Do we rush our dogs to be further along than they actually should be?
If we look at the standard human to dog years table that we grew up with, saying that for each year a dog lives, it is around 7 human years, what do we get. We so often hear that “our dog is are not as good as we thought they would be”, or that “I have put so much time in, he is 10 months old yet he still runs off on me, or doesn’t listen”. Well, imagine a 5 year old child at Disneyland. Would you have to ask them to do something a few times before it got done? Would you need to keep a close eye on them when they are looking at Ariel or Mickey Mouse to make sure they didn’t just run over to say hi?
Look at what our expectations are for a child heading towards the age of 7. We are teaching them to navigate the world, which at that age is very treacherous. There are all sorts of pitfalls. Some things are scary, some things are shiny, some things can be traumatic and some things can give us amazing life long memories of happiness. We learn new skills, and we learn them through failure, over and over. We don’t just one day decide that we will go from crawling to walking and then, never fall down. We learn through perseverance and repetition. We practice at our own home, in the lounge where we know the lay of the land. We pull ourselves up on the coffee table to help us with balance and listen to mum and dad lavish us with praise and love, which encourages us to do it again. And again. We also start to try to do this in new areas, around different people, over and over and generalising our new found, bipedal skill until it becomes second nature.
This is also the first 12 months of a dogs life. Learning new skills that they actually can do naturally, but learning to do it when “we” want them too. In a language that is totally foreign to them. How many times do we teach them this skill before we expect them to do it correctly. Fall down 5 times, stand up 6 is an old saying. Well, here is some actual research. 12- to 19-month-olds averaged 2368 steps and fell 17 times/hour. That is a lot of repetition for both steps, and falling. We need to have similar success rates with our dogs. That works out to be around 140 successes (steps) to the 1 fail (fall). So, how many recalls have you done with your dog. 20? 30? 140? And how many times have you not had success. Check out your success vs failure rate and start walking properly!
Between the ages of 7 to 14, we go through all sorts of changes. We try lots of different things. Everything from food, play styles, games, music, writing, books, movies and friendship groups to travel, new places and strange things that happen to our bodies!! We give our 14 year olds a level of trust, but we don’t give them the keys to the car. They may be able to stay home alone for a time, while the “adults” go out. There is a new level of trust, founded upon an acquired level of skill. Again, as our dogs are between the ages or 12 to 24 months, we see the same things. Maybe they can have a bit of off lead time with responsibility. There is certainly still room for mistakes as they are still young, impulsive, testing the boundaries. This is all normal, and certainly things that I did as a teenager in the early years (sorry mum). During this time, you may feel a little flat in regards to your training that you have done with your dog. Things aren’t always smooth sailing. In saying that, look at the rounded experiences you have hopefully given your dog! You’ve done training, shown them different parts of their world. Perhaps you have done a few things like Noseworks, Tracking, Rally O and Obedience. That is great, these things show you, and your dog, other fun “games” that can be enjoyed. You haven’t mastered any of them? Good! You have given your dog, and yourself, a broader spectrum of learning! Pat yourself on the back!!
Moving into a 2, 3 and 4 year old dogs realm, we are starting to get an adult dog now. We are really seeing the true dog. They may be calmer, they may be more stable, they may be able to accelerate their training into becoming very good at what they do. You can see where they are really happy in their role, whatever that may be! Dog sport competitor, coffee shop companion, couch potato, family pet or beach buddy. The same for us as we go from a teenager trying to find ourselves to someone heading into an amazing future and seeing a path that we start to head down. We are starting to settle down, figure out our lives.
Moving forward, you can see where all of this starts to take us. Well, hopefully you can. If we take our time with our dogs, don’t heap all of our expectations onto them too early (which we so often do), let them grow, learn, experience and have fun, we will hopefully end up with a great dog. A dog we have put effort into. A well rounded dog. Well, as well rounded as you and I….