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Picture of a Brussels Griffon to illustrate Famiy Dog

Is a “family dog” possible?

The family dog – is there such a thing?

Everyone in the house has a unique relationship with the dog. But is there really such a thing as a family dog? There can be – depending on the dog and the people.

In the dog training classes we teach it’s very obvious who plays training games with the dog. One of the games we play is the “collar grab game” – it teaches dogs to come when they’re called. Basically, family members each have some treats, stand in a circle, and take turns calling the dog to them. One couple in the class this week was really struggling. The dog went dashing to “mom” as soon as she called. And went visiting other people and puppies when “dad” called.

When we went over to talk about what we’d noticed, “mom” kept making excuses for “dad.” “He’s very busy.” “He works a lot.” “He doesn’t have time.” And yet, they both claim he loves the dog and wants to build a bond with him. We’ve got news for them. If you don’t have five minutes a day to spend with your puppy, you shouldn’t have one.

Every single person in the family gets to have a special relationship with the dog. But it’s up to everyone to do it themselves. No one can teach a dog to love somebody else. It’s definitely a “DIY” job.

“My” dog vs. “Our” dog

The most extreme case we’ve ever dealt with was here in our own house. Fran’s Brussels Griffon Tango, now 14, bonded instantly with Fran. The moment they met, he was her dog. She could do anything with him, pet him, brush him, pick him up. Nobody else could get anywhere near him. Including Fran’s sister Hope, living in the same house.

Picture of a Brussels Griffon to illustrate Family Dog

It took months of active training to change things. Fran could certainly work with him everywhere to change his attitude about the world. And she did, documented in her book: Tango: Transforming My Hellhound . But there’s a big difference between being able to act nice in public and actually having a relationship with a dog. We worked out a plan to build Hope’s relationship with Tango. She hand-fed him for weeks, teaching him that good things come from other people. 

The process was gradual, but it did work. From being unable to look at him without risking a bite, Hope was able to pet him, pick him up, brush him, etc. To this day, he’s still very much Fran’s dog. But he’s a sweet old guy now and can interact with anyone.

Becoming a family dog

For any dog to be a family dog, every member of the family has to build a special relationship with the dog. There are lots of things that help. Every “chore” caring for the dog is a chance to build the bond; feeding, brushing, walking, and especially training. All of it is time spent together and helps. The roles don’t have to stay the same all the time. If different people feed the dog, the dog learns that good things come from everybody. On the other hand, if one person always feeds the dog, that person is going to be the dog’s favorite. Dogs aren’t stupid.

There are circumstances where you want a dog to be one person’s dog, whether that’s a child’s best friend, a running partner, dog sport teammate, or even a cuddle buddy. In that case, it’s just the opposite. The dog’s special person has to take the lead in all dog care. As we all know, caring for a dog is a lot of responsibility, but also a great joy.

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