All the things I did wrong as a dog parent…

Let’s face it, we can all do better as parents, whether it’s human kids or four legged companions.

I hadn’t had a dog since I was a young kid, and my 16 year relationship with a narcissistic, spoiled douche didn’t allow me to have a dog. He hated dogs. Luckily he liked cats, albeit only one specific breed.

Anyways, when I finally became single, and once my life settled down a bit (hey, I had to make up for a lot of lost time), I adopted a dog. I was actually in a relationship at the time, but it seemed like the right thing to do. He had a dog that was in our life together for about 5-6 months before she passed away.

Little did I know, that relationship wouldn’t last more than 1.5 years, though wish it had ended sooner! He did nothing for “our” dog (named Peach), financially or otherwise. He only took her out to do fun things, while I was stuck paying all the bills and working my ass off. He also did a lot of damage to her, and is more than likely the reason she is scared and reactive towards men (until she trusts them, then they become her best friend).

I relied on his knowledge of dog ownership, since he “had dogs all of his life”. 

NEVER, I repeat, NEVER trust someone that says that. 

Now that I know everything I know about dogs, I cringe when people say that. It’s the thing that dog owners say that know literally nothing about dogs, other than they need to be fed daily. These are not the people that are truly in tune with their dogs, they know nothing about canine body language, enrichment, nutrition, behavior, etc. I would say 9 times out of 10, these are the people that have somehow won the lottery and had “perfect” dogs all of their life. Well, or at least their idea of “perfect”.

Anyways, now onto the important stuff….

This article is meant to help dog owners. This is not meant to shame people. I am openly admitting and discussing all things I did wrong and what it caused. These are the things that 95% of dog owners do.

If you’re wondering what the actual repercussions of my actions and choices was, it’s something extremely common in dogs today: Reactivity.

If you’re wondering what makes me an “expert” at knowing this now, I assure you I am no expert. 

However, in working through reactivity and trying to correct what I caused with Peach, I became obsessed with learning all about canine behavior and positive reinforcement/force free training. 

I now spend ALL of my time outside of my paying job in pharmacy technology doing things in dog rescue, interning with the best trainers in Maine, and working towards my CPDT certification (Certified Professional Dog Trainer). My life is now dedicated to saving dogs and helping people.

Here are the mistakes I made. Drum roll please….

 

1. Not doing DECOMPRESSION when bringing a dog home

What is decompression? 

Decompression is something that my rescue stresses SO MUCH because it’s critical to the well being of any dog. 

I even believe that dogs from breeders need some form of decompression time as well when they’re brought home, though it may not be as critical. 

Rescue dogs have often (but not always) been through hell and back. They need time to adjust to a normal life, with a new environment and new people. 

Decompression refers to the period of time upon bringing a dog home where you create a safe space for them, completely separated from other animals, and only interactions with people inside the household. 

This means NOT taking them to parties, having parties (or all your friends and family over to meet the new pup), no play dates with other dogs, etc – you basically treat the dog like a sick child. 

During this time, the new dog has zero social pressure, no stress, and can simply relax and get used to you, their new human companion(s). 

My rescue makes this mandatory for fosters and adopters and any time a dog moves to a new home, for 48 hours minimum. Some dogs need more time. Hell, some dogs need weeks or even months.

During the first day I had Peach home, I was trying to do introductions to my cats, Mario and Yoshi. Big mistake. I thought I was doing it safely (with baby gates and having Peach on a leash when they were all out together, but in reality I shouldn’t even have attempted such a thing.

I also took her down to a family holiday party. Really big mistake. This takes me to the next thing I did wrong…

 

2. Flooding your dog

So many new people at this holiday party, and in a city environment. I had to take her outside to cross a busy street, and her potty breaks were outside with a lot of noise, cars driving by in close proximity, and it was also after dark. She had her tail tucked whenever we would go outside, she was jumpy at every little thing (like a flag blowing in the wind, for example). She also wouldn’t go to the bathroom because she was so scared and nervous. So of course this meant I was spending even more time outside trying to get her to go! 

