Nov 14, 2021
5 mins read
Most dog owners, even a lot of trainers, attribute some of their dogs' behavior as human-like. It is couched in language like "My dog doesn't 'like' it when..." or My dog 'hates' men in hats..."
Now, I'm not saying that dogs don't have preferences for certain things or that they are incapable of displaying interest in activities (car rides and going for walks immediately come to mind), but no, if the only place you ever go is to a place with lots of noises and smells and strange people that stick things up your butt and poke you with pointy things and are generally doing things to you that you find uncomfortable and even mildly threatening, you'd be reluctant to get in the car to go anywhere as well.
On the other hand, if your dog gets to enjoy a life filled with novel experiences and adventure, it's a pretty safe bet that s/he will greet every day with confidence, or at least, not dread.
A dog that has been conditioned from the day you bring him/her home to accept life on the move, it's likely that you will never encounter a dog afraid of travel.
Once upon a time, I owned a dog that would be sick in the car 100% of the time she was in it. She loved the idea of travel, she just couldn't abide the actual motion. I tried mint, I tried Bonine and Dramamine. I tried not feeding her for hours before travel, even as long as a whole day. I figuratively and literally tried every thing to make it easier for her when we traveled. As a traveling photographer, I traveled a LOT. She and her housemate traveled with me, every state I traveled to, for several years.
Know what ended up working?
I mean, she finally got used to it. The only accommodation I made was getting busier and having to travel more. I wasn't going to leave her at home. I had nobody to care for her, and on less than a stringer budget, I wasn't about to PAY someone to care for my animals.
Travel forced her to adapt. It wasn't like I was beating her into submission, or drugging her into a stupor, but through the sheer volume of travel alone, she endured enough pressure to adapt. I no longer needed to drug her, withhold food, avoid winding roads, or only travel during optimum hours.
If a dog fears the vet stemming from an aversion to travel, circumnavigating that issue is easy. Travel with the dog more frequently. It is not uncommon for me to pop a dog or 8 in the truck and just drive. It's not going to kill them, and eventually they get used to the traffic noise, the flashing lights and colors, the discomfiture of not understanding the concept of traveling backwards though time. Or sideways. Or motion without movement. Dogs are stuck in our world. That doesn't mean they perceive it the same way we do.
Drive to a strange place and take the dog for a walk. Go to the local drive-thru coffee shop and get him a pup-a-chino. Break the monotony of living in that postage stamp microcosm most folks consider adequate and expand his horizons a little. Meet up with friends and train together. I have a colleague that has bar crawl meet-ups with his advanced students in Baltimore's Inner Harbor district. Organize something similar.
If a dog actually fears the vet, guess where I'd be spending every conceivable opportunity? I'd be spending money to do it, too, because in the long run, I'd be saving it in top-up costs because my dog was labeled unmanageable by the vet's office. I have the luxury of a vet that travels to the patient, like back during the Stone Age and doctors made house calls, but that doesn't absolve me of having to train my dogs to adapt to be physically handled by strangers.
The biggest risk in those environments still remains the absolute incompetence of most of the people you find in the reception area, and the utter disregard they have for your safety or the safety of your dog. This is where I get to practice 'bitchface'. I project. I can be pretty menacing without ever opening my mouth.
It's OK! Don't worry! As long as nobody throws hands, it is ALL RIGHT to make a space invader and their space invader dog feel the dragon's breath. Your personal space is your personal space, and you still have agency over it.
MOST of the time though, 'pet' dogs are denied a larger life because of some misdirected beliefs about what that dog likes or dislikes. It's muzzy headed thinking. Dogs are the recipients of our efforts, whether they are inadequate or significant. Our dogs are simply responding to the information we supply them with. Your dog doesn't like the vet because the only place he ever goes is to the vet. The vet is a scary place. People in the waiting room are rude. Their dogs are annoying. Your dog gets the dubious pleasure of getting assaulted by strangers. Of course he doesn't like the vet!
You can minimize that effect by taking him places that he learns to enjoy, or at least someplace that isn't as demanding as the vet, like Starbucks or that little outdoor dining area downtown that allows mannerly dogs. Find a training class with a competent instructor that helps you teach your dog to tolerate novelty without exploding into a fury of teeth and claws and anal sacs.
Your dogs' behaviors have been forged and tempered through epochs of genetic trial and error; the end product an array of finely tuned instinct and senses that serve to protect the individual and advance the species. It's not that he doesn't 'like' things, it's his biological responses to the lack of exposure and training he has been given.
In the landscape of the dogs world, their awareness is provoked by their sense of smell, hearing and sight. A dog can't turn off his nose, his eyesight nor his hearing. Where we can be selective about how we receive information, our dogs cannot. They are constantly bombarded with sights, scents and sounds that influence their behavior.
It's not that a dog 'doesn't like' something or someone. The dog has never been adequately prepared to accommodate anything outside of a very narrow purview.
Do more for your dog. Do more with your dog. Inoculate your dog from the possibility of adverse reactions to strange places, men in hats, or sights, scents and sounds that impact their behavior. A postage stamp back yard or a few leash walks a day is pretty unfulfilling and if you had to live that way, you would go insane.