Labeling your dog

Just like attaching a sad backstory is limiting, so is labeling your dog. Do you call your dog a “jerk?” Or any other negative label; idiot, bully, stinker, a**hole? Even labels like “stubborn” or “spiteful” can hurt your relationship with your dog. 

Labeling dogs limits them. French Bulldog Torque clearly is enjoying obedience training.

Even a little puppy, slapped with a label, will live up, or down, to your expectations. For example, dogs like Bulldogs, including French Bulldogs like Hope’s Torque, are often labeled “difficult to train,” “stubborn,” or even “lazy” and/or “stupid.”

While Torque doesn’t love doing “drills,” he does love training and his skill at different training games is pretty amazing. He learns quickly and loves playing. He doesn’t love doing the same thing over and over.

Dog labels that matter

We’re suckers for “Top 10” lists and as click-bait, it pretty much works every time. Even when we know the list is going to be nonsense. Like the lists of “10 Smartest Dog Breeds.” It all depends on your definition of “smart.” 

If smart means “obedient” you are probably looking at Golden Retrievers and Border Collies.

If smart means able to solve problems – those aren’t the first dogs that come to mind. Those breeds would include most terriers (including Yorkies), and even Dachshunds. These are dogs whose original job was to figure out how to find and eliminate the pests plaguing their environment.

Smart could also include dogs who know how to manipulate their people to fulfill their every desire. This would probably include every companion dog sharing our homes. Dogs are excellent at learning how to get what they want – whether that’s physical comforts or psychological support.

Don’t call them names

If you think your dog is “spiteful” because he/she eliminated in your space, or stole your shoe when you left, you’re wrong. That’s labeling your dog. It’s much more likely your dog was distressed and suffering pangs of anxiety. When you address the dog’s separation anxiety, the behavior will go away.

Most “naughty” behaviors don’t happen for the reasons people think. People think dogs are “sneaky” when they poop behind the couch where you can’t see it. Not true. The dog has learned that when it’s found, they get in trouble. It’s the finding that gets them in trouble, not the act itself. That dog doesn’t understand potty training and needs to go back to step one.

Dogs who raid the garbage can don’t do it to aggravate you. They know that yummy things are in there. The act of raiding the garbage is self-rewarding, so it happens again. A fundamental of dog training is “What gets rewarded, gets repeated.” Whether the reward comes from you or circumstances, it’s still what the dog wants.

Think about the why

Rather than call your dog a name, adjust how you think about the behavior. Why do you suppose the dog acted as they did? And what can you do about it? Labels don’t help. Unless, of course, the label is “good dog!”

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