Your last dog is not your current dog. It might be a dog that you had to give away, or passed away from old age, or a great companion who died too early from cancer. But it isn’t your current dog.
This is a big source of frustration for dog owners, and a big hurdle that prevents them from doing the best for their current dog. Owners will say things like: “I’ve had golden retrievers my whole life, and this is the first time I’ve ever had a problem with one.” How many golden retrievers did that owner have? Probably three or four. What they’re really saying is that they’ve had a few good representatives of the breed and can’t believe that one is showing them difficulty. I’ve heard this with countless breeds over the years, and it’s always a source of shock and frustration.
That attitude becomes a hindrance when owners use it as a reason not to seek out more help, whether that’s hiring a trainer or going to a seminar or investing in a good program. When all you can think is “I’ve never had this problem before,” you hit a mental block. They assume that because they figured things out with their last dog, they’ll be able to handle this new dog on their own.
But in reality, the average dog owner hasn’t had more than six or seven dogs—whereas the average dog trainer might see that many dogs in one day. Trainers see a huge variety of dogs, and have a much larger ability to understand a dog’s issues. Still, plenty of people fool themselves into thinking that they can solve their current dog’s problems simply because they’ve owned a lot of dogs in the past.
Another problem that this mentality creates is that we love our dogs so much that they erase our memories. I mean that quite literally. This conversation occurs all the time: “Our last dog was so amazing! We’re doing the same things with this dog, and he’s just not getting it. Everything is the same, we’re raising him the same way, but our last dog was so much easier.” I often call on the spouse and ask them if this is true. The more logical of the two will say it’s not. Maybe the dog was indeed great, but also had another set of issues.
By the time your last dog was four or five years old, they probably calmed down for another five to eight years. Your memories are of those great times, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But sometimes those memories cloud our recollection of what actually happened. Sometimes a husband will tell me that he doesn’t think training is necessary, simply because “they figured things out with the last dog.” But when I talk to the wife, she’ll say that the dog just grew out of the problem. That husband is setting himself up to deal with those behavior issues for years and years, until the dog gets too tired to present them any longer.
If you have more than one child, then your second child isn’t the same as your first. Likewise, your current dog isn’t the same as your last dog. Every dog has different needs, wants, desires, and challenges. It isn’t fair to keep applying the same strategies to your current dog that you did to your last dog.
As Einstein said: “You can’t solve a problem with the same mindset that created the problem.” (That’s a paraphrase.) Many people are sorely lacking in mindset. They need a new tool bag this time around. So don’t keep living in the past, where the dogs were amazing and brought you breakfast in bed. Live in the here and now, where you’ve got an awesome dog who needs some help. What’s it going to take to help that dog through its behavioral challenges? Probably not the same thing that your last dog needed. Keep that in mind as you train.