12 Step Guide to the perfect dog

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Oakwood Blog

Please Help?

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When looking to rescue a dog; why is it some people expect one that is ready made, a perfect fit for their life? They are then happy to return them to the rescue centre when they don’t do what is expected of them. The worst thing is; dogs have been brought back after a few days, with the owner claiming to have tried everything to get the dog to understand. Tried everything, in a few days!??? Worse, the dog is brought back after a few months with the owner having tried nothing to help their behaviour improve.

Why are our expectations of our dogs so high? 

Spending a lot of time with many different dogs over a number of years, you will naturally develop an understanding of how they communicate and how to train them to do as you ask.... Or will you? It seems in relation to dogs, everyone is an expert. If you are having a problem with your dog, fellow dog owners will readily tell you how to deal with it – ‘shout at him, he needs to know he has done wrong’ or ‘get a rattle can and shake it at him every time he is naughty’ – They need to know who the boss is!

The biggest problem is being a dog owner does not make you an expert! Being a car owner doesn’t give me the knowledge to be able to tell someone how to fix their car. For each skill we learn, we have to undergo learning in theory and practice to become an expert.  Understanding how to train dogs and how they learn is not easy and can be extremely difficult…. Just because it worked for one dog, doesn’t mean it will work for the next.

A big problem?

In 2013 it was recorded that 8.5 million dogs live in the UK and that 1 in 4 households have a dog. That is a lot of dogs and it only seems fair that these beloved animals, which we are responsible for breeding are given the time and understanding they deserve.

If someone was to get a new hobby, they would expect to spend time learning the basics; developing their knowledge and understanding of how to do the activity. They would expect to seek guidance on how to do it correctly.

As an example, let us consider an individual who is learning to play golf. A sensible way to approach this new pastime would be-

  • Having a lesson from a professional, someone who has studied the game and knows it inside out. They would be shown the fundamentals and encouraged to practice.
  • After the lesson the person returns to their local driving range and practices hitting balls into an open field
  • After more practice and a handful of lessons, the novice plays their first round on a golf course.
  • Once the individual has calmed down from their highly frustrating first attempt, of getting that little white ball into a hole the size of a tea cup, they return and repeat the process again.
  • Months go by and the frustration from their lack of ability reduces and the pleasure from improvement flourishes.

The person has been through a cycle; a process which occurs every time someone sets upon a new task and sticks with it through the early, normally difficult stages.

The point is, it would be unrealistic for anyone to turn their hand to something new and expect to be brilliant at it straight away. Things take time, patience, dedication and desire before the fruits of one's labour come to pass. So why does this rarely happen with dogs?

They are real and need the guidance from humans to direct them and show them the right path. Would it be reasonable to expect a dog to understand what you require of it within a few weeks of bringing it home? It is incredible how many puppy owners tell their dog to do something and they have only had it for one week, how on earth can a puppy be expected to understand what the world requires of it within a week of bringing it home? Even up to 6 months of age, owners can be adamant that ‘they know how to do this’ ‘why are they ignoring me?’

Are children expected to be able to read and write within a few weeks of starting to learn, no! So why have such high expectations for our canine companions?

For dogs that have lived with people in the past, you are not their first home. They have already received learning experiences on what is acceptable and what isn’t. These may be different to what you expect from your dog. Some dogs will have had no training whatsoever and will be viewed by most as out of control. However they are simply lacking in guidance.

Let’s gets specific: - A previous owner may not have taught the dog that weeing in the house was not ok, yet, the new dog is then immediately told off for weeing in the house. The dog has no idea this wasn’t ok!

Dogs don’t have the same understanding of situations that humans do and to treat them as such is unfair. What if the previous owner of a dog thought jumping up was ok? The dog will do what he has always been allowed to do. If he is then shouted at, how confused will he be?

jumping dog

Taking on a new dog is a big responsibility; they need to be given time to learn the new rules. They need to be taught what is ok and what isn’t in a way they understand. Shouting at a dog is not an effective way to tell it what to do, for a start they don’t understand the English language, so have no idea what is being said. Taking on a dog from another person requires time, patience and understanding. An understanding that the dog will become what you make it….

The reason for this post is the continued struggle we have rescuing and re-homing dogs. The importance of understanding the dog’s needs and the time and patience they require is stressed upon straight away at the first stage of the adoption process, which is the viewing.  The known problems of the dog are outlined and it is made clear we are there for support. The required training for the behaviour issues is explained and we will talk through the known history of the dog. It is made clear the process won’t be easy and the new dog will take months to settle into their new home.