This is called “flooding”. It’s when you literally flood a dog (or person) with so many things that they just can’t handle it. Dogs who are flooded  often shut down, meaning they simply give up. I had no idea, and I still feel guilty about this. Think of it this way…

If you are scared of spiders, and I locked you in a room FULL of spiders, what would you do? How would that make you feel?

I should note that some trainers use flooding as a means of desensitization. These are NOT real dog trainers. 

If any trainer uses that method, run away as fast as you can. It is completely inhumane to flood any sentient being, in hopes that they just “get over it”. This does way more damage to the dog, short and long term. It also breaks any trust they had in you. 

There is scientific evidence of this being completely ineffective and inhumane. Dogs aren’t participating in fucking Fear Factor to win money.

 

3. Dog parks for SOCIALIZATION (eek!!)

This one really kills me, mostly because it’s so common and really does seem harmless. 

We think we are doing them a good thing by allowing them to play off leash with other dogs. 

Here’s the problem: it’s ok until it’s NOT. 

This is actually what caused the dog reactivity in Peach. Prior to the incidents that I’ll describe, she was very dog social and loved meeting and playing with new dogs. She loved them all, small, big, massive, matched play styles well, and was very respectful. She even protected the small dogs.

Back then, I was struggling with my time. 

My so-called boyfriend was working out in Utah by choice, as a skydiving pilot. I set him up with pilot opportunities locally, including with my own corporate company as a pilot for our corporate jets. He refused to take those kind of jobs. He would rather live in the desert, partying and doing drugs of all kinds, with no one to worry about but himself, all while I was supporting him financially since the little money he made when straight to drugs and alcohol. I digress…

So I had very little time as a new dog mom having to keep the dog and cats separated every day all day, taking care of the home I owned, and working 45+ hours per week. 

I gave up skydiving, weight lifting, and all the other fun things I did. I felt guilty having to split what little time I had between my cats and my new dog. Not to mention my nights were spent crying on the phone with my boyfriend as he was out partying and taking barely legal girls out every night and doing drugs. My life was hell.

So the dog park was my way of letting Peach get her energy out, while making me feel good that she was getting “socialization”. 

Big mistake.

She got attacked, unprovoked, two times. She was not the instigator whatsoever either time.

In the first incident she was simply running in huge circles, and the male dogs would all join in the fun, running with her. Almost like a dog track (I think she was a greyhound in her previous life). 

After a few loops, a female dog jumped out at her as she ran by, and attacked her. Luckily myself and the other dog owner were able to separate them. After we broke it up, the lady said to me “I’m sorry, my girl thinks she’s Queen Bee here at the park.”

Great. So this lady knew her dog is a bitch around other female dogs, and yet she still takes her to the park to play. Wonderful. [Insert eye roll emoji here]

The second incident was a tiny dog, maybe 15 pounds. He decided to lunge at Peach, and attached his teeth to her side and wouldn’t let go. This is a very dangerous move for a dog to make. Had he been a bigger dog, trying to rip him off would have caused him to tear apart her skin. There is actually a tool that is used for that very scenario when a dog latches on and won’t let go. I learned about that and other ways to break up a dog fight during a seminar for humane societies later down the road.

I was actually more scared that Peach would hurt the other dog, simply due to the size difference (she’s 50 pounds). However, Peach literally did nothing, and the guy who owned the little dog did absolutely nothing to help me. He just stood there. I had to hold Peach by the collar with one hand and rip the dog off of her with my other hand. Not the ideal way to deal with that situation, but I’m glad I did. Luckily Peach was not hurt and she did not retaliate.

So dog parks. They are horrible for many reasons. If you’d like a list, here you go:

  • Shitty dog owners that haven’t a clue and don’t pay attention to what their own dog is doing
  • Dogs are present that shouldn’t be around other dogs or be in groups of dogs due to aggression, fear, anxiety, etc (Note that not all dogs want to be social with other dogs, that’s a human assumption)
  • Dogs that aren’t up to date with their vaccines (a lot of dog owners don’t take their dogs to the vet regularly), and there’s no way to screen for this in a dog park
  • Dog fights can break out in just a couple of seconds if people aren’t paying attention to what is going on
  • Dog owners don’t understand or know anything about canine body language, therefore miss the signs when a dog fight is forthcoming
  • Even the cleanest of dog parks aren’t clean. Your dog will be drinking out of shared water bowls that never get cleaned. Sometimes (or all the time), poop doesn’t get picked up. There is definitely a good chance that your dog will get sick from the dog park at some point.

Are those enough reasons for you to stop taking your dog to the dog park? Wondering about alternatives?

  • Do small play dates with dogs you know
  • Doggy daycare that only does small playgroups or simply one-on-one play time, and that does careful screening of dogs before allowing them to play together. In reality, there aren’t many daycares that are safe. Do your research carefully.

After those attacks at the dog park, Peach started displaying signs that she wasn’t comfortable in groups of dogs. 

I actually had her in daycare and started getting calls during the day saying that she was grumpy and didn’t want to play with the group (and these were smaller groups than most daycares). She would go sit by the door as a signal to go back to her suite, which was great that she chose to do that over starting fights, but also made me sad. 

After a while, she was completely removed from group play. However, she did still have a couple of “boyfriends” there that they would have her play with. I’m very fortunate that they didn’t kick her out! They kept her because the staff was in love with her. 

And because of Peach, they started a program for dogs like her where they get enrichment activities in place of group play. So now she still gets to play with her boyfriends, but she also gets time with the humans that she loves to death, while doing puzzles, trick training, agility activities, etc. Again, I am very fortunate.

After seeing even more dog fights at the dog park, including ones that Peach wasn’t involved in, I stopped taking her there. 

However, it was too late. 

By that time, I had created a dog reactive dog. This means she would start barking, lunging, and generally go ape shit at the sight of another dog. This added to my stress levels, and I really had no idea what to do. So ultimately I consulted with a trainer and shortly after got her into training, which began a new journey for us. Together.

Now let’s talk about training….

 

4. I considered (but never chose) to use a SHOCK COLLAR

Before I consulted with a real trainer, I knew nothing about canine training. Literally nothing. Didn’t even know that there were different methods. My boyfriend didn’t know either, but he was very open and vocal about using punishment. I already talked about some of the things he did to her in a past blog post, and to be honest it still hurts my heart knowing what I know now. Remember, this was the guy that “had dogs all of his life” and therefore was the “expert”.

I’m not going to get into the debate about shock collars. 

It’s not even a debate, to be perfectly honest. Science tells us everything we need to know and there is no argument in favor of these devices. Do you argue that the world is flat or that climate change isn’t real, despite scientific evidence? Maybe you do and that’s your choice. But I will always side with science and scientific proof. 

On top of that, now that I work with dogs in training and also in rescue, I have SEEN the aftermath of what punishment based training does to dogs. If you saw what I have, you would make better decisions as well.

Shock collars, e-collars, “vibration” collars…..call them what you want. They look and operate the same. Some just have more settings for harsher punishment. Trainers who use these are not educated in canine body language or training. They make anxious dogs more anxious. They make dogs a ticking time bomb over the long term (and some even short term, it depends on the resiliency of the individual dog).

Victoria Stillwell said it perfectly in an interview, asking people to wear a shock collar around the house for one day and give the remote to someone else. That person in control shocks you at random times, so you never really know when it’s going to happen, you only know that it causes you discomfort. Not only that, now you’re anxious the entire time because you are constantly anticipating the punishment.

Positive reinforcement training (which is referred to as R+ or +R), is more effective and is the humane way to train ANY animal. 

It is used on the world’s most dangerous animals, not just dogs. It works because it gets to the root cause of unwanted behaviors and teaches the animal to make the right choice on their own over time. It’s not instant, but there are no ill side effects. None. It’s simply the right way to train. We use it on fear aggressive dogs. We use it on reactive dogs. And everything in between. 

I have seen it work on dogs that most would think are a lost cause. Dogs that were about to be euthanized for “aggression” and bite histories. Breed doesn’t matter, size doesn’t matter, it works by changing emotional responses. Positive association works wonders and is quite mind blowing to be honest. Seeing what it can do and how it can save lives is what makes me so passionate about it.

Also, R+ training is what has made a WORLD of difference with Peach. 

While she once lunged and barked and went ape shit at the sight of other dogs, she now does agility and nosework alongside other dogs, and can play with other dogs (just not in groups). She is now able to be around other dogs without reacting. She is back to being dog social, she has amazing social skills, and simply chooses to be friends with other socially appropriate canines.

Another thing that R+ training does is creates an even deeper bond with your four legged companion. Working together without yelling at, without punishing, and without hurting them is something that I can’t even really describe. It has made our life together, better.

Shock collars are quick fixes with long term negative and dangerous side effects

 

5. I considered (but never chose) an INVISIBLE FENCE

I know this one is tough. 

Physical fences are expensive, I know that first hand. That’s why I considered an invisible fence. They seem harmless to most people, until you know the dangers. And ultimately, they are simply another aversive (punishment) based tool, just like shock collars. They do shock the dog, after all. However, the dangers and risks go above and beyond the shock part.

These invisible fences may stop some (not all) dogs from crossing the border so to speak. But have you thought about all the other stuff? I’ll list them out:

  • They don’t keep other animals OUT of your property. That means wildlife, other dogs, cats, people, etc all can get into your dogs space. This might be ok in some circumstances, until it’s not. Not all dogs are friendly to other dogs, so if one of those wanders right through that invisible fence of yours, a dog fight can break out. Cats and wildlife can get killed.
  • Seeing other dogs and people, for some dogs, can cause a lot of frustration and ultimately reactivity, causing a calm dog to actually become aggressive.
  • A lot of dogs will go right through the fence, despite the shock collar. Let’s face it, squirrels, chipmunks, deer….they are all very tempting to dogs in general.
  • Once your dog goes through the shock, it will eventually stop shocking them. Then guess what….in order for them to come back onto your property, they will get another shock. That means they will now associate going home to getting punished. This is how a lot of dogs go missing. I can’t tell you how many posts I see from Maine Lost Dog Recovery that say the dog is wearing an e-collar for an invisible fence.

A tough pill to swallow, but at the end of the day, there are alternatives and not all of them will hit your wallet too hard. There are makeshift fences that work more than fine for most dogs. These usually look like metal wiring attached to posts or stakes that go deep into the ground.

I invested in a cedar stockade fence for Peach. Yes, it was expensive because my backyard is a good size. Chain link fences are significantly cheaper but obviously don’t provide privacy. For a dog that has triggers like Peach, I chose to spend more on the cedar stockade for her benefit, and my sanity.

Even with physical fences, chain link or cedar stockade, you can save money by having metal posts driven into the ground, rather than wood posts that require cement footings be poured. That actually saved me quite a bit.

 

I truly hope that my own experiences help others. Again, this is not meant to shame anyone. I didn’t know any better. But when you know better, you do better. I chose to do better for the comfort and well being of my baby girl. She is my world, she is my best friend, she is my ride or die. I love everything about her, and I will always do better for her. At the end of the day, our happiness is tied together.

After all, if your pets or kids aren’t happy they will cause you stress and heartache. If they are happy, then you are happy. Don’t we all deserve to be happy?

I wish you all well.

Here’s to Peach, Love, & Happiness ❤

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One thought on “All the things I did wrong as a dog parent…

  1. Your honesty and your story is inspiring. ❤ So many people make the same mistakes. I’ve used a shock collar in the past. People in the FF community are always saying that only when you know better can you do better. I like that that’s one of the mantras. It’s so true. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it, and that’s what counts.

    Liked by 1 person

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