Ever thought about why your dog is behaving?
This month marks Molly’s 3rd birthday and I have been thinking a lot about her journey. She did not have an easy beginning and she has presented me with challenges I truly was not expecting.
I got Molly when Theo was around 18 months old and I naively thought I had a good understanding of how to cope and bring up a well-rounded pup. I had learned so much on my journey with Theo and I was confident I was now equipped with knowledge and skills. It, I would find, was not enough and Molly would teach me one of the biggest lessons of all.
Molly had not had an easy start. At 5 weeks she was taken to rescue, along with a whole host of puppies from a questionable person. There was no mother present and I do not know at what age she was taken from her mum. I also have no idea what her mum’s life was like, but I suspect not good.
At times she appeared a=to be a happy confident puppy. These times were when she was with Theo. She would not leave the house without him. She did not seek or appear to enjoy human contact – though she would tolerate it. What I thought were fun enrichment tasks scared and frustrated her. There were moments we saw an excitable and fun loving puppy, she was a whirlwind and gained the nickname ‘Molly Mayhem’. But that is not what other people saw.
I began to build her confidence and our relationship and would take her out on her own when I could. We would work on our bond and supporting her to feel more comfortable being out and about without Theo – we still do this! But here’s where I became frustrated.. I would take Molly places and meet people and they would say things like –
‘oh, she’s so well behaved!’
‘I wish my dog was like her, mine would be jumping up and everywhere’
‘she so quiet and polite!’
It’s nice to hear compliments about your dog, but I honestly felt so sad. Yes she seemed ‘well behaved’ but actually she was not ‘misbehaving’ because she actually was not doing…well…anything, she was not her, she wasn't the fun loving and happy girl I knew she could be. I could not teach her things, she did not appear to listen or was more accurately she couldn’t. She was actually so nervous that she was shutdown. The best way I can describe this is that she was like the socially awkward kid at the school disco, sitting on her hands in the corner, staring at the floor. The only time I saw her come alive was when other dogs were present, but then she would run at them. This was not ideal either! She wanted to play and be friendly, but she misjudged other dogs and risked being growled at, or worse bitten. And I could not control her!
It’s a journey we continue on today, mostly focused on helping her build confidence. The happier and more relaxed she feels the more we are able to learn things together, she is able to learn what I would like her to do whislt also being the amazing girl she it. I am not sure she will ever be a truly confident and carefree dog, but I love seeing her progress and most recently I’ve started to see her engaging in playing with and exploring her environment independently – something I had previously only seen her do in the presence of other dogs. I truly adore seeing her true personality because she is one of the most fun loving and hilarious characters.
Why am I sharing this? Because in the many, many lessons Molly has taught me there is one absolute clanger. That many people read and misunderstand dogs behaviour. Outsiders saw her as well behaved and polite. In truth she was anxious…so I want to ask anyone reading this, when your dog does what you want is it because they want to do this and find it rewarding? Or are they genuinely too scared to express themselves?