"Shoulds" v. Real-Life

Oct 7, 2018
I had a conversation with a client recently regarding a laundry of list of what she "should" do with her dog that was unloaded onto her by her naive, albeit well-meaning, friend. After she finished listing all these things she "should" do, flabbergasted, I asked when she would have the time to eat, sleep or take care of her family?! She didn't have an answer. Deflated and defeated, she felt as though, somehow, she had failed both herself and her dog.

This conversation got me thinking…the dog training community as a whole needs to have an honest assessment of "shoulds" v. real life.

Here's a personal example to help this concept make a bit more sense:

The "Shoulds":
  • I should trim my dog's nails every 3-5 days.
  • I should train one of the million activities we are involved in at least once a day; more if I want to be a good trainer!
  • I should make working on loose leash walking a priority.
The Reality:
  • Trimming Nails: My neck and back only allow me to do his nails once a week, if I'm lucky.
  • Consistent training: Yeah…when exactly do I time to do this?!
  • Loose leash walking: That would involve leaving the house…
The Disconnect:
  • I can never seem to achieve even one of my "shoulds" in a given week.

That must mean I am a terrible (enter your word of choice, dog trainer, dog owner, human being, carbon based life form, etc.).

Allow me to let you in on a secret: no one is perfect. Everyone has a long laundry of list of things they "should" do with their dog…or their spouses, their kids, at their work, with their friends, on their apartment or house, in their career, and so on and so on.

The key is to prioritize, be reasonable and realistic. If you want a certain end result (earning a particular title, having your dog master a certain behavior, etc.) then what is on your "should" list matters a ton more. Obviously, if your goal is to compete on the World Agility Team, you had better be ready to commit to some serious and disciplined training. Likewise, if you expect your dog to be perfect greeting people who visit your house, this has to be trained and practiced. Your dog cannot be expected to simply figure out this behavior organically and magically on their own.

Regardless, you still need to be realistic. Personally, I am limited as to what I can do both physically and in regard to the amount of time I have. The last time I checked, I cannot create another 24-hours in the day, nor can I magically grow a brand new spine. So, I have to adjust my expectations to avoid setting myself up for failure and painful disappointment.

Because here is another secret: all the positive reinforcement and good management techniques you use when training your dog apply to you too! If you bite off more than you can chew, over-face and overwhelm yourself, you're going to find the entire experience gross. You will begin to dread it. Avoid it. And then it can chip away at your own confidence, and bleed over to other facets to your dog training. Before you know it, you will balk at the mere thought of doing anything related to dog training.

So keep your "should" list reasonable. Adjust it so that it is more doable. And keep all of this dog stuff fun, for both you and your dog. Trust me, it pays off in the end.

Oh, and before you start giving a list of "shoulds" to someone else and their dog, make certain you are not straddling them with undue stress and self-doubt. It can really backfire for both them and their dog.

Dianna L. Santos has been professionally training dogs since 2011. Having specialized in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, Dianna's main goal is to help dogs learn how to be successful in a human world. She does this by outlining ways dog owners can better understand their dogs while designing fun and effective training programs and games both ends of the leash will enjoy. Dianna is also particularly passionate about Scent Work is on a mission to promote the idea that ALL dogs should be playing the sniffing game!