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It was a gorgeous, warm Saturday, and a friend and I decided to head for the beach. She had never been to Santa Monica, so after showing her the famous 3rd Street Promenade, we headed down to put our toes in the water.
It was a bit crowded, but it was nice to be out and about. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a young couple walking up next to us and the man had a strange bundle in his arms. He was carrying a 50 lb German Shepherd mix and was heading on a bee-line to the water. The dog was beyond freaked out.
I introduced myself, told them I worked in animal rescue, and asked if their dog was afraid of water. They said that she was terrified of all forms of water, but they "just wanted her to enjoy it."
I advised the woman that they were moving WAY too fast. If they wanted her to learn to love water, they needed to start back on solid ground. They needed to get her used to it slowly, not by dipping her in the biggest body of water they could find.
I briefly walked her through the steps needed and she seemed genuinely interested and thankful. My friend and I continued our beach stroll. As we returned in the direction of the pier to leave, my friend tapped me on the shoulder. There they were again - forcing their dog into the ocean while she was attempting to climb up her owner's body. She was most assuredly not “enjoying” the water.
Why do we do this to our dogs?
Please take a moment and think of something that truly terrifies you. It makes your skin crawl at the mere mention or immediately triggers your need to run and hide. It could be your favorite horror villain or something real - like my hatred/deep-seated fear of cockroaches.
Now make the thing that terrifies you ten times bigger than normal. If you are afraid of public speaking, picture yourself introducing Beyonce at the Superbowl halftime show. Afraid of flying? Not only is your flight crashing, but one side of the plane ripped off, but you are still buckled into your seat to witness every moment. You get the idea. Terrifying, right? I know if a 6 ft cockroach was standing in front of me, I’d be screaming like a banshee (or pass out white-faced).
Next, I want you to imagine the person that loves you most in the world. The one who would do anything for you, and you for them. That person is dragging you kicking and screaming up to the thing that terrifies you. They are telling you how much they love you and that it’s all for your own good. I can tell you that no matter how much I love her, my sister would get a punch in the face for that behavior. And emotionally? I’d never trust her again.
Yet well-intentioned owners do similar things to their dogs every day. I find it astonishing that more humans aren’t bitten by their dogs when we treat them like this. Does the man dunking his dog in the ocean deserve to be bitten by his dog? Of course not. But if he keeps making decisions that make his dog question trusting him, he very well may end up that way. And that wouldn’t be the dog’s fault, but she may bear the ultimate punishment - losing her life.
Please listen to what your dogs are telling you - both positive and negative. If you don’t know their language, learn it! How can you expect to understand dogs if you don’t learn a little about their language? A couple of great starting suggestions are Sophia Yin’s “Perfect Puppy in 7 Days”, Karen Pryor’s “Don’t Shoot the Dog”, Patrica McConnell's “The Other End of the Leash”, or Ian Dunbar’s “Before and After Getting Your Puppy”.