Dancing is NOT allowed

large white dog standing on hind legs and sniffing nose of a manEarly in our relationship my husband, an avid tennis player, hoped that I too might learn to enjoy the game. I knew that the chances of that were slim to none, but needed to at least give it a try. My attitude is that if someone really wants to play with me they’d hit the balls to me, rather than try to make me miss them. I quickly realized during the one time I played a game of tennis with my husband that the sooner I hit all the balls over the fence and out of the court the sooner I could leave and get on with things, like a walk with the dogs. My husband continues to play tennis, just not with me.

We give a lot of lip service to having a good relationship with our dogs but I wonder if our dogs could talk, what they would have to say about what is really going on between us. Few pet owners would say they have a bad relationship with their dog, but if questioned about it, it’s often challenging to find something ‘good’ about it, from the dog’s imagined point of view anyway. Sure the food may be welcome and having a safe, comfortable place to sleep is nice, but that should be a given in any relationship a human has with a domesticated animal.

I live with a border collie and sheep are out of the question, and I do feel sorry about this for his sake, so I try to find other activities which make his eyes sparkle. As with most dogs what it takes isn’t much. A few minutes tossing frisbees, some stones splashing into the river, an off-leash run and anything I can think to ask him to do to earn a few bits of cheese may not make up for the lack of sheep, but I have tried to look at our relationship from his side of things.

Imagine that you LOVE to dance and you partner up with someone who not only doesn’t enjoy dancing but is adamant about preventing you from ever dancing again. How’s that for a good relationship? Now imagine your partner was to say that if you really loved them you’d be happy not to dance, that your life should be complete without the music, without the movement. How long before the bloom is off of that rose?

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32 comments so far

  1. meghan on

    Sooooo, what should we do for our dogs? Just accept that we are not fulfilling their needs? This is an incredibly depressing article 😦
    I don’t want my dogs to lead an unhappy life 😦

    • fearfuldogs on

      Why not just let your dogs dance if they want to?

      • Em on

        But what if they want to dance with you or play tennis with you and you don’t want to do that? My compromise was to find a happy medium with my last dog and we’ll see what I do with this puppy. I’m thinking nosework *or* sheep:0)

    • Meghan, dogs have simple needs. Some like to fetch a stick, some like to tug, some swim, all dogs like to lay around with the person they love. My Scooby showed me that he likes hockey. He puts his Kong down at mt feet and steps back until I kick it. Then he blocks it. It was his idea, and he showed me what he wanted.

      Just don’t spend a lot of time teaching them to do things that dogs don’t do naturally.

      • KellyK on

        I think that’s a really good point. My dog Diamond has no interest in fetching, so I’m not going to frustrate her and me by trying to teach it. Reba, on the other hand, loves to chase a tennis ball, so I’m working on teaching her to actually bring the ball back and drop it at my feet (as opposed to doing a “Look, I’ve got a ball!” dance before dropping the ball somewhere else, then coming back to me expecting me to magically produce something else for her to chase).

        It’s awesome how smart dogs are–they will show you what they want to do. (Usually by doing stuff you don’t want…Diamond chewed up several pillows before we realized that she’d really enjoy stuffed toys to chew on.)

  2. Thomas Aaron on

    A human bonding with a dog is not the same thing as a dog bonding with a human. (Consider hoarders, for example.) Interact with your dog constantly. Love them, train them.

  3. Thomas Aaron on

    A border collie does not need sheep to be happy, but they do have needs. There are other ways to fulfill those needs.

  4. Heather on

    I see my computer time being largely diminshed. 🙂 There are times I tune in and live “a dog’s life.” They are good at exercising me and getting me to laugh. They also take me camping in the summer to a wonderful place in the Southern Tier. And then, I have to get back to the reality of what keeps them in the style to which they deserve to live. Oh, and the cat always wants a piece of the action too.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I know that I have chosen to live where I do in part because of how it allows my dogs to live.

      • Heather on

        kudos to those who not only prioritize for that, but then have the courage to embrace the opportunity. hoping one day to have the strength to have a more dog centered lifestyle…and the courage to “carpe ossisum” when it occurs.

