Putting the pieces together

jigsaw puzzle with one piece missingIt’s not unusual when trying to sort out any behavior problems in our dogs to look for the simplest explanation for what is causing the issue. We hope that if we could only remedy that, everything will fall into place. Some of the common missing pieces heralded as the reasons for a dog’s misbehavior include:

A lack of leadership

Insufficient exercise

Ignorance of the dog’s past

The handler’s incorrect ‘energy’

The dog’s lack of a ‘job’

Not enough love

Not enough discipline

Often the puzzle piece we seek is only one in the many that create the clear blue sky. It helps, but it doesn’t mean the rest of the pieces are easy to sort out. The piece we put in place may be an edge or corner piece and does help us build the outlines of the picture while we keep working on the rest. But it usually does not complete the puzzle in and of itself. And why do we expect it should? We know from our own personal experiences that making things ‘right’ in our lives usually requires more than getting up an hour earlier, joining a gym or giving up sugar.

This is not to say that addressing what may be a fundamental cause of a dog’s conflict will not have a significant effect on their overall behavior. When it does there’s an audible sigh of relief from a trainer and a few murmured hallelujahs. But the process of creating new habits and building skills in a dog requires more than just an owner asserting their dominance, projecting the right energy or loving their dog more. That it is not so simple should not be daunting or off-putting, indeed it can be one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of living with dogs.

Realizing that we are likely the most important piece in the puzzle of our dogs’ lives should inspire us to a greater understanding of their behavior. When we learn to respect and acknowledge the many facets of our dogs’ personalities the pieces seem to fall into place.

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5 comments so far

  1. Lizzie on

    Sadly where Gracie is concerned I cannot seem to find the last piece of the puzzle to slot into place. Just when I think we are finally getting there, something will happen that tells me she just has not ‘turned any corners’ or laid her ghosts to rest. I am talking about outside where people are concerned.

    I don’t think it would make any difference if I did know what traumatised her so much in her past life, but I do know of lots of dogs with similar past lives to Gracie who, with the help of their adoptive owners and time of course, have managed to move on and become more ‘normalised’.

    This makes me conclude that either I am not helping Gracie in the right way or that despite her background she would always have been prone to fearful behaviour and there is little or nothing that can help her change the way that she feels.
    I can sense that word medication looming again and yes perhaps that is the way to go, after so long, it’s just a pity that it’s so difficult to obtain over here!

    • fearfuldogs on

      The reality is that if a dog is not socialized to people and novel experiences during their first couple of months of life, there is no magic key that is going to unlock the door to ‘normalcy’. Medication won’t cure them, but it can lower the anxiety so that more skills can be learned, but it doesn’t ever fix the fact that they missed out on early development. Our goal becomes to create an environment in which they can feel comfortable, safe and thrive, such as they can. Given any group of dogs there will be some that may have needed less exposure to novelty in order to be comfortable with it, or had a larger window of opportunity for developing it. Or a dog may have been more sensitive and effected adversely by experiences another dog may have shrugged off and rebounded from. They’re all different. Given what you have done with Gracie it’s hard to imagine that some ‘trick’ of handling would have made a big difference.

  2. Lizzie on

    Of course you are quite right in your summing up Debbie.

    For the most part I am comforted to see Gracie as happy as she may ever be in my home and around me and my husband, (though not so much him, but better than she was) it’s just that every now and again it does really upset me to
    see her in panic mode when she has to deal with another person who isn’t even anywhere near her!
    I can only imagine what emotions are running through her, much the same as you have described in your most recent post I have no doubt.

    To see a dog, or person for that matter, react in such a way is not only disturbing but extremely distressing, and when even after I have tried for all this time to help Gracie change the way she feels at that moment and to no avail, I am just left feeling overwhelmingly powerless and upset.

    For me, there is nothing worse.

  3. Sue on

    I agree with lizzie that it is very distressing to see the dog you love so much and try so hard to protect, reduced to a quivering wreck. I don’t believe that the puzzle that makes up a terrified puppy farm survivor, is ever quite complete. Just when you think you are reaching that moment of putting the final piece in place, someone bumps the table and the pieces are all over the place again! Will we ever be able to put that final piece in place, stand back and admire our work?….probably not.
    What i do know is that the life our dogs live in now, is heaven compared to the hell they inhabited previously. Their world is now a wonderful place to be.
    We are all learning lizzie, so don’t beat yourself up over what you may or may not be doing wrong.
    Whatever we do is done because we love our dogs dearly. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes maybe not…its like being a parent.
    If you sit and look at how far Gracie has come since you adopted her,I’m sure you would have to say she has completely changed.
    Give Gracie a hug from me…and have one yourself for the amazing change you have brought to Gracies life..xx

  4. Lizzie on

    Thanks so much Sue for your words of support. I will do as you suggest, hug hug 🙂


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