All this said; there are still too many occasions where adoptions fall through because the 'learning cycle' above (golf analogy) is not followed. One or more parts are neglected and as such the situation crumbles. Owners expect dogs to fit into their lifestyle straight away and give them no guidance on how to change their behaviour. As a result the dog gets brought back to the rescue centre, through no fault of its own. Simply because the expectations of the new owner were too high and little or no training was done.

We would very much appreciate the thoughts of others on how this problem can be emphasised, made clearer and in turn improved upon.

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    My 14 week old puppy is getting very aggressive what is the best way to deal with this

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  2. Pam Quick

    1. how I so agree with you. I was taught that a dog shouldn't be left on their own for more than 2 hours/ 2. that if you are not persistent in keeping up with what is practice then the dog will think, not bothered why should I? 3 Keeping on loving with unconditional love is a 2 way thing. 4 No has no meaning in a dog's life, neither does shouting or hitting, but a positive reaction to alter what they are doing gives heaps of rewards. I found that all the encouragement to change habits by doing exactly the opposite of how I learnt as a child reaps far more benefits and fun.

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  3. Sue w

    I love this blog and feel that I have to comment. I've got 3 dogs currently, two of which are rescues. My lab is now 9, I've had her since she was two. She had so many issues when I first took her, she was dirty in the house, ate her own pooh, was terrified of sudden movements and hit the deck whenever anything unexpected happened. It took me about 4 years until I was completely confident that she wouldn't have accidents in the house, especially if she was somewhere unfamiliar. She's still an underconfident girl. God alone knows what she must have been through before I got her!She lived in a sideboard with some people in a caravan when I got her, that's all I know. My other rescue is a GSP. I got her from Preloved for £100. She came from a posh house and came with expensive food and beds and toys. They gave her up due to a change in family circumstances. I've only had her since Feb and she's been a challenge too. I have no doubt in the world that they loved her, but they didn't understand what she needed as a working breed. Her nails were massively long, which would indicate no walks, she is very fearful of being handled i.e. for ear cleaning, nail clipping, grooming etc although she will cuddle up to you, and will make herself comfortable wherever she pleases. her recall is awful and she pulls like a train on the lead. She's extremely wilful and is obviously used to being the boss. I've realised that no one gives up perfect dogs, and what might seem perfect to one person, isn't to another. My point is that there are no quick fixes. All you need is hours and hours of patience and love and consistancy and training, and walking, hail, snow, p**s or blow! The rewards are phenomenal.

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  4. Beverley Ferns

    Love your blog. It's so frustrating with some people they have no understanding of rescue dogs. Each one is different I have had 3 rescue bearded collie dogs since 1991. Each one different. My first one needed lots and lots of patience and I dealt with one problem at a time. This took about 2 years and I ended up with a happy confident dog who knew he was loved. He had been beaten couldn't walk on a lead without pulling as he was frightened of traffic after being dumped on the motorway. I let him settle in first so he knew he was safe. I never got angry with him, that wouldn't have helped. He got out of his bad ways because he was happy and felt safe. I had him for 10 years. He was 2 years old when I got him. The 2nd one hated being left and would destroy things. She was taken back 3 times before I got her. I took her on so wasn't going to give up on her. Again lots and lots of patience. I gained her trust and she knew I wasn't going to leave her for long periods of time plus I would be back. Also would tire her out on a good walk and run so she wouldn't be bored whilst I was out. I had her for 8 years and she was 6 years old when I got her. The 3rd one was no bother at all so had a break. Had him for 4 years and he was 8 years old when I got him. I really wish people would think carefully before getting a rescue as I think the ones who return them just add to the poor dogs problems. I've had dogs all my life but must say the satisfaction of turning a rescue dogs life round is so satisfying and so worth it. The bond is so strong that you get from the time you spend with them too.

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  5. Vicki Barrett

    Having adopted alfie from oakwood in September, I wasn't sure how long it would be before I felt he would be settled. 6 months later and he's certainly made himself at home. We are currently training him, with Hollys help, to help with his stress while out walking and its working well. These things don't improve over night but with patience and love it works out in the end!

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  6. Anna

    Some people have children, even though they shouldn't. Unfortunately, some people take on a dog, when they are not fit to be dog owners. People are lazy, opportunistic and sometimes downright stupid with their pets. A requirement of completing a programme where a potential owner would learn about dog behaviour would be helpful, but I'm afraid some lazy gits would just go to a pet store/breeders instead because they couldn't be bothered with putting some effort in in order to adopt a rescue dog.

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  7. barbara roberts

    i have a rescue dog which had previously been with 3 other families i have had him 4 years and have had many days when i could have said enough is enough but i perseve i took him on and will give him the best i can

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