Throwback Thursday–Social Pressures for Perfection…

Social Pressures for Perfection…throwback thursday

Originally posted 8/28/12

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!

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.

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.
  1. Great post! I have really good dogs (which is at least sixty percent due to them and only about forty percent me and anything I’ve done) and I often like to joke about Tucker being perfect, but he isn’t, of course. The one issue both of them have is barking … they erupt when anyone (including me) comes into the house, not out of aggression, but out of sheer excitement. I know what I need to do to eliminate or reduce it … fail to react, wait for calm and quiet and then reward, etc. but sometimes I am tired at the end of the day, or irritated,or simply in a hurry, and I don’t have the time (or more accurately, the patience) to wait it out, and so I set them back in their training. This is a good and timely reminder that they are still really good dogs and I should try to give them, and myself, a bit of a break.

    • Yep, gotta give ourselves a break AND pick and choose our battles. Maybe YOU don’t mind the barking so you let them bark when you come home and then you can work on the barking for when visitors arrive. Break it down and fix the aspects you want.

      Rio is a HUGE excitement/arousal barker–it used to really bother me and still does on a rare occasion (when we are trying to train and he’s just barking his head off, having a blast or when he gets ALL the dogs started barking when I come home), but I try to remind myself that if my only problem with him is excited barking, I’ve done a pretty good job raising an amazing dog.

  2. Thank You! When Daisy was a puppy everyone said she would make a great therapy dog. wo we went through all the training and she failed! I was in tears! Later I was able to see how stressful the situation was for her and IF I were to try again I would do things differently. But at the time I got a trainer to “help” her. Like taking your kid to a tutor. She told me my dog did not want to be a therapy dog. She wanted to be my best friend. And she is. She is a great dog with a CGC and she loves to work on skills with me. But she is not social with lots of people. She is ok at home with visitors usually. But if she is not she gets to go to a quiet room and not be stressed. Not all dogs, just like not all kids, meet all of our expectations. But that does not mean there is anything wrong!

    • Hi Marjie! There are A LOT of therapy dogs out there who do NOT want to be therapy dogs. They aren’t happy doing the work and would rather not be there (although Rio looks unhappy, he does seem to enjoy the work, though I am picky where I bring him because I want him to go to places that HE likes). That is one of the reasons I LOVE the C.L.A.S.S. program, there are a lot of dogs who don’t want to be a therapy dog but who like training and would like to earn achievements/titles/degrees but aren’t into competitive dog sports. You can show off that you have a well trained pet without having to earn a TDI. Although I’m 100% confident that Shayne could pass the TDI test, I also know she would not WANT to be a therapy dog. She loves me, loves my family, and loves friends…but she’s not terribly people social–and that’s okay. I love her for loving me more than anyone else in the world 🙂

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