassed (or something nearing that) because of our dogs. Most of you know about the fence fighting issue I have at my house–we’ve made progress, had setbacks, made progress, had set backes, etc. It is really embarrassing at times because I’m a dog trainer and everyone in my neighborhood knows it. So when my dogs go crazy at an unseen dog outside the fence it is incredibly embarrassing (though they now easily come in 98% of the time). Sometimes I feel so defeated–though I know their slow progress is a result of my training going in cycles of “lots of time” to “no time”.

But it’s time I take note from some of the walkers (with dogs) who get the brunt of my dogs’ fence fighting… “hey, they are just dogs, it’s no big deal!” I would say only one or two of the people who walk past the house are really bothered by the bonkers dogs… most of them are really fantastic and wonderful people (whose dogs don’t even acknowledge my nutso dogs while walking past but who will also fence fight when WE walk past their yard with my dogs being angels). While that doesn’t mean I should not work on their fence fighting, what it DOES mean is that I need to give myself a break and I need to give the dogs a break and remember that they are dogs–dogs bark, dogs can be territorial, and dogs can be frustrated. Do we need to work on it, YES but it’s not the end of the world.

It’s hard to not let social pressures for the perfect dog not effect us in some way or another (either feeling embarrassed or actually start causing a strain on a relationship) but we’ve got to remember that dogs are dogs. Sometimes they put their noses in crotches, sometimes they lick their junk, sometimes they bark a squirrels, sometimes they ‘ignore’ a cue, and sometimes they fence fight… it happens.

Do your best to work on all of the less than perfect behaviors for sure, but don’t let the pressure of a ‘perfect dog’ come between you and your pup.

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