In the last year, I have faced two perspective-transformations. First, I needed to realize that my older dog and I would both be happier if I stopped taking her with me on "adventures" because I assumed that she would be happiest if she was with me all of the time. In reality, she is happiest when we go for a short walk and she can sniff all of the things, and her hips don't get sore from over-exertion. Next, I needed to consider that my younger dog would not be able to "live her best life" if I focussed on her recall issues - what I needed was to focus on her recall solutions. While very different in nature, these experiences made me realize the importance that our expectations for what life with our dogs should look like gets in the way of how to achieve that life.
When we get a dog, we have an idea of what we want from that dog. The cost, time and commitment that they require are all in exchange for companionship, protection, a means to a healthier lifestyle, et cetera. With my first dog, I endowed her with the responsibility of being my companion and social aid while travelling and exploring the USA and Canada. What I soon learned, and what all prospective dog owners should consider before getting a dog, was that her breed traits, history and physical limitations would not support that kind of lifestyle. It was time to shift my perspective. While I had thought that vagrancy and exposure would be the perfect life for a girl and her dog, it turned out that the life we needed to aim for was one of consistency.
"My dog is a jerk, he bullies other dogs and plays aggressively" is something that I have both heard and experienced first hand. Dogs who weren't thoroughly socialized, combined with breed traits and training methods used by their handlers, can become inappropriate greeters or players and - depending on how this is handled - can become aggressive to other dogs. "My dog is a jerk" however, is not a perspective that is going to solve the embarassment you might feel at the dog park, the fear that other dog owners may feel, or your dog's insecurities around other dogs. Insecurities? You might ask. Here's the first perspective shift: instead of labelling the behaviour you are seeing (anthropomorphizing it, too), consider the reasoning behind the behaviour. It's probably a mystery to you - if only your dog could talk! Well, your dog probably has been talking to you since he was a little puppy, you just didn't know how to listen. Just like people, a lot of the time, over-aroused behaviour characterized by stiff body, raised hackles, high flagging tail, etc, can often be labelled as "aggressive" but come from a place of insecurity, fear or pain.
"My dog is terrible on leash, he just sits and stares at things and won't come, I practically have to drag him home". This is one of many problems that people who have not taken the time to leash-train their dogs come across. As humans, we think it would be intuitive: don't want to be tugged around? Then walk when I walk and don't go further than your 6-foot allowance! For dogs, though, who operate on reinforcement-based learning a lot of the time, that smell at the fire hydrant, dog across the street, or even just walking at a certain pace, is way more reinforcing than the mere sensation of a loose leash. We need to make it more worth their while to hang out near us than to jerk us every which way or sit down and refuse to go home. However, since we are so stuck on the idea that dogs need a certain number of minutes of walking per day, we get caught up in walking as far as possible and throw the leash training out the window. Here's the perspective change: instead of thinking your dog needs 2 hours of exercise per day, use that time to engage with them in training them to walk on a loose leash, and then play a tug or recall game in the house to tire them out both physically and mentally.
This is my favourite one - it's short, but it's something I have to remind myself of all. The. Time.
"How come every other dog I see is friendly and well behaved around other dogs?" This is for all you reactive dog owners out there. The answer, and the perspective shift is: you are only seeing the friendly, well-behaved dogs. The other ones are in training programs working up to being well-behaved, or they are avoiding interactions that will get them excited.
We have so many opportunities to judge, blame and criticize our dogs' behaviour. That means that we have the same number of opportunities to shift our perspectives and see potential to improvement or change in their behaviour. A dog that demand barks is a dog that might need more mental stimulation, your aggressive dog could be afraid or in pain, your daily hikes in off-leash areas could be triggering leash reactivity. If you are concerned about your dog's behaviour, if you feel like you have run into a road block or that you have "tried everything" to no avail, I highly recommend talking to a professional in dog training and behaviour.