Expectations vs. reality: settling

by 5 Jul, 2022


I think that many times we get a dog and expect them to fit into our lives seamlessly and be content sharing all of our activities with us (walking through a busy park, chilling in a pub, accompanying us to pick up the kids, etc.). But sometimes those expectations may not be realistic straight off the bat, and a lot of work may go into giving our dogs the tools that they need in order to be able to partake in such activities. Especially settling. And especially if you have a working breed. 

Let me give you an example: Chief finds busy places pretty hard. I would describe him as ‘functional’ in most contexts, but he has a hard time relaxing when there is a lot going on (this is always going to come more naturally to some dogs than to others, and it did NOT come naturally to Chief!).

I would like Chief to settle better in busy environments; I would eventually like to take him to agility trials, and a hard prerequisite skill, in my opinion, is the ability to keep a cool head. So, what does this mean? It means that settling is something we actively work on. I do not put him in a situation that is too hard and expect him to chill. Instead, we practise in a variety of contexts, gradually increasing the difficulty as he shows me that he is able to do more (hint: we started at home. Then in the back garden. Then in front of the house. You can see how this goes…). Honestly, he has made a LOT of progress. This weekend, he was able to settle at a kids’ football match. A year ago, there would have been NO way – he wouldn’t have been able to take food, even at the other corner of the field, in the mere presence of a football! For Chief, it really has taken that long; but of course, all dogs are different.

My preference is that when we go to a challenging environment and I am not able to actively train Chief, he stays at home. I see no point in setting him up to make bad decisions. And realistically, most of my outings with him are to quiet trails and areas where he can fully relax and decompress – that is what he needs the most.

I am confident that with time, settling will become easier for Chief, although I fully accept that chances of him turning into a ‘take-your-kids-to-the-park’ type dog are slim. The moral of the story, I guess, is that settling in pubic a skill, and it is our responsibility to teach our dogs to do this, if it is something we consider desirable.

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