We imagine a perfect scenario of playfulness, cuddling, and adoration when we first get a companion. We thought about it for weeks, sometimes months! All the walks and playtime and cuddling we would do with our new friend. The joy and laughter we imagine what compels most of us to getting an animal companion. Then, reality sets in.
Once home, we realize it is not all fun and games. There are additional responsibilities that we did not consider or maybe we dismissed as no big deal. The food costs more than we thought. The walks in the rain and cold were not considered. The attention needed is sometimes overwhelming. Our schedules are suddenly around the needs of the dog. I always said it is like having a toddler that never grows up. The responsibilities are that great.
Most of us rise to the occasion, and embrace the added "work", because we really love our companions. Sometimes, we get lazy or ignore things in the hopes that it will disappear. Your companions personality may be different than what was imagined. They may not seem to enjoy cuddling, or they won't stop ripping toilet paper. The most common complaint is barking. There is nothing more aggravating than having your cute companion bark incessantly. It's loud and disruptive. It is not welcoming to your friends. It may even annoy neighbors. Then the cycle begins. We get annoyed with them, we stop being relaxed when friends come over in preparation for the scene we "know" is going to happen. We hold the leash tighter on walks in hopes our companion won't lunge at anyone with mouth open and barking. I think we have all been in this position at some point. First thing to understand, is that it is natural. Second thing, bad behavior is not only your companions fault, but can stem from you.
While talking with various animals, I come across three very important things often.
1) the animal does not feel heard
2) the animal does not feel seen
3) the animal does not have a purpose
Not heard, you ask? How can we not hear him/her with all the barking they do? Well, you hear their barking, but not their thoughts and feelings. The less they are understood the more they bark. Think of yourself. You are talking calmly and someone ignores what you are saying. You become annoyed and aggravated. You repeat yourself louder. Still, you are being dismissed. Next thing you know, you are yelling. That, my friends, is barking at it's simplest. Dogs bark in different ways. Each bark means something different. There are barks of greeting, warning, playful, acknowledgment, and need. The incessant barking is generally frustration.
What can we do to help our companions in this matter? First, we must observe our companion. Learn their body posture, behaviors, facial expressions, and where they are when barking. Listen to the various bark signs. Take the time to learn about your companion. Validate what they are feeling once you have a benchmark on their behavior. Establish a more even relationship with your companion. Not one of master-pet, but one of friendship. Understand that each animal is a unique individual with their own likes and dislikes. If your dog does not like to play ball, stop throwing the ball! Find something they enjoy doing. Acknowledge them when they bark and then ask them to stop. This validates their communication but also lets them know that you are taking over. For example, the doorbell rings and your dog starts barking like a lunatic. That's his job. He is protecting the house. Get up and walk calmly to the door. Use your hands to relay "Stay" while you thank them for the warning. Open the door and speak calmly to your guest. Of course this will take practice. It will not happen over-night. Breaking bad habits is never instantaneous. But in time, they will accept that you heard the warning, and then took over calmly. They will know by your voice if the stranger at the door is dangerous. They will, at that point, come forward again.
Every dog needs a job. Not all jobs are the same. Find out what your dog feels is their purpose. Guardian, Nanny, playmate, fitness companion? Whatever is their choice, honor it by letting them be who they are.....with your boundaries. Also remember, they pick up on our stress levels. If you are high-strung or depressed, your dog will begin to exhibit behaviors that were not there before.
Our animal companions are not blobs of flesh and bone. They think and feel just like we do. They want our time and love and attention. They also have moments where they want to be alone and think. Having an animal companion is a huge responsibility, not too different from having a human child. We just have to learn their "language".