        I took a second read on this column. I believe the game of tennis that you describe, if someone wanted you to play, bears a strange resemblence to fetch. 🙂

  5. jet on

    Bender loves to protect his house by barking at strangers, and neighbours who come too close. Unfortunately his love for guarding is not shared by me. I think I have acheived something, that he stops barking when I ask him to, most of the time. :O

    • fearfuldogs on

      Sounds like a few sessions of Look At That might be helpful with this. A trainer familiar with the technique could help you out. Change the behavior the trigger cues.

  6. A Shepherd's Voice on

    What an eye-opening post! It gives me a whole different perspective on my relationship with my animals ~ both my own and the dogs that I rescue/foster. I will make a concentrated effort to improve the dogs’ lives from THEIR point of view…

    Thank you!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for reading and commenting and the best to you and all your dogs!

  7. This is a radical idea. All of the literature is about how to make the dog become what WE want it to be. Behaviorism is about teaching “non dog” behavior, and then “shaping” it, so other humans will be impressed. After all, we don’t have to teach dog behavior, except in the rare situation where a dog was taken from it’s family too young.

    I admit we have to teach some basics of how to live in a human house. But I love your idea of letting the dog dance, and sharing in that dance.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I never thought of this as radical Jim, and I’m sorry if many think it is. I’ve had clients who the main advice I gave them regarding their dog was ‘give them a life’. I also suspect that would go for many humans as well.

  8. lexy3587 on

    I always feel guilty when I get home from work and just want to sit and do nothing – Gwynn’s been doing that all day, waiting for me to get home. it’s a good incentive to get out and do something more interesting, at any rate.
    Also, I did a herding instinct test with him – actual sheep! Sheep for the ‘every-day’ might not be an option for you (or me), but check in your area to see if you could take a one-time (or regular) class on herding. Gwynn had the most ecstatic expression on his face, even through the hour long drive home. If it weren’t so far away, I might consider making it a more regular activity for us, in spite of the sheep-smell we both brought home.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I have had an instructor introduce Finn to sheep and as a younger dog he would have had potential as a herder. As it was he was adopted by a competitive frisbee player who dumped him but not before creating a frisbee obsession 😉 Treiball was fun, but at the end of the day I didn’t care enough about the sport to continue. I don’t think I’ve ever lived with a dog who I didn’t wish I could have given more of what they really wanted.

  9. Cowgirl on

    Thanks…I think this blog is going to help us. My ‘mexican street dog’ has come a long way (both figuratively and litterally) but still has a few fear-based issues. I will continue to read and try some of your suggestions. Do you know anything about using ‘melatonin’ to take the edge off of a dog’s fear? Cheers from BC!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for reading. Please visit fearfuldogs.com for lots more information about ways we can help lower the stress and anxiety a dog experiences. Melatonin has been shown to be effective for sound phobias in some dogs. I prefer to work with a vet who can provide guidance on the variety of medications and supplements available. Using an over the counter product or ‘natural’ remedy may seem ‘safer’ but if they are not actually helping a dog, the side effects of stress on a body and brain are well documented and should not be discounted. The time and money spent on experimenting with supplements can steal time that might have been better spent using something that has research behind it indicating its efficacy.

      I am not saying that supplements can’t work, but for dogs who did not receive the socialization and exposure to novelty when they needed to, we often need to do more than just work on the edges. This is just my opinion.

  10. KellyK on

    I love the comparison to dancing. I think that if your dog really wants to dance, and you can’t or don’t want to, there are lots of options. I like to dance, but my husband doesn’t. So I find other people to dance with. Trying to beg or guilt him into dancing would just make us both miserable. Since your dog can’t go out and find other dance partners, that becomes your job.

    If you have a dog who needs more exercise or different activities than you want or can provide, you can have someone come over to walk them (maybe a professional pet-sitter, maybe a friend who likes dogs and can be bribed with cookies–whatever works). There are also herding balls (http://boomerball.com/boomerballs/21-20-inch-herding-ball.html). A little pricey, but cheaper and better smelling than sheep, and you don’t have to feed or shear them.

  11. diana on

    i absolutely love this post.
    my take-away is that we can provide a nice balance for our dogs – we just need to ask them what it is THEY need and then meet those needs as best we can.
    yes, let them dance!

  12. meghan on

    I guess my comment was misunderstood… And I also misunderstood the last paragraph of the article!

