Have you ever had someone have higher expectations for you than you could realistically fulfill? In our fast-paced world, this occurs often – in the workplace, in relationships, in school – it happens everywhere! When the expectations are not met, you and the other person involved are disappointed and whatever you are working on suffers. Unfortunately, we also often have unrealistic expectations with our dogs.
I see people having unrealistic expectations with their dogs in many of my training classes. It is not uncommon to have a human-dog team that comes to class every week, but they do not practice the skills at all in between classes. Obviously, these teams fall behind the teams that practice a little every day (even just 10- 15 minutes each day can make a dramatic difference). In some cases, the person is compassionate and realizes that their lack of practice has caused the dog’s skills to fall behind. However, there are cases when the person gets frustrated because the dog is not “performing” as well as the other dogs in class. With these students, I have to remind them it is not realistic to expect their dog to improve if they do not practice the skills.
It is extremely common for dogs to experience unrealistic expectations, in return they are often called “stubborn”, “dominant” or “stupid” when in reality they are just unsure. Puppies will often be expected to behave like adult dogs when they are not mentally ready yet. Fearful dogs are often labeled “stubborn” when they are actually frozen in fear. People often expect a dog to “know” a certain behavior even though they were never taught how to do the behavior.
The next time your dog seems to be struggling with a behavior or situation, take a moment to consider if your expectations are realistic. If they seem to be realistic, be compassionate and try to understand why your dog is struggling. So often we forget that our dogs are living beings, not robots. They can have bad days, not feel well, or be too distracted, just like us. It is also unrealistic to expect that a dog will be perfect all of the time.
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