I just delivered a seminar that was intended to be on motivation and impulse control, however as often is the case, the premise of the seminar altered by the nature and needs of the participants. Seminars can sometimes be organic in their nature, and take a path all of their own. When this happens, I have learnt to go with them.
A conversation that came up and was relevant to so many was the ownership of a dog that overwhelms you, or you find yourself ‘over dogged’.
This is a common issue in dog sports, when people are attracted to certain type of dog that succeeds in a chosen discipline and the natural assumption is that this dog will be the best fit for the sport, however not necessarily the needs of the individual. This can also often happen with people who don’t partake in any sport and just get a dog because they see them on TV, or film of their neighbour has one, and underestimate what that dog is, and all that comes with it. This can simply be the experience of a first time puppy owner. Or when your beloved fido hits adolescence. The feeling of being grossly overwhelmed and ‘over dogged’ can immerse you and sometimes even drown you.
I know this was exactly the feeling when I first owned by truly ‘high drive’ dog. It was like being at the base of a tidal wave, desperately running for shore knowing that I was too far away and all I could do was wait for the impending crash! To say it was steep learning curve would be an understatement. Since then, I have had numerous dogs of this ilk and now, having come through this experience, relish this type of dog and all that comes with it. In fact, I would say, not only do I enjoy it… i thrive on it. However this weekend, got me thinking of how overwhelming this can be and how this ‘experience’ isn’t just unique to dogs.
The parallel I can draw with this, is the experience of being a parent.
The cliche, ‘No one can prepare you for it’ is so true, when talking about parenting, and indeed the first time experience of owning a dog that’s every living moment is consumed with the deep rooted thirst for work and a job to do. This can be an overwhelming feeling, and can often swamp people and leave them feeling in a sense of despair because of it.
I know that parenthood can be overwhelming, and people react in various ways. Feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility, and 24/7 relentless needs of this little amazing being who you have this conflict of emotions about. You have this instant life changing love for them, but also this life changing pressure attached to parenthood and the expectation of others. You see people that just seem to be naturals, who take to every part of the sleepless nights, feeding, nappy changing, crying, screaming etc like a duck to water. This in itself can contribute to the feeling of failure and inadequacy. With some, it takes a moment to adjust to the role and it takes making decisions and choices. Feeling that you can’t cope, being tearful and stressed are ‘normal’ reactions.
This experience, is similar to those who have a dog that they feel overwhelmed by.
You see other ‘doggy parents’ with their adoring ‘furbabies’, listening, being focused, well behaved and the perfect citizen, and you assume that this is what you’ll be getting, or even if you anticipate that there may be some work, you don’t quite equate, how much. Your ego gets in the way, and conjures images of podium places and titles galore, or angelic behaviour and the envy of many. Anything less is a failure….or at least thats the story you have told yourself.
So what are the options for those in this position? What can you do to quill this feeling of being overwhelmed or Over dogged? What are the REAL options to try and deal with problem….
That’s right, for some… death is an option and one frequently chosen. It may sound dramatic but it is an option many resort to. This isn’t to say that this is an option that many would even contemplate, but there are many who have and would. This isn’t about judgement, its about having an open and frank conversation.
I regularly encounter instances where dogs that have overwhelmed their owners have ended up being euthanised because they have become either a liability to themselves or others. It may have been frustration. It may have been misunderstanding, lack of knowledge or simply can’t cope anymore. Again you may not be able to comprehend it, but for some it has been an option. And, in some instances, you know what it may just be the most appropriate option. This blog isn’t about debating the rights and wrongs of euthanasia, it is just having a warts and all conversation about options, and understanding which option is appropriate for you is uniquely personal and takes a lot of soul searching.
Rehoming the dog is an option for so many, hence why we have rescues over flowing with dogs of all shapes and sizes. This was the first initial impression that jumped out at me, when filming ‘Dogs Might Fly, where we had the crazy notion to teach 12 rescue dogs to fly a plane. The dogs we had were all of a ‘type’, and their stories corroborated my thinking. These were mainly dogs who would have overwhelmed their owners and left them feeling like they were drowning. They were craving a vocation and a purpose that just couldn’t be met in the situations they were in.
I have always been very vocal about rehoming dogs, and sometimes ‘self righteous about it’. However, time, wisdom and experience has taught me that in some instances this is the best outcome for all parties who choose this option. The dog and original owners have been happier and better off for it. I have also seen the other extreme, where ‘Rehoming’ was just a flippant decision because of a lack of commitment and awareness of what owning a dog of any type entails.
C) Life Management
I have talked in previous blogs about management, but decided to live with a dog that you feel overwhelmed by may entail a lifetime of management. This may entail having a set routine that prevents issues escalating, and very consciously avoiding any triggers. This can also be overwhelming, having to comply with a endless list of rules by which you run your home, and life. But for some this is a viable option. This is the approach many take, yet do they every actually have joy in this? Do they have find this lifestyle ‘fun’? Or enjoyable? In many cases, this is the best solution for the scenario and one where the dog and person can live in some co-existence. But it is somewhat of a burden.
Medication has become an option prescribed more regularly then in the past, and again in some instances this may be an appropriate solution for dogs that have a physical or chemical need that can be met by medication. However for dogs that are just of a genetic predisposition to work and live life on the edge, this is often a plaster over symptom. I have previously talked about creating contentment rather then calm with these ilk of dogs. These traits have been created by us to serve a purpose, however when they are not appeased they can self implode. When feeling overwhelmed, medicating the dog to stem their over enthusiasm and arousal may be a temporary solution however the symptom will still be there.
The above may not be options that many of you would consider, however that are still options. It may be a trial and error process to determine which suits your situation and knowing what all the options are, can alleviate the pressure. However clearly the emotional and life altering affects need to be considered. So what if you decide that all the above are not options for you… what else can you do?
D) You can embrace the challenge.
This means collating help, be it professionally or emotionally. I have previously talked about ‘villagers’ and never more the case then when you are ‘over dogged’. Everyone of us need support and help, and being open to this is pivotal to overcoming the challenges and issues that will be presented. Being humble enough to accept it is another matter.
It means acceptance of what you are capable of, what the dog is capable of and meeting in the middle. No relationship is perfect, it takes work, patience and commitment.
It means enjoying the journey and savouring the wins along the way. Small achievements, keep you going. Some days its just getting through, others its achieving a milestone. Hold onto the fact that you love and adore this dog, even when you they push you to your limits. That will get you through a lot of tough times.
Change your perspective on the relationship and the dog. I urge people to remind themselves, what drew you to this type of dog… or in other words, what drew you to the prospect of being a parent. Its the moments, the tiny ‘wins’ of success that keep you going. Accepting them for what they are, warts and all. And also accepting that the perfect ‘picture’ doesnt exist. And thats ok.
Be honest with yourself. Evaluate what you can do to create clarity and confidence in your dog. Take ownership of your part in the relationship. Relationships are a two way street, make sure you do you bit…..
Every dog has challenges, with dogs of this ilk the challenges are more extreme and come fast and furious. Each day is constant reminder of how they just dont allow you any grace for inconsistencies, they highlight your shortcomings and keep you on your toes…. but there is something exhilarating and exciting about owning them. Their tenacity, determination, joy at being alive and just sheer gusto! These animals are the ferrari of the dog world, however this means that a commitment to owning them, it means you need to step up your game… you need to give them direction, and channel all these characteristics into positive activities. Engaged them, exhaust them and embrace them They have so much to give, if you do the work.
The golden moments when you get little successes or over come little challenges and reach a point where you can enjoy being with this wonderful little creature… be it two legged or four 😉