Blame is just a lazy person’s way of making sense of chaos.
Today I had a conversation with my friend Anne (not her real name), who was having some problems housebreaking her dogs. I spoke with her for several minutes on the phone. While I was sitting on my couch with a nice, hot cup of coffee, helping her identify the housebreaking issue, Orion jumped up on the couch, jumped over me, and knocked my arm holding the cup of coffee , spilling it all over my couch. I pose question: whose fault was that, mine or Orion’s?
The answer: Neither and both.
Let me explain. There is one mantra I’d like you to chant over and over again. Something that will help you get through moments like the one I had today. Moments when your dog chews up your favorite shoes, or leaves a puddle on the floor. This is important enough to tattoo somewhere (inconspicuously, of course). Something that explains why you’re having problems with your dog,and what your reaction should be:
My dog is a wonderful dog, who is learning to be human. I am a wonderful human, who is learning what it is to be a dog.
It’s a learning curve for both of you! Cut yourself some slack. Cut your dog some slack, and understand that you are working on a bond that transcends species! How many of us can say they have the perfect friendship/relationship/marriage that doesn’t have its ups and downs? Not me. And that’s a relationship that’s at least with someone who speaks the same language as you! That’s why I’m completely, 100% against blame of any kind. Wait a minute: let me get Captain Jack to explain. Everything sounds better coming out of Johnny Depp’s mouth, right?
Look at it like this…what are your goals for your dog? To be good? But a good what? Your dog can only be the best dog he can be. You can only be the best human you can be. Leave room for lots of error.
There’s an old saying about how to housebreak a puppy. Basically:
“A rolled up newspaper can be an effective training tool if used properly immediately after a housebreaking accident or if your dog chews something. Take the rolled up newspaper and hit yourself over the head while chanting the phrase “I forgot to watch my dog. I forgot to watch my dog. I forgot to watch my dog.”
I hate that mentality. Blame. It’s like ketchup to a kid. It goes with everything.
That’s not to say there isn’t a problem. But let’s start out in the right frame of mind now, and starting off training by blaming anyone isn’t the way to go. Here are some simple ways to appropriately deal with a situation that you’ve deemed negative (remember, “negative” doesn’t mean “bad”, merely that you don’t want that behavior again). Let’s focus on the two problems that occurred today, Annie’s housebreaking problem and Orion’s incident, which we’ll dub Coffeegate:
Be rational. Orion didn’t wake up this morning and decide to leave a huge coffee stain in the middle of my couch. Dogs don’t premeditate anything. The universe isn’t conspiring against me, and my life doesn’t suck. I have a coffee stain on my couch. End of story. Your dog doesn’t hate you when he pees on the rug, nor is he getting back at you. You aren’t the world’s worst dog owner and your dog isn’t stupid. You’re trying (as a human) to understand why your dog is acting, well, like a dog! Understanding the logic of another human is difficult, let alone another species.
Determine if there is indeed a problem. Orion is allowed on the couch. I’m allowed to have coffee. Perfect storm of clumsy dog vs. clumsy owner? Possibly. Odds of the same situation happening again? Minimal. But that’s not always the case. Housebreaking issues? Yeah, you know that’s gonna happen again.
Have a plan. My plan for the couch? I flipped over the cushion. My plan for if the perfect storm aka “Cofffeegate” starts up again? The PAW Method. Answering’s Orion’s questions about whether or not he can jump up on the couch when I have coffee (hint: read this article to see how). Annie’s housebreaking issues are going to take a bit more effort, but here’s the Darwin Dogs’ method on dealing with housebreaking issues.
Move on. Yes, come on. You can do it. Don’t cultivate anger. As Mark Twain said:
“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
Now think about all the times your dog has been angry at you. Or blamed you for something. Sparta, Orion and I had a pretty terrible day last week. Within the first 2 hours of waking up I accidentally kicked Sparta in the face while going up the stairs, and then punched Orion in the throat when I reached for my phone. Do you know how each dog reacted? Without blame. I felt terrible. That’s because I’m stuck being a human. My dogs? They got over it instantly. How lucky are they who have no word for “blame” or “guilt”. As Hoagland stated so succinctly:
In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio