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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Not All Things Can Be Fixed

Beatrice is in her early 70s. She's a petite woman, and not very strong. Her granddaughter, who lives next door, talked her into adopting a Lab mix puppy they named Zeke. The puppy is now eight months old and weighs about 80 pounds. He's an exceptionally good-natured dog, but he's very strong and energetic.

Neither Beatrice nor her relatives next door have a fenced yard. They live in a rural area, but their homes are just a couple hundred feet off a busy country road. Beatrice keeps Zeke on a trolley line in her yard, when he's not indoors with her. But he's frequently gotten away from her and gone running over to the neighbors. He won't come back when she calls him, and she's afraid he'll run out into the road one of these days and be hit by a car.

Beatrice brought Zeke to training, hoping to get better control of him and teach him to come when called. He did pretty well in class, although it's evident he doesn't truly consider Beatrice to be his leader, since she's just not strong enough to win his full respect. He loved the treats we used in the "coming when called" exercises, but he's much more interested in the other dogs and the class activity than in Beatrice and her goodies.

She's discouraged because Zeke still won't come back to her at home when he escapes. And who do people blame when their dogs fail them in these situations? THE DOG. He's just "too hard-headed." Or he's "stupid." Or "he's a good dog, but he won't listen." Or he's just a "bad dog."

Truth is, he is A DOG. He's a free-will creature who can make choices--to come or not, to obey or not. If consequences are not grave enough to discourage him from doing something he wants to do, he'll do it. We are not dealing with humans here! (They're bad enough, after all....they actually DO know better, and still do the wrong thing!)

The problem with Beatrice and Zeke unfortunately cannot be fixed. She hasn't the money to put up a proper fence, nor has she the inclination to do so. Neither have her daughter and granddaughter next door. The dog, who's basically tied up outside, isn't getting his needs met. He's not getting the exercise, the stimulation, the training and nurturing he needs. Thus, he's a bit unruly and unresponsive to her inconsistent leadership.

In the old days (back when I was a purist), I'd tell her to get rid of the dog and find him a suitable home. I'm not going to do that now. She, too, is a free-will creature, and I understand her predicament. As long as Zeke fulfills some needs in her life (companionship, security) and as long as he's getting fed and loved, there's nothing more I can do but wish them the best of luck.

Not all problems can be fixed with dog training. Accepting that reality is a responsibility of dog ownership...and dog training.

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