It’s a shame

It's a shame

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It's a shame

Do you own a dog with issues? Not necessarily reactivity, perhaps your dog is always jumping, stealing, barking, chasing or similar? I will be focusing heavily on reactivity in this blog, fear based to be specific, but I hope, no matter what the issue you are experiencing, that this article might help you in some way. 

First of all know that if you are seeking professional help, and getting support to change things then you are doing all you can.

So many dog owners that have dogs with issues, that they have not been able to deal with, feel such a sense of embarrassment and shame around the subject.

So, second of all, know you are not alone. You are not the first to feel like you have failed, like you have somehow let your dog down, or maybe your family, or even yourself. This is absolutely not true.

Before anyone gets their first dog, yes me included, we have dreams and ideals about what dog ownership will be like.

When I got my first dog I crazily thought that all dogs would be the same, for instance, training would be “one size fits all”, how wrong I was and how many problems this caused me and my sensitive dog.

Cookie cutter dogs (you know those dogs that are naturally born as laid-back dogs that wander through life unphased by anything, can go anywhere and deal with anything all whilst remaining super chilled and all with very little training or guidance) are few and far between so if you don’t have one then you are in the majority! Again, you not alone.

Longhaired Weimaraner Faith at Discover Dogs
Longhaired Weimaraner Rhea at Crufts
Longhaired Weimaraner in field

Why feeling shame can mean we lose sight of what really matters

Feeling shame about our dogs behaviour is a perfectly natural human experience, whatever you do don’t add blame to shame, just accept it if you feel it but start to look at things differently and change the shame to something far better for both you and your dog. Start by gaining insight and understanding into the other end of your lead.

When your dog is carrying out a behaviour that you don’t want, one that perhaps makes you embarrassed or ashamed it is important to step back from the emotions for a moment and simply ask, why? Dogs, just like us, do things that give them the outcomes they want, they do what works for them. Not out of naughtiness, trying to take over a boss role or being a troublemaker, just to fulfil needs that they have, for instance perhaps an emotional need for attention. Your dog is doing the same as all the other dogs in the world.

Take a look at a problem behaviour your dog has and ask yourself what could they possibly be achieving with the behaviour.

If you have a reactive dog are they trying to look big and scary to keep what they fear at a distance, for instance, another dog or person or even an object such as a passing car or similar?

Fear is not the only cause of reactivity but it is a very common one.

Remember if you have a reactive dog, especially when their behaviour is fear-based, they need your support and understanding. Feeling shame about their behaviour can sometimes make it hard to give the support they need but when you begin to start practising putting their feelings first in a constructive, practical and understanding way, it becomes easier each time and you will soon see positive change in your dog.

Why you need not feel shame

Perhaps your dog is your first? or maybe your tenth? It doesn’t matter how much experience you have, when you find you have a reactive dog it is normally a shock. Whatever plans you had made about how life would be with your dog, reactivity changes all of that. Your expectations and goalposts are forced to move. You do what feels like a downgrading of plans that you had. You learn to make accommodations in your life. You implement management systems and carry “plan B’s” in your head wherever you go, worrying about a variety of possible outcomes. 

Life is changed and somehow we humans manage to make it our fault that this has happened…

For instance:

  1. Perhaps your dog was attacked by another – We go to the question, why didn’t we keep them safe?
  2. Maybe something stopped you from having time to train when they were a puppy – We think if only we had done more training it would be ok.
  3. Perhaps they went to training classes but they were stressful and badly managed which caused the problem to start in the first place – We ask why didn’t we research more before choosing a class, notice the effect earlier and leave the classes?
  4. Maybe something personally happened in your life and your dog had to take a back seat for a while – We think if that hadn’t been the case, if we had just MADE more time everything would be fine.
  5. What if they were barky, scared puppies when we brought them home – we might question, why didn’t we research the breeder more or choose a different puppy because we noticed they seemed timid and scared right from a youngster?

These are but a few examples of common thoughts and feelings surrounding reactivity but if you’re reading this it’s time to move forward. 

It matters not what caused you to be where you are now, really sit with that and let that sink in, don’t just read on.

It doesn’t matter where you started and therefore there is no blame or shame to be attached to where you are now. From this moment ditch shame, when it tries to creep in do not allow it, shut that door every time. Use your mind, thoughts and energy to move forward and never waste it looking back again

Dog Barking

Refuse to allow judgement

Above we talked about blame, the blame we give ourselves.

Now I want you to consider the blame we can receive from others in the form of judgement.

If judgements of others really affect you, ask yourself why? Why does it matter so much what Joe Bloggs (not real name obviously) down the park thinks about either you or your dog. When you can understand why you can begin to move away from taking on board those judgements.

For instance, I used to worry about people, random people I neither knew nor cared about, judging my very first dog, I mean REALLY worry! Why?

Well, when I dug deep I realised that for me it was because I deeply loved my dog, he was my good boy, my best boy, he had become reactive after being bitten several times (none of which were actually his fault I might add), I was a new owner and misread/misdealt with situations that lead to other dogs biting him, he went from friend to all dogs to scared and sometimes reactive. I felt ashamed that I had failed him, that I didn’t keep him safe and I felt sad that because I had failed him people would think he wasn’t a good boy, that he was a bad dog and he didn’t deserve that at all, so I felt guilty and that I had failed him, that my lack of dog know-how back then was unforgivable in some way.

Yes, one person can actually feel all of that!

If you read my story would you judge me? How would you judge me?

Treat yourself as kindly as you would others

I know reading this article won’t magically disolve shame, blame or self-judgements but if it gives food for thought about being kinder to yourself then that is a start. 

When something occurs and you feel shame, blame or yourself or someone else is being judgemental about what happened. Try some of the following:

  • Wear a little reminder, an anchor to bring you back to being kinder to yourself.
  • Remember to show yourself the kindness you would show someone else.
  • When you are judged, ask yourself if you need to dwell on this person’s opinion, does it serve or help you or your dog in any way at all?
  • When you are judged, ask yourself if this person’s knows anything at all about you, your dog or your situation at all? If they don’t then how can their judgement be a valid one?
  • Remember to look at your dog and know they are doing their best even when they are reacting in a way that isn’t seen as appropriate.
  • Your dog is an individual with individual hopes and fears just like we humans have, and sometimes emotions become too much, it doesn’t make us or them good or bad.

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Content Disclaimer

The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this article is not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article. Nina Fotara T/as Confident Canine disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article.