Originally Posted Sunday, October 30, 2011
I am very fortunate to see a good many dogs in my day to day life, but not all of them are normal. There is for instance, my own very intense, military lines German Shepherd. Nice guy. Not really normal. Or my Chessie. Another nice guy. Also not normal. I have an intern with me these days; nice lady, with a very normal Keshond. In fact he is pretty much the only normal dog I know at the moment. I also have a six month old lab and a four month old German Shepherd in the house who aren’t normal either.
All of the “not normal” dogs I have really ARE normal, in the context of what I do. Eco, my GSD, works his behind off for me doing sport. He would be equally happy as a police or military dog. He would be a menace as a house pet. D’fer, my chessie works hard taking care of me as a service dog. Similar to Eco, he would not make a very good pet. He is altogether too intense and active to make a good house dog. Unless you would like to know when you are anxious, and when you should take your meds and when you should get up in the morning. These dogs have responsibilities, and they thrive on their work.
Widget the six month old lab is a service dog in training. He does pretty intense training on a day to day basis, and he is also doing public access training regularly. He is a pretty responsible guy all things considered. He might make a good pet for someone who desires to have brains and enough energy to run a nuclear submarine in one loving package of chocolate Labrador. Friday is also a service dog in training; she is 16 weeks old and keeps us on our toes. She has just started doing public access visits too. I don’t think she would be happy as a pet though; just not enough structure or training or exercise for her taste.
All my dogs are pretty far off of normal. That is just fine for me as I know that each has strengths and weaknesses, and I play to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses. That does not always work out for my clients. My clients in the Good Dog program come to me with dogs who are not normal too; often though, the people they live with don’t recognize that their version of not normal needs some special handling. One of the most important questions that I ask myself as a behaviour consultant is “Where would this dog be “normal”. Today I met a sweet little dog who would be very normal as an only dog on a quiet mountain farm where she did not have to meet anyone new, or any new dogs, or climb any stairs. Preferably in an open concept house. The dog currently lives in a busy two story home in the middle of town. My job is to make the compromises so that this dog can find a peaceful way to live in an environment that is alien to what he would like to live in.
In my mid twenties I worked for the federal government. I was an agriculture inspector. I was not a very good agriculture inspector and I didn’t like the work. In fact I hated the job, and in that job I was extremely NOT normal. I ended up on stress leave and when I got back, the federal government did me a huge favour. They fired me. They decided that I was just not the right person for that job. I feel very lucky that they fired me; I didn’t want to do the job, I wasn’t good at it and I didn’t know enough about myself at that point to do something other than that job. I felt stuck, like I didn’t have any choices.
For many of the dogs I meet, they grow up understanding one reality, and end up plonked down into another. They may have the genetics to do one job, and be stuck in another. When we look at what “normal” is for a particular dog, we can often figure out what compromises we can make to make the situation “normal” for that dog. Unlike me, they are unlikely to get fired and end up in a better situation. When we start to look at what would be “normal” for our abnormal dogs, we start to be able to find middle ground where we can start from.
Where we can make the biggest difference in the lives of dogs is to think about what “normal” looks like in your life before you choose your dog. Does your normal include a lot of people? Because if it does, then no matter how much you like that guarding breed, his “normal” isn’t going to be the same as yours. If your normal includes lots of hunting and fishing and camping, and you love the look of a greyhound, you and the greyhound are going to each have to make some serious adjustments to make that work out. The greyhound is not going to enjoy river rafting even if you do get a life jacket on him. And you are not going to enjoy hanging out indoors when it gets cold and rainy. Your normal is the best place to start when you are thinking about what kind of a dog is going to fit into your life.
My intern’s Keshond is an interesting example of normal. He is normal at the moment. In Canada. In the fall. At home, in the southern United States, he really is not normal. There, for nine months out of 12, he is not normal. He is hot and uncomfortable in that incredible coat. In order to live there, his people keep the air conditioning turned down as low as they can tolerate it and they walk him only at night. And interestingly, her most recent dog is not a Keshond.