Expectations and Reality: When Your Dog isn't Who You Thought He Would Be (and How to Make the Best of It)


Franz just got kicked out of doggy daycare for the second time.

His parents did everything right.

He’s a stunning German Shepherd who came home with Jane and Matteo when he was eight weeks old, purchased from a reputable breeder. With both Jane and Matteo working long hours during the week, they decided to enroll him in doggy daycare, starting when he was 16 weeks old. They also started taking puppy classes with my company around the same time.

As Thanksgiving nears, we’ve entered the season for being thankful. But as the saying goes, we can’t always get what we want. And it can be a challenge to be thankful for something that didn’t work out as planned.

For Jane and Matteo, everything went as planned for about a year. They had a beautiful dog who expended energy while they worked. He learned quickly.

Then Franz began reacting to other dogs during walks. Being the responsible owners that they are, Jane and Matteo started up private training to work on this issue.

During one of our sessions, Matteo let me know that the owner of the daycare dismissed Franz from due to him targeting other dogs.  They suggested the owners neuter Franz and try him again. Franz’s owners promptly scheduled an appointment with their veterinarian.

But the neutering didn’t change his behavior as much as they had hoped (spoiler alert: it never does), and Franz was officially booted from daycare.

Thinking that the daycare had perhaps been too busy, Jane and Matteo enrolled Franz into a daycare with smaller numbers.  Franz was kicked out of that daycare the first week.

So Jane and Matteo sent him to my farm for me to evaluate him with other dogs for a week.  When I put him with other dogs, Franz was disinterested.  He kept to himself as much as possible or sought out attention from any human that would engage with him.  But any time a dog tried to engage him in play, Franz would back the dog off the only way a proper German Shepherd knows how: as loudly and scarily as possible!  No other dogs were hurt when Franz yelled at them, but it became clear very quickly that he was not a fan of group play. Franz spent most of the group play time soliciting attention from the human staff member.  He asked them to pet him and play fetch with his ball.

When I gave his owners a summary of his group interactions, they asked me how they could make Franz friendlier with other dogs.

My advice, although not what they wanted to hear, was simple and to the point: Be thankful for the dog that you have and not the dog that you want.

With Franz, I saw a lot of things to be thankful for. He was the most beautiful specimen of a German Shepherd Dog that I had ever seen.  He loved the outdoors and listened well on and off leash. He was friendly with everyone that he met, and had a wonderful, stable personality. He was housebroken and could roam freely in their home without being crated. He was very bright and enjoyed training games and learning tricks.

He simply did not like group play with other dogs.

Living with a dog is similar to living with another human in a relationship.  Even when you love someone deeply, there may be some things that you just don’t like about him or her. There may be some things that the other party in the relationship can change, but also some things that they are not willing or able to change.

Either way, we must quickly (sometimes not so quickly) figure out what we can live with, what we can modify, and what is a deal breaker. And if there is a deal breaker in a relationship that you cannot fix, then the relationship will either unhappily continue or end entirely.

Let me tell you: everyone’s got something.

Know that even if your dog doesn’t like something, they may be able to tolerate it in small doses. 

I think of myself with broccoli.  I don’t care for broccoli at all, so I’m never going to choose to eat it.  If it’s served to me, and I don’t want to seem rude, I can choke it down with a smile on my face.  But when I see it on my plate, internally, I’m like “YUCK.”

Will you ever change my mind about broccoli?  Probably not.  Believe you me, I’ve smothered butter, garlic, and enough Velveeta on the stuff to choke a horse.  But I still don’t like it. 

Can I deal with it? Sure, there are worse things in my life than that bland green vegetable. And my husband can deal with not having broccoli on the menu very often.  It’s not a dealbreaker. Perhaps if he owned a broccoli farm, it would be.

The same can be said for Franz.

I’ve now worked with him more times than I can count.  I’ve never seen him offer to play with another dog.  But he’s learned to work around other dogs without barking and lunging at them, which is the doggy equivalent to me miming throwing up in response to broccoli.  There’s a possibility that he will never actually like other dogs.  But in small doses, he can handle them. 

Many other dogs can’t.

I’ve counseled Jane and Matteo to identify their dog’s likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses.  To embrace the strengths, and figure out if the weaknesses are worth working through. To live with the stuff that isn’t.

Jane and Matteo began working on a new goal with Franz: search and rescue training.

He is thriving. 

Every time Franz turns the other cheek after a dog barks at him on a walk, I reiterate to his owner: be thankful for the intelligent, loving, and gorgeous dog you have.


By: Nicole Skeehan, SpotOn Trainer and founder of Philly Unleashed

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