We most definitely live in a ‘comparison society.’ Many of us are prone to comparing ourselves to others, their merits or otherwise, what they’ve achieved, what they own, don’t own, their assets – everything, in fact!
I find this a lot in the dog world, e.g. ‘my previous dog never did this,’ ‘my other dog does this much better,’ or ‘I’ve owned dogs all my life and never had these issues’ and so on. Or maybe it might be comparisons with others. e.g. ‘my neighbor tells me what I’m doing is making the situation worse,’ ‘I shouldn’t train this way,’ ‘I’m told I should/shouldn’t use this device,’ or ‘I’m on this or that Facebook group and the owners of my puppy’s siblings are there saying their puppies are training so much faster than mine and they don’t have half the issues I do!’ And so on.
I could go on and on with this and I must say I’m guilty of cross comparisons too. After all, it’s human nature.
The problem is that it’s not always terribly healthy to get hung up on what other people say. After all, it may be completely inaccurate, make no sense, or won’t make any difference at all. In some cases, it’ll probably make matters 10 times worse. It may also be hopelessly outdated.
When it comes to dogs, everybody seems to have an opinion and think they are right, while everyone else is wrong. That’s fine and we’re all entitled to our opinions, but it’s not necessarily helpful to enforce our opinions on others.
Take the example of the reactive dog who barks and lunges at other dogs. Many of my clients report to me the mixed messages they have received from ‘experts,’ such as, ‘let him off the leash, he just wants to play,’ or ‘let the other dogs sort him out.’ In a couple of cases I have heard of, listening to such advice has been quite disastrous.
As most well-informed dog guardians are aware, dogs are reactive for multiple reasons. These include overexcitement, poor social skills, anxiety and fear, poor frustration tolerance, lack of early socialization, or an aversive experience, to name just a few. This means that one dog may not lunge and bark for the same reasons that another dog lunges and barks. As such, advice must always be tailored to the individual dog.
Another issue that concerns me is that chastisements by or comparisons to others can quickly dent a guardian’s confidence. The failure of a dog to respond appropriately to his guardian, for example, can quickly mean that confidence is eroded.
Confidence is something that is very quickly lost and very difficult to get back. So, constantly hearing that ‘you should have achieved house training with your young pup by now,’ or ‘the other puppies in the litter don’t do that,’ just isn’t helpful. Consideration should be given to the impact such quips and statements made online can actually have –because they are not always easily brushed aside. Sometimes, they hurt.
The advent of TV programs showing ‘badly behaved’ dogs and their ‘incredible 30-minute transformations’ are also unhelpful. Firstly, many of these shows are fronted by individuals who have minimal, if any, behavior or training credentials and rely on punitive, outdated techniques and slick editing to glorify their results.
It is not helpful for guardians to believe that a dog who pulls on the leash or behaves aggressively inside the home can be ‘fixed’ in 30 minutes. This can then lead to disappointment or frustration when a guardian attempts to recreate the same strategy they’ve seen on TV and fails, most likely exacerbating the symptoms at the same time and making things even worse.
What I say to all my clients is, ‘just focus on yourself and your dog.’ Everyone else is entitled to their opinion but they do not have a window into your situation. You must stick to your guns and, with the right help from a qualified expert, you will achieve what you want to achieve. Who cares what others think?! Your progress may seem to be a little slower than others, but I bet they didn’t have a smooth ride either (or they didn’t want to admit it!). Keep going and keep trying and both of you will succeed.