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There is Nothing Wrong with the Dog: Focusing on the Dog You Actually Have

Updated: Jan 2

Lately, I have faced my own challenges since getting our puppy, Beowulf. He is a real doll. Fast, spunky, insanely toy driven. Eager to please. He does not destroy furniture or really anything other than his own toys. He is also wildly territorial of our home, and sometimes guards his personal space. Most importantly, he is living in the shadow of his sister. Like I said, the challenges are my own! His sister, Bones, has largely been pretty easy to train and work with since she came into our lives as a six week old puppy eight years ago. Both Bones and Beowulf are Nederlandse Kooikerhondjes. Even so, behaviors vary significantly within a breed. Still, I have found myself feeling disappointed at times when he does not exhibit the same behaviors as his sister and is a "challenge" in a new way. When a second dog comes into the picture, a bar is often unconsciously set where we measure the second dog by how they match up to the first. Kind of unfair! But it still happens.

So, Beowulf is a wonderful dog in every sense. He is far more territorial than Bones ever has been, but that is typical of the breed. I have sometimes acted surprised when he barks in people's faces upon entering our home, as if it is a defect of some sort. But this is NORMAL of Kooikerhondjes. They are very territorial watchdogs. I just have to remind myself that this is a training and management issue, and there is nothing wrong with him :-) It is MY problem. Bones is territorial, but not to the same degree. However, this trait has come out much more ever since we got Beowulf. But who doesn't like a good watchdog?

Beowulf also was not very people or dog friendly when we first got him. This required a lot of desensitization and counter-conditioning (he was too fearful to be immersed in social situations with people and dogs), but does well now. He is still a little shy, but not so fearful. He keeps improving and enjoying more relationships with dog and people friends. This fear aggression (cowering, barking, sometimes lunging) was sometimes looked at as a "problem" by us and others because Bones was not that way. It is a good reminder of how dogs are individuals just like us with their own unique likes/dislikes and challenges. There is nothing wrong with the dog. On the other hand, Bones loves just about every person she meets. Extremely friendly. I have to remind myself that while there are Kooikers like this, it is a bit more unusual. She could take it or leave it with other dogs. She is more indifferent to them. People love the friendliness though, so when Beowulf's shyness and fear was seen, it is sometimes looked at as a defect by us and others.

Bones is also easily handled by people and vets, probably because she has little reservations about strangers. When she suffered from an iliopsoas injury, she let the vets examine her freely. Sometimes, she yelped in pain from the pressure and manipulation of her muscles. She never nipped, growled or bit. This is where I have faced challenges with Beowulf. If he feels pain, he guards his body. When we first brought him home, we could not examine his paws without him growling. We worked for months to get him used to having his paws, legs, and muzzle handled while he stayed relaxed. The training was very successful. We even started working on brushing his teeth. He allows a little brushing action, but then decides that it's enough! Then, one day we went hiking at Mt. Charleston and he got some pine sap stuck up in the fur between his toe pads, which hardened. I went to remove it, and this caused him some pain. He started growling at me and would not let me come near his paws again. It took lots of treats and a few hours before I could touch his paws again.

I had to come to the realization that he is NOT his sister, and that is perfectly OK. What is important is that he gets the best care possible, and that may mean a basket muzzle. Veterinarians need to feel comfortable examining him, and if they don't, he may not get as thorough of care as his sister, Bones, does. My husband, Nic, and I are continuing to work with him on being handled, and we have trained him to wear a basket muzzle, which he absolutely LOVES. He gets lots of treats whenever he wears it, so the muzzle isn't the problem. The problem is that he still has a lot of fear when his paws/legs are examined. So, the muzzle enables him to be safely examined so he gets good care, and in the meantime, we are continuing to work to reduce his anxiety. It will be a long road.

I think that I tend to forget that Bones has had her share of issues because in my mind, she is perfection. I know that I am not the only dog parent/guardian who does this! Bones has dealt with health issues her entire life. Severe food allergies, now she has tracheal collapse and lower airway disease. She dealt with a chronic iliopsoas injury for a few years before we finally found a specialty vet and physical therapy clinic that provided her with the right care. She has very severe noise phobias and generalized anxiety. She could not compete her first couple years as an agility dog because she was too terrified of the noises at the competition: referee type whistles, dogs barking endlessly. We took her many places in public and she would do well, but then a noise would suddenly cause her to shut down. It was a challenge, and we were constantly working with her to reduce her fear of the noises while building her confidence so she could enjoy a higher quality of life.

Beowulf hasn't had the eight years of training that Bones has enjoyed to build up confidence. Much of his issues are related to insecurities. The bottom line is that I have realized that I need to remove my rose colored glasses because Beowulf is not a reflection of his sister. He is his own person. If I continue to try to mold him into his sister, I will miss out on enjoying him for the wonderful dog that he is. I would also have problems giving him the training he needs since I would be treating his behaviors like defects instead of issues related to fear/anxiety/insecurity that can be either fixed or well-managed.

Have you been guilty of this with any of your dogs?


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Eileen Koval, CDBC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, MSc (in Operations Management) is a fully certified dog behavior consultant with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). She believes the foundation of a good cross-species relationship is understanding the needs and normal behavior patterns of each dog as an individual, as he/she was bred to be. She enjoys helping humans and dogs communicate more effectively to create brilliant relationships with joy, purpose, and fulfillment for all species involved. She offers private consulting for serious dog behavior issues, obedience/manners, and agility training. Eileen developed a unique online course to help pet parents and trainers develop reliable snake avoidance behavior off-leash through positive reinforcement techniques. These techniques have been applied by trainers worldwide to teach dogs reliable avoidance of dangerous environmental hazards and off-leash property boundaries. She lives on a small ranch in Las Vegas, Nevada with her husband and their Nederlandse Kooikerhondjes.

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