Food For Thought: When A Match Isn't A Match

For most of us, making the decision to get a family pet is an exciting one - and with the high of excitement, can sometimes come the fall of disappointment. For many people, it's devastating. It's not easy to admit defeat. It's not easy to look at all the money, the training, the medical interventions, the behavior specialists, and effort to keep a dog that just might not be the right fit.  For a select few, what starts off as an exciting time, quickly turns to forcing a square peg into an triangle hole: it's just not going to work.  Apartment living isn't for everyone, and it's not for every dog. Turn off your television, and just sit in silence - listen to all the noises around you - and keep in mind that dogs hear significantly more than we do. It can be maddening - no wonder we have the TV on all day to drown it all out! The dog might not like children, or cats, or 6am wake up calls from the local dump truck.

Just like in online dating, sometimes what looks good on paper just doesn't click in real life - or you aren't getting what you thought you were getting. Having a dog is having a relationship (if we're lucky) for 8-15 or more years. It's hell for everyone if not everyone is on the same page.

I've written before about picking the right dog for your family - and for many of us, we get very, very, very lucky to find a dog that can adjust to the city, to the buses, to the noise, and to our families.

When a certified trainer, a behavior specialist, or another trusted accredited professional suggests that a new home might be the best option, they are saying it as a means of providing relief to everyone involved. For some dogs that are trucked in from the south, living in the bustling city is just too overwhelming - but they might thrive in the country where the constant city noises aren't a constant source of stress. Our goal as a trainer is to keep everyone together, but sometimes, it just doesn't pan out that way.

We'll get your vet to make sure everything checks out medically. We'll work you through training, and see if there is improvement. We'll try clicker training, maybe sports or obedience classes, lots of treats, and see if we can get that pet comfortable. That works for many dogs. If that works for your dog  - great!

We recognize that your dog is fearful, and we're trying to help build confidence. It might not seem that games, puzzle toys, or hand target is helpful, but for a dog who needs confidence, teaching that dog to have fun, relax, and do a basic technique is important. If that's too hard for your dog, we will try something less scary. We will do everything we can to start at the right place for your dog.

If there is no improvement, we might recommend a behavior specialist, or medical treatment for anxiety, depression, or any number of things that we suspect, but can't diagnose or prescribe because we are not medical professionals. We leave that to the professionals who are able and knowledgeable about the medical field. We are your teacher, your trainer, and an advocate for your dog. We will send you to someone who can look deeper, who will also be an advocate for your dog.

And if nothing can be found, and your dog seems happy without the sounds of the city, or with someone who is home all day, who might not have kids running through the house, or in a quieter environment, we might make the suggestion that things need to change drastically for everyone to return to calm.

If you've talked with your certified or accredited professional, and they sympathetically suggest that the relationship between you and your pet isn't working out, don't think of it as a failure. Think of it as another opportunity to find the right dog for you, and for that pet to be successful somewhere else.  We don't suggest things like this lightly, and we don't say it to make things easier on us. We all have dogs, we all know how much time, energy, and love we give to our pets - and sometimes, even with all of that, it doesn't work out.

And it's ok.

We also find that dogs who were great in one circumstance and live with a family successfully for a period of time but start to suffer after large life changes (move to the city; have kids; married someone with a dog that doesn't tolerate your dog), we do everything we can to keep everyone in the home. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. When it doesn't and management has taken its toll on the family, on the dog, it's no longer fair to medicate and keep the dog separated from everything it loves, or it's an expense a family can no longer afford, you are not a failure. You are not. Your dog is not. We are individuals and sometimes matches are a lifetime, sometimes they are not.

And, again, it's ok.

It sucks. I've been in those shoes personally. It's hard when you're emotionally invested and that dog you have loved to the moon and back, who loves you in return is looking into your very soul. But in the end, often the dogs that need quiet do much better with predictable routine and a quiet environment. Sometimes they can even come off of the drugs. The people who need a dog who can cope with everything the city tosses their way are often able to find that bundle of confidence, and everyone is much less stressed.

It's not easy - and as a trainer, I hate having that conversation. However, every time I've suggested it, I've gone to bed at night not regretting the suggestion. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, I feel that I've given a family every possible option, every possible means of coping, and given that dog every chance at being successful in a challenging environment before making that call.



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