Canine Q & A: What Is One Word You Wish You Could Eliminate From Dog Owners' Vocabulary?

This week for Canine Q & A we ask the question: what is one word you wish you could eliminate from dog owners’ vocabulary, and why? 

"Stubborn. Your dog isn't stubborn. Few are. Think about it. We take dogs for granted. They evolved alongside us, some 30,000 years ago. We are different species, with different languages. I'd venture to say they've come farther in understanding us, than us them. That said, that doesn't excuse our obligation to meet them half way.

Dogs evolved to cooperate and coexist with us, and are incredibly forgiving of our flaws. Our chitter chatter, our embracing, our inconsistencies (jump on us now, but not now!), our rules and artificial, unnatural constructs like leashes and fences.

I'm always amazed that there aren't MORE bites, considering we share our lives and homes with these predators and expect so much, so often with little understanding of what it is to be "dog."

If you are struggling with a behavior problem and are chocking it up to your dog being stubborn, take pause. Consider how clear you're being. Consider your intentions, your emotional state, your words, your consistency.

So often what I see when an owner describes their dog as "stubborn" is a dog either bored to tears of their owner, where the owner simply isn't relevant anymore, or a dog who is giving it their all, and just confused." —Rachel Molyneux, sol.DOG Canine Services

"I could only think of a sentence that I've been hearing for years: ‘He gets mad at me for leaving him alone.’ I promise you your dog is not mad at you. He could be nervous, stressed or fearful because he's alone. Dogs are pack animals and some do not have the coping skills when left alone. He chewed up your favorite pair of Connie's? That's because they smell like you and he wants to be close to you. The chewing is a form of stress relief for him.

So, what to do? Practice quiet departures leaving for short amounts of time gradually working up to longer, give him a stuffed Kong to chew on while you're away and try appropriately crate training your dog. Enlist the help of a canine professional and your dog will thank you." —Lynn Grenci, The Polite Canine

I would like add to Lynn’s response that your dog is not trying to spite you either, he's not peeing on the carpet to get back at you for anything. Your roommate might take these kind of childish tactics to prove a point, but your dog does not have the complex thought process to plan such an emotionally manipulative attack. 

Two more words I'd like to add to the list, two that I normally hear together are "dominant" and "alpha." It's not that these words can't have any place in the canine world, but more often than not when an owner describes their dog in these terms, it tells me very little. It's a lazy analysis of the situation and these words act as catch-alls that chock the blame up to personality traits, instead of anything preventable (same as Rachel's point with "stubborn"). Not to mention these descriptors arise out of a problematic and antiquated understanding of wolf pack hierarchies.

What would be much more useful than hearing these words, would be descriptions of specific behaviors and body language—objective observations instead of the general "he's aggressive." Is the dog barking and backing away, is he snapping when another dog gets close, is he lunging, does he only lunge on leash, does he growl and over what, is his tail tucked or flagged? 

"Dominant" does not equal unbalanced. Dogs have fluid relationships, same as people—if someone dominated every interaction with every person through physical intimidation, I wouldn't call them an "alpha," I'd call them a bully, an asshole, and probably mentally unstable. To describe dogs' relationships with all other dogs and people as either dominate or submissive drains all the nuance and complexity out of it. 

Dogs that are described as trying to dominate their owner and be "alpha" are often just lacking structure, lacking confidence, are confused or even anxious, or haven't learned impulse control.

Of course, there are dogs that have more assertive, independent personalities—I'm not denying this. My wish to eliminate these words would be so owners were forced to tune in and observe their dog instead of labeling them. And so owners stop viewing their relationship with their pet as a power struggle, instead of a balanced and respectful partnership. As Rachel so succinctly put it, we take dogs for granted, and we shouldn't be excused from meeting them half way.