Lately I’ve had a lot of followers of this blog, as well as friends, ask me for help with their animal friends.
Often, when someone asks me for help, they either state that some neurotic behavior their animal is displaying is “normal” or they ask, “… is this normal?” My answer is always a shake of the head. If you have to ask if a (negative) behavior is normal, it’s not.
I wanted to write this post to give you a very easy, straight-forward way of answering these kinds of questions yourself. Think of it all this way; would it be normal if a child or grown up did it? Now, there are of course differences between dogs and humans and especially between horses and humans (predator vs prey animal), but this question still helps.
A great example would be a question a friend of mine asked me – he had recently bought a puppy around half a year old, who wouldn’t pee outside. The question was; can you still teach the dog to pee and poop outside at this age, or is it too late? Well, imagine if the situation was about a kid. Perhaps it had never used a toilet. Is it still possible to teach a kid to use a toilet if they’ve never used one? Yes. Of course.
People say that their dog’s constant barking, aggressive, or otherwise neurotic behavior is normal because he’s a dog and… dogs do those kinds of things. No. Is it normal for kids to be bullies who attack others on the street? No. Is it normal for kids to yell constantly for no legitimate reason? No. Is neurotic behavior a normal, healthy sign in a human? No…
These behaviors come up, though, and sometimes we find ourselves with a difficult dog, horse or other animal. But sometimes I look at someone with a dog (even better, a small dog) barking and frantically pulling on the leash and the human is barely doing anything and carefully trying to do everything and I think, What would they do if their kid was walking down the street glaring and yelling and charging random people? Wouldn’t they say, “Okay, that’s it” and get serious with the child for a second?
When I formulate anything to do with training in this way, it makes it much easier for people to understand what they need to do. It’s all simply common sense. You don’t need to be a dog trainer or horse trainer (of course in extreme cases, calling one is recommended!!).
Then again, people humanize their animals too much in a different sense. I’m not saying you should treat your dog or horse like a human. Simply think, Would I allow this from a child or fellow human? What would I do? Yell or coo?
There is a lady in my area with three small dogs (I think I’ve mentioned her before…) who bark constantly and I know every day when, and for how long, she is out on her walk. Her philosophy is that she lets her dogs bark like maniacs, and doesn’t do a thing about it (much to the annoyance of everyone else trying to relax on their walks in the woods). She says that her dogs don’t bark in the house, so she made a compromise with her dogs. If they don’t bark in the house, she’ll let them bark outside.
Okay. Deep breath. That was hard for me to hear.
The dogs don’t understand that. I don’t tell my kid, “Okay, sweetie, if you don’t attack your friends and my guests when they come to visit, I’ll let you attack everyone and yell at the top of your lungs nonstop on the street.” Not to mention, dogs don’t understand this idea of compromise and the connections she’s making. Anyway, hopefully you see my point.
See your animal as a human for just a quick moment to diagnose a behavior. Would this be normal, or not? But then see and treat them as an animal after that. Don’t start making compromises with them or yourself!