When we adopted Cooper, I remember thinking to myself, “This is great! He’s not going to have any issues like Emmett and Lucas because he’s a clean slate!” I thought that if we followed all the socialization rules – 5 outings each week, meet 100 people, etc. – while enforcing good manners at home, he’d be a problem-free pup!
So, of course, I’m hanging my head right now because of those wild and unfair assumptions. And, of course, I should know better. I’ve encountered so many dogs with so many backgrounds. On top of basic experience, I studied anthropology. I did observation projects with baboons, and wrote massive term papers about nature vs. nurture. The bottom line: I should have known better.
So here we are, one year later, and Cooper is one shy little guy. Obviously, we’re working on his confidence. He’s taking a training class, going to doggy daycare, and attending big events like the Run for the Animals and Pit Bull Awareness Day, all with tons of reinforcement.
The funny thing is that Lucas came to us as a wildly fearful dog. He lunged and snapped and barked and growled when he faced something (like a plastic bag) that he couldn’t handle. Turns out, though, by nature Lucas is a pretty social guy! When he’s feeling confident and reassured, he’s sweet, playful, and the life of the party. He loves going for walks; Cooper tucks his tail. Lucas loves meeting people in novel places; Cooper whines and tucks his tail. In really controlled situations, Lucas can meet and play with new dogs; Cooper tucks his tail and, occasionally, growls. All things we can work on with Cooper, of course, but it’s just so fascinating to me that their personalities are seemingly trumping their circumstances.
With Lucas, for instance, everyone who meets him – especially in those super early days – assumes that he was abused. “That poor dog,” they say. “He was clearly abused. He doesn’t trust anyone.”
While he definitely didn’t trust anyone, I don’t think he was abused. I think that Lucas was a stray, a street dog. Obviously we’ll never know, but I remember so clearly the first time we turned on the TV after bringing him home. It scared him so badly, he hid under the kitchen table. The rustling of plastic when we got back from the store sent him behind the armchair. He shied away from buses and cars, and he freaked out over everyday household items like the blender and the vacuum. Had he been in a home, he would have had exposure to all of those things.
Not that it matters, of course. We spent years helping Lucas navigate these scary new things. We’re still working on his dog-dog interactions, but if you had told us a few years ago that we would take Lucas to the Halloween pet parade at PetSmart, we would have laughed and laughed and laughed. But we did. We took him on Saturday, and he did great. His only “incident” was with a dog who appeared to be even more insecure than he was.
Cooper is going to need a lot of the same training that Lucas got, but we’re working with his personality rather than his life experiences.
Just like with Lucas, we have one huge advantage.
Emmett helped Lucas more than we could have in those early days by being there and being a good role model. Likewise, when we take Cooper somewhere with Emmett, his confidence level soars.
All this rambling is to say: We know what we have to work on for each of them and their individual personalities. I’m thinking about writing up a little “training plan” for each of them for 2012. (Yes, I am that anal.)
What do you think? Maybe I’m way off base and just reading into it? But do your training efforts revolve more around your dog’s history? Or his/her personality?