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Dogs: Training Versus Biology

I recently got a call from a woman who has an 11-month-old Siberian husky. Sheila works full-time in a corporate office, while her daughter works full-time from home. Although she takes Tika for evening walks, neither woman has the time for a morning walk. Tika spends mornings in the daughter’s home office, and afternoons in the back yard alone. Not surprisingly, one of Sheila’s main complaints is destruction in the yard. Other issues include Tika being overly rambunctious when Sheila gets home from work. In her enthusiastic greetings, Tika jumps and nips.

Sheila is looking for a trainer who will fix these issues. But the truth, as I explained to her, is that although training could certainly lessen the jumping and nipping, it’s not going to solve everything. When a dog’s physical needs aren’t being met, you can’t expect that dog to behave the way you would like. Think of a young child who hasn't played or run around in a week, who you now want to sit still and focus on a lesson. In this case, we’re talking about a very active breed that needs plenty of exercise. In addition, Tika is an adolescent. Even in breeds that aren’t as active, those “teenage years” can be challenging.

I’m not suggesting that this situation can’t be improved. It absolutely could, given walks and other exercise, mental stimulation, training, and more. But the immediate response once I started explaining about meeting Tika’s basic needs was that Sheila would probably have to rehome her—something that had also been mentioned at the start of the conversation in a “If this doesn’t get fixed…” sort of ultimatum. Sadly, it sounded as though Tika would be better off in another home with people who have time to give her the care and attention she deserves. Training can fix a lot of things, but it can’t change the basic physiology of a dog. Just because we feel a dog should be able to behave in a certain way doesn’t mean that dog is able to, and we can’t hold that against them. Sadly, Sheila made a hasty excuse and all but hung up on me, saying she would call back. She won’t. It doesn’t change the fact that training can only go so far. Behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If we truly care about a dog’s well-being rather than just getting him to behave in the way we want, we must be willing to give him a solid foundation physically, mentally, and emotionally. __________________________________________________________________________________ ©Nicole Wilde

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