I am not going to lie, I have very high expectations of my dogs. I expect them to eliminate in the proper place (outside), to behave in potentially crowded public spaces around people and dogs, to be reliable on-leash and off-leash, to be able to perform in highly distracting environments, to choose to work with me even when awesome things are around, etc. I do ask a lot of my dogs… BUT those expectations do not take away from their dog-ness or their happiness. Although some of the expectations are constant (pottying outside, being reliable off-leash, being reliable on-leash), many of them are very situational. For as often as I ask Rio to play disc in a park with squirrels running about and ignore the squirrels, I probably let him chase/sniff out/be engaged with them two or three times more as often. Although I ask them to work with me when it’s cold, rainy, breezy, at a large dog event… I’m just as content with them running around like maniacs doing their own thing on the farm as I just meander about.
One of the things I find myself regularly reminding students is that it is absolutely okay to have expectations of your dog. You don’t have to live with improper elimination, pulling on walks, or jumping just because, “he’s just a dog.” On the flip side, having expectations won’t create a robotic non-dog who does nothing independently (not necessarily at least, I’m sure with improper handling someone could create that robo-dog).
Honestly, I think that when we start laying down expectations for our dogs, we are able to coexist more harmoniously. When we want something but don’t ask, it can create a very contentious situation. I see this frequently, “I’m at my wit’s end with this dog, he keeps pulling me over when I try to walk him!”--Well, have you ever taught him to walk politely on the leash? Since I watched this dog drag this woman around, I can guess that while she may have taught him to walk nicely at some point, she didn’t hold him to that criteria and has, over time, grown to really resent the dog for pulling even though she lets him do it. If she had simply held her dog to the criteria of a loose leash, she would not be having these negative feelings toward her dog–regardless of breed, that dog is capable of walking without pulling if you give the dog clear expectations. Now, you want to make sure you work up toward the expectations but be clear and consistent and you can communicate and coexist quite beautifully.
There are aspects of dog training that some people assume as being mutually exclusive, though, in my opinion, that is just simply not the case. I once heard someone say that my working on sports foundations with Rio as a 5 month old puppy would cause him to be “lacking” in his ability to be a good companion animal. Some how the work I was doing with focus, exposure to different surfaces, basic handling skills, and handling games were going to create a dog who couldn’t be a companion animal (I still don’t exactly know why they felt this way). Just because I spent some time working on recall games, focus games, sticky-handling, and confidence on various objects/surfaces doesn’t mean I cannot also work on settling in the house, socialization, house training, manners for in the home etc.
When I got Rio at 4.5 months of age… he spent about 10 minutes every day training in a semi-formal training session (but had other informal foundation of behavior being taught throughout the day). He spent the other 1430 minutes each day learning to be a dog, learning to be a dog in my home (learning some house rules etc), learning about tall people/short people/Latino people/Asian people/men/women/children/big dogs/little dogs/scared dogs/friendly dogs/etc. Even when he spent an hour once a week in a class… he still was able to become a very well rounded and well socialized dog. Training and ‘being a dog’ aren’t mutually exclusive… it is totally possible to balance both aspects of puppy raising in a way where both sides are fulfilled. Some of the best puppy raisers I know have this amazing way of balancing being a dog with training and they raise some of the most well-rounded adult dogs.
Anyhow, long story short… don’t sell your dogs short. They are capable beings who can learn rules and understand expectations. And really, I think having obtainable expectations of our dogs can aid in communication and having a positive, non-resentful relationship.