Dog’s Eye View: Independent thinking in dogs
One of the really interesting things about dog families is how they work out where each one fits. There always seems to be one that is more confident and independent than the rest. The shy one lets the other take the lead.
In multiple-children families, each child is encouraged to grow up to be who they are meant to be. Star athlete or quiet conservative, we parents nurture each individual knowing that, one day, each will need to step up and get along on his or her own. We encourage each to be independent and self-sufficient. (That’s the theory anyway)
In canine sibling or multiple dog households, the dynamic is similar but different. How many of us take our multiple dogs with us everywhere? Or put them all on the same schedule? They play together, eat at the same time, each get their special treats and go outside at the same time. They are always together. Sound familiar?
What we don’t realize in our multiple-dog household is we are treating them as one. It’s convenient, right? They like being together, right? They don’t want to go outside alone. And don’t you even think about spending time with one and putting another in his kennel in the back bedroom. He can’t tolerate the isolation and doesn’t particularly like not getting the attention. This situation can have consequences when the dynamics begin to change. If we don’t raise them as individuals, they can become overly dependent on one other. It’s kind of like having an eight-legged dog. They are so bonded they cannot be separated. When one dies, especially the confident one, that leaves the anxious one completely in a void. There is no leader left, sort of like a “country without a king” so to speak. He’s lost, depressed, isolated from the one he knew how to talk to and depends on for guidance. For a fearful dog, this can be a tragedy. He can become increasingly defensive and anxious, and separation anxiety can increase.
Taking all this into consideration, it’s important to assess each dog in your family as an individual. Help each one become an independent thinker. If you have multiple people in your household, have each person spend time with “their” dog going places, training, playing and just hanging out.
The dog that needs the most help becoming independent is your shy, fearful one. These guys really suffer when they are the last dog left. Raise them from a young age to tolerate being alone for short periods of time. If you don’t, and their behavior begins to deteriorate, you have a major job on your hands to help them cope.
As you add each new dog, teach them to “take turns” or wait politely. Teach each one how to stay home alone. It’s a lot of work and a lifetime project, but the reward is there. As time takes the old or sick ones, their passing will not leave a void. If you have an individual relationship with each dog, it allows you to share that grief and move forward with trust and confidence, because each one knows he can count on you as the leader.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 25 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC here in Northwest Colorado.
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