    I have one English lab (Taffy)(rescued from being a puppy mill mom) who is 7, I think her “dance” is to be loved and touched and told how beautiful she is (that last part may just be me giving extras). No problem helping her dance!
    My other dog, Moose, is an almost 4 year old lab/basset mix. I THINK her dance is fetching and swimming. (both breeds are retrieval dogs for hunting so it makes sense) My problem with Moose and fetch is #1, she starts to get obsessive and #2 if there are any other dogs around, she gets very possessive and resource guards the ball. How can I fulfill her need to fetch without feeding the bad habits?

    • fearfuldogs on

      Stop before she gets too aroused and put the other dogs inside when you play with her. Take breaks from fetching and build chill out behavior, the ball doesn’t get tossed until she stops barking, or doing whatever she does that defines the obsessive behavior to you. Just some thoughts.

      • meghan on

        Sadly, she gets obsessed as soon as she knows the ball is in my pocket! She starts whining and will just stare at my pocket. I’ve tried just putting the ball in my pocket and then we go do something totally unrelated to the ball, like go for a walk but NOPE! The whole walk she’s staring at my pocket tripping me. Maybe I should just accept the fact that she’s special and dances in circles…

  13. Tegan on

    I enjoyed this post (like I enjoy all your posts). It reminded me that, although we often acquire a dog with many hopes and dreams, often the dog has different hopes and dreams. Crystal (at Reactive Champion) wrote a great post the other day about her competitive future with her dog Maisy – she explained that, although she really wanted to try for obedience champion, she also wanted to do what Maisy wanted to do. A respectful and inspiring position.

  14. Lizzie on

    I just wanted to share this with you all:

    Yesterday I watched a documentary about War Dogs who served with the US Marine Corps in 1944 in Guam. It was truly an inspiring film and needless to say had me in tears by the end.
    These dogs were mostly household pets, untrained in the ways of warfare, and in 1944 there was not the insight into training methods that there is today. Also most of the guys who were to handle, train and live with these dogs 24/7 were unfamiliar with the ways of the canine.
    Anyway over 500 dogs and handlers, young men aged 18-21, were shipped over to Guam to fight the Japanese. The dogs were trained to sniff out snipers, carry messages to other Marines, guard their handlers at night whilst they slept in holes in the ground, not bark, and numerous other tasks that only a dog could do. 25 dogs lost their lives, and some handlers too. Such was the loyalty of both man and dog that if one of them died the other was so bereft, it was heart breaking. One of the dogs would not allow a medic near his beloved handler and had to be restrained.
    Sometimes the Marines would capture a Japanese dog after the handler had been killed so they used the dog to their own advantage…… after they taught it to understand English, truly amazing, a bilingual dog!

    When the fighting was over they brought the dogs back to the USA to what would have been certain death, such was the way of the Army in those days but the Marine Commander would not hear of it and ordered that the dogs be ‘detrained’ in the ways of warfare so that they may go back to the families that they had come from as they had promised. Some of the families didn’t want their dog back as they didn’t trust them anymore so those dogs went to live with their Marine handlers. Of 549 dogs who went to war only 4 found it impossible to readjust to civilian life and sadly had to be put to sleep.
    A true testament to the capability and adaptability of the dogs we all love.

    Those dogs truly danced.

    • Bluff Country Canine Rescue on

      Thank you for sharing that HEART-WARMING information Lizzie!

    • Nicole on

      War dogs of the Pacific is a fantastic documentary. It brought tears to my eyes to watch the (very) elderly veterans still get emotional when talking about the dogs they had worked with so many decades before. Truly a wonderful film.

  15. Bluff Country Canine Rescue on

    I posted links to a couple of WONDERFUL links on my Canine Rescue Facebook page yesterday that address this very issue. Please check them out ~ you’ll be glad that you did. I suggest viewing the first link first (the one showing the dog with flowers around her neck, on the surfboard). ENJOY!

  16. Jay from The Depp Effect on

    I have a husband like that! Oh, he doesn’t actively stop me dancing but because he hates it, and the situations where you can dance, I have pretty much had to stop dancing since we married thirty-odd years ago. LOL!

    But it’s a good analogy for all that. And hey – I at least do have the option to go out by myself, if I weren’t so lazy.


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