Dog Ownership 101: Be Realistic With Your Expectations

The best thing about what I do as a dog trainer is to provide the coaching and guidance for dog owners to live life optimally with their dogs. To deepen the relationship they share, teach them how to communicate in a way the dog understands (which is not natural for humans to do, after all we are primates not canines) and to see the freedom dogs receive from proper training absolutely fills my cup. Something that should be stated to dog owners is you need to be realistic with your expectations of your dog(s) and that the success of your dog’s development relies on you.

Raising a well balanced and mannered dog takes time, commitment, patience, leadership and getting out of your comfort zone as a human. Dogs aren’t born knowing what is and isn’t expected from them and shouldn’t just listen because we say so. In the end your dog is an opportunistic predator who at the end of the day wants to make their own situation better. 

Some unwanted behaviors to us are very self rewarding to your dog; things like eating the steak off your counter you just put up to cook for dinner, pulling to strangers who “oh and ah” over them from a distance and entice them with squeals of how adorable they are, choosing to chase that bird over coming to you when you call them, self filling their desire to root by digging up your yard, the list goes on and on….and yet for some reason many people are frustrated with their dog’s natural instincts and desires and think that because they are man’s best friend they should listen. Or even worse, because their previous dog didn’t do these things why is their new dog such a pain.

First off, most companion dogs get WAY too much freedom before it is ever earned. This freedom allows them to do these unwanted behaviors to us, but to them they are continuing to reward themselves and fill their cup on the daily. A simple solution; proper management, setting your dog up for success and being realistic with your dog’s expectations considering their age, breed, history and unique personality, your leadership skills and consistency in your message.

Do not allow your puppy or older rescue dog total freedom the moment they walk in your door. If you had a new friend coming over for the first time would you feel comfortable if they walked in and headed straight to your kitchen to open your fridge, grab your new unopened bottle of fancy wine (or whatever drink suits your fancy), flung their shoes off and rested their feet on your living room table. NO! Not at all! But, if it was your best friend of 15 years who came over and did this then yes it would be totally acceptable. And yet this happens every day, all over the world, when people bring in a new puppy or rescue dog – they allow them to jump all over the couch, make themselves comfy and have no boundaries or rules set into place before this happens. Crazy. Just simply crazy. Stop the madness all you dog lovers out there.

No, your 12 week old puppy isn’t going to be fully house trained or sleep through the night. It has been on this Earth for 3 months. You were still pooping your diapers multiple times a day and there was no expectation for this to stop anytime soon. Yet humans tend to have these unrealistic expectations for our dogs and feel it is a bad thing to crate a puppy who continues to urinate on the floor, make the furniture a chew toy or rip apart your favorite shoes. Use your crate, monitor when your puppy eats and drinks, take lots of trips out, CATCH THEM IN THE ACT (and stop them), keep a leash attached to your puppy at ALL times when out of the crate to ensure you can keep an eye on them and NEVER, EVER buy pee pads. They teach your dog it is ok to pee/poop inside. Worst case scenario purchase a sod box and put on a balcony if you live in a high rise apartment.

Training behaviors should start inside your home and then progressively and at a slow rate move outside. Also when you move outside you will begin to encounter others, who will every day challenge your leadership skills. You have to tell people no and be confident about it. Don’t cave. If your dog has pulling issues to people and other dogs it is because you allow it to happen. Stop. Back pedal. Don’t cross the threshold of no return. Teach your dog to switch sides so you can use your body as a wall to get people away. Stop saying your dog pulls to distractions when you continue to follow behind your dog and allow them to pull to said distractions. Stand up, tell others no and stay at a distance your dog can handle.

When hiring a trainer, hire someone who is as committed to the success of your dog as much as you. But as trainers, we need to also realize we can not continue to commit more than our clients will. Read that again. The success of a dog’s training and raising depends on both parties and with continued follow through for life.

That last line is important. Just because you send your dog off for 3-4 weeks for a board and train, you still need to follow through on your end as an owner and be realistic with your expectations. You are learning this new way of communicating to your dog and most of the time learning how to use a marker system for the first time, how to use food dynamically, a leash properly, adding in an e collar for off leash reliability, the way you communicate with your body, the way you play with a toy and your dog…this is a lot to learn. It is a whole new language. I bet if you were to start learning Italian today that in a month you wouldn’t expect to be fluent with the language even if you hired the best language coach on the planet. Yet this expectation is held with owners and their dogs when they get them back from an immersion program, or even when they sign up for online coaching or one on one training. Just because you pay for it, doesn’t mean it is going to happen and the time in which obedience and the relationship develops take time for both you and your dog.

You are also going to have to deal with setbacks, and that’s ok. Again, be realistic with your expectations that if something happens that is out of your control you may need to take a step back in your training, or even if your once amazing young dog has hit the testy teenage phase which typically happens around a year, then go back to fundamentals and build up from there.

That’s the thing. No matter how proactive you are, your dogs are living beings with their own wants and desires, plus they will experience different emotions and feelings during various developmental stages in their lives. So as owners we need to readjust our expectations and look at the dog in front of us and how we can best communicate to them to get them to understand and build their confidence to want to understand what we are trying to communicate to them.

I would highly encourage you to listen to two of Canine Performance Podcast’s short episodes hosted by Natalie Dobkins. Episode 36: “Parenting” Your Dog and Episode 39: Self-Reinforcing Behaviors of their educational dog training podcast series. It is worth 10 minutes of your time for each that talks further about realistic expectations as pet parents and the difference between the two species. 

We have all done it, myself included, with having unrealistic expectations of our dogs. Maybe after reading this you can re-evaluate yourself as a leader to your dog, what your expectations should be right now and what the steps are going forward to continue to progress your expectations (as they should) in a fair and fun way. And remember, you gotta stick up for your dog when outside and inside your home with other competing motivators. This will be for life. 

Katrina Kensington


Seasons Gold Golden Retriever