Your Natural Dog’s Education

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Forget obedience school. Enroll your natural dog in the school of life. Remember that she can be hard to impress and motivate—even with the best treats and toys on the market. You’ll need to get real smart, real quick when you sign up to be her teacher, and to learn how to leverage what she actually cares about. Any energy you spend trying to change her mind will be totally wasted. She was not bred to be a “pet,” much less to be “obedient.”

But she is your pet. So even if you lower your standards about how well she must listen to you, you will need to find ways to have her handle life appropriately.

As you expose her to things that will likely be difficult for her to handle—critters she shouldn’t think of as prey, children with no regard for personal space, veterinarians who manhandle dogs they just met, and leashes that suck all the fun out of things—take steps to ensure she feels considered, protected, and confident in your ability to manage life as it unfolds, so she doesn’t take matters into her own hands. Expose her to this kind of stuff without judgment: she isn’t naturally inclined to leave vulnerable fuzzy creatures alone nor is she likely to feel like being friendly with total strangers getting handsy with her; she isn’t “bad” and you shouldn’t feel embarrassed. Make each of those life events that may pose a challenge for her a memorable and ideally positive experience. Your natural dog is paying attention at all times and forming opinions that may stick. Everything is precedent—so you’d better try to make it a good one.

Hold up your end of the deal in the relationship by conveying to her, “I get it. These things make you feel very out of place or uncomfortable.” You can do this by asking her to handle a reasonable expectation—such as minding her own business when walking by the neighbor’s cat or holding still for a veterinary exam—and you meet her halfway. You make sure the vet takes it slow and has a nice bedside manner, as you feed her liver bites for tolerating the invasion. You don’t walk down that one street with a dozen feral cats living behind the Dumpster and get mad at her when she wants to hunt one. You teach her how smart it is to walk quietly by the kitties at a distance, keenly aware that all that stands between her and her hunting instinct is a well-made leash.

Teaching a natural dog is an art. It requires great self-awareness and introspection, accountability and humility. Connecting with one of these slightly wilder, enchanted creatures can be the kind of experience that fairy tales are made of; and it is also a journey of self-discovery. You will realize, as the teacher, that you are every bit as much a student—whether you like it or not.

Tags: #dogs #natural

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