“We never had this problem with my other dog!”
“Our Greyhound puppy just doesn’t act the same as our old Golden did.”
“I know how to train dogs; this one just won’t DO it.”
“Our older dog just listens to us. What is wrong with this new one??”
If you have ever found yourself in this situation, here are 8 reasons why you may be feeling this way – and some thoughts on how to handle it.
1) Your old dog was more biddable
Dog personalities are different! Some breeds were specifically created to work well with humans and more easily attune to our actions and respond to our cues. If your dog was bred to partner with humans for a living, like a herding or sporting dog, living with humans may come much more naturally to him than if your dog was bred to spend all day guarding livestock alone on a mountain.
What can you do about this? Take it into consideration during the selection process of your new companion dog, and be patient with hard-wiring or learn to work through it; if your new dog doesn’t seem to respond to you as naturally as your old dog did, you may need to actively work on training up new cues that your old dog learned intuitively.
For more on the human/dog relationship and why it’s perfectly normal if your dog doesn’t seem to want to work for you just because he likes you, check out Jean Donaldson’s insightful book The Culture Clash:
2) You have selective amnesia
I KNOW your old dog was a perfect angel who gently shepherded the kids, never ran off, slept quietly by the fire, and showed off Amusing Tricks to the relatives at Christmas time. But be honest – did she really start out like that? Just like those of us with children blissfully forget the fog of having a newborn and sometimes intentionally choose to have ANOTHER one at some point, I think many times we remember our gentle saintly past dogs the way they were at the end of their lives, fully integrated, calm, and with a decade or more of bonding behind them. Sorry, nothing can fix this one, but try to be objective instead of viewing your elderly or former companion dog through eternally rose-tinged lenses.
3) You adopted an older dog this time
Rescuing an older animal can be both noble and good for a family, but remember that this dog may have had months or years to learn bad habits or to think that people cannot be trusted or are not worth listening to. If you raised your other dog from a puppy, you never had to worry about breaking bad habits or overcoming a dog’s past experiences with humans. If you have this problem, take stock of the bad habits you notice, realize they can be overcome, and start training them ASAP so you don’t build resentment toward your new friend. This book is a great place to start:
4) You got a puppy this time
Of course, this could be the case as well! If your last dog was adopted at over the age of two, from a foster family that had already house-trained him and taught him the basics, it can be daunting when your precious little blank slate is gnawing everything in sight, peeing in the house, and flailing at the end of the leash. Relax, regroup, and make sure you’re attending puppy class and socializing him – he will chill out as he gets older, and your training will come together if you keep on working at it.
5) Your systems need to be updated
It may not be the dog at all. Some people do dishes at night; some in the morning. Some dogs do great in a kennel by your bed; some hate the kennel but will snooze all night on the tether. You can’t necessarily treat your dogs the same way and get the same results because dogs are all different! Instead of getting frustrated with your dog, take a look at your processes and tools, and see if those can be tweaked instead of trying to make the dog himself change.
6) You trained your other dog without realizing it
It is SO easy to live with a dog that just seems to know what you are saying. I’ve never, ever intentionally trained my dog to leave a room, but if I point and tell her “go on!” off she trots. It just happened over time. But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t trained to do it, or that she actually does know English – it just happened imperceptible with daily interactions and natural rewards of ear scritches, “good girl!”, and play slowly reinforcing the things I liked.
The bad news is you can’t zap five years of casual rewards into your new dog’s brain. Now here’s the good news – if you actively make sure every interaction counts, you can achieve the same results even faster with your new dog! Shower the praise, treats, play, and access to good stuff down when your dog is doing something you like, and ignore or redirect every time your new dog does something you’re not a fan of. This will start teaching him new associations as quickly as possible, and sooner than you know it he will “just seem to know” exactly what you expect, too.
7) Your new dog doesn’t like what your old dog does
To train a dog, the rewards you are offering him have to be something he actually wants. My Labrador loves LOVES loves attention and petting. He will live and breathe for a “good dog!” My old Great Pyrenees would politely turn away from an outstretched petting-ready hand to go nap. Alone. In the snow. Some dogs view toys as rewards; some dogs just aren’t into them. Some dogs will work for a Milk Bone (ok, not that many), some require fancy freeze-dried liver. So if you try to use petting, praise, Milk Bones, and throwing the ball as a reward, don’t get discouraged if your dog appears uninterested. Just keep trying Things Dogs Like until you hit on the winner. By the way, for my Pyrenees – it was pepperoni.
8) Building a relationship takes time
The title really says it all – you can’t force familiarity. Some dogs just seem to fit in naturally, and others take a lot of intentional playing, walking, training, cuddling, and patience to bond with their owners. Some, like that Pyrenees, appreciate their owners for food and occasional touches, but really just prefer their own company. You’ll learn your dog’s likes, dislikes, and place in the family over time, and far too soon they will be the elderly angel that is patiently watching the antics of their new dog friend. Enjoy each moment while you can!