What Difficult Dogs Can Teach Us

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The Green Grass On The Other Side Of That Fence

We have all seen that other dog. He comes trotting into an area with his tail wagging and a big Husky grin on his face. It does not matter to him who or what is in front of him because that dog always seems to have it all together. He is cool, calm, and collected. He is unflappable. He seems to be able take everything in stride. He never seems to lose his composure. He does not seem to react and he never seems to come unglued. His owner never looks like she is on the verge of a tearful melt-down or that she might just start taking up drinking at any moment.

And then there is our “special” Husky. He is the polar opposite to Mr. Cool and Unflappable. He enters the area puffing and pulling like a steam engine. His eyes darting around the room and he is ready to pounce on anything that moves. He could young, newly adopted, or just plain out of control. It’s likely at times this dog has probably pushed you to the brink of your emotional and physical limits.

You work and work and work with him and yet he still looks like his head might spin around on his shoulders at any given moment. If you could allow yourself to be honest just for a moment you might even have to admit that there are times when this crazy out of control dog, the one that needs constant management and correction, the one that drives you pretty close to crazy…

Our Dirty Little Secret

Clearly you always love your dog, but there are times when you’re so frustrated it can be hard to like this big hairy handful of Husky. And along with that thought comes the feelings of guilt, shame, and feeling like a less than competent dog owner. Sometimes we feel like a failure when it comes to our difficult dogs. We chastise and berate ourselves for thinking these thoughts, for feeling this way, and for not being able to create that other dog.

The problem is, we don’t own that other perfect dog. We own this dog. We have somehow ended up with the class clown, the rescue, the reprobate, the anarchist, or that unbridled free spirit who is determined to march to the beat of his own drum. Today I talk about this dog and the dirty little secret that no one likes to admit … sometimes these dogs are not the easiest creatures to like.

It’s Easy To Love That Dog

It is easy to love that other dog. He probably never eats a shoe or never swallowed a sock whole. He is not the one that gallops around like a lunatic in class even when you just walked him for an hour to tire him out. People never shoot the owner of that dog a weary look that says, “Oh look. It’s them again.” I know that look. I used to get it a lot when Kaya was younger. These dogs try our patience and test our limits of understanding, compassion, and love. Some days you have to be practically super-human to keep a smile on your face and sense of humor about you. But I also now understand that these more difficult dogs can be a blessing in disguise.

The Blessing In Disguise

How the heck does a difficult dog become a blessing in disguise you ask? They are a blessing because they push you out of your comfort zone and it is there in the fear, the uncomfortableness, the frustration, and the vulnerability of not knowing what to do, that miracles and magic can happen. These challenges that you are having can be a foundation that you can build on.

This only becomes a wasted experience if you don’t learn from it. It is easy to look at a situation and label it as a waste of time just because it did not look the way that you thought that it would. But every encounter yields experience as long as you are open to learning from it and learning happens when you are willing to shift your perspective about the given nature of a situation.

What Difficult Dogs Can Teach Us

When you are open to learning the difficult dog can:

  • Show you that you are so much stronger and resilient than you ever thought you were.
  • Push you out of complacency and force you to finding new ways of looking at problem. If you were not an out of the box thinker before, you will be before you are done working this dog.
  • Force you to develop patience, understanding, and compassion if you did not already have these virtues before you started this gig.
  • Teach you how vital it is to develop a good sense of humor about things that you cannot change or control in life. It is what it is, so you may as well embrace it and find the humor in it.
  • Help you learn how great it feels to accomplish the seemingly insurmountable task.
  • Teach us about unconditional love. It is easy to love the cute puppy or the cooperative dog but it takes unconditional love to truly accept and love a dog for who and what he is right now in this imperfect moment. And finally,
  • Teach us about ourselves. They are like our mirrors. They reflect to us who we are and who we are not. Sometimes it is these difficult dogs who finally motivate us to become more organized, responsible, and more accountable, something that we should have been doing all along but we always put off or found ways to squirm out of doing. Now we have no place left to hide from it. These dogs call us on the carpet about OUR imperfections, shortcomings, and our bad habits.

They become our furry life lesson.

Living The Life Lesson

While it is wonderful to get a chance to learn a life lesson, the reality is that living the lesson is not always pleasant or easy. Here are few things to remember while we live our lesson.

When working with the difficult Husky it helps to remember these things:

  • See the dog. See your dog because this is the dog that you have to live with and work with. It makes no sense for you to wish that he was different. This is who he is for the moment so learn how to accept this situation with grace. Learn to work with a difficult situation and not against it. Working against the energy of a situation will only serve to deplete your energy.
  • Go with the flow, not against it.
  • Do not focus on what the dog still cannot do. Focus and celebrate what this dog can do. Every step forwards counts and should be celebrated enthusiastically and unabashedly. Don’t make the mistake of saving the celebrating for just the big milestones. Appreciate the uniqueness of your dog.
  • Remember not to get so focused on the destination of “getting there” that you forget to enjoy and appreciate the journey. There are hidden gems along the road but you will surely miss them if you are only focused on the end game.
  • Your dog’s behaviour does not define the dog. Behaviour is separate from the living entity. You can love your dog but not like its behaviour. This does NOT make you a bad owner and a bad person. It just makes you human. It’s okay.
  • Always leave room for the miracle to show up. Mindset is everything. If you have made up your mind that it cannot ever be different, then it is doomed to stay the same. Be open to the possibility that today is the day that you finally get through that obstacle that you have been struggling with. Believe that everything is a possibility.
  • And lastly, remember that all human beings are perfectly imperfect. It is not necessary for you to be a perfect human to be good person. You can be flawed, frustrated, grumpy, and exasperated. It’s okay. This too shall pass. Just remember to breathe and let it go. Every moment comes to us as a blank canvas. You can choose what thoughts to fill in your next moments with.

Is It OK To Give Up?

Sometimes, no matter how much work you put into the dog, the dog’s behaviour just does not get any better. The whole purpose of Snowdog Guru is to help educate owners and reduce the number of huskies and malamutes that end up in shelters and we recommend exhausting the available resources from websites such as this one to dog training classes, but sometimes a particularly difficult husky can be too much for some people. It may be that the dog needs even more time and training that you’re able to give. This doesn’t mean you failed the dog or that you failed as a dog owner. You might just simply have a very incompatible dog personality or a dog that requires a special skill set that you do not possess.

Sometimes the reality is that this dog might do better with a different owner or in a different environment. It’s okay to come to this realization. It is far better to love the dog enough to choose to do what is best for the dog and not what makes you feel better in the moment. Maybe you just took on more than you could handle? It happens and it’s okay.

Once you have done the very best that you could, given it your all, then there is simply nothing more that you can do. Maybe this part of your journey together is complete. Maybe this was all that you can do for this dog. It’s okay. You don’t have to beat yourself up about it.

Whether you find a way to make the journey with this dog or you help place the dog into a more suitable home, don’t forget to learn from the experience. I may not agree with everything that Cesar Millan says and does but I do think that he hit the nail on the head when he says, “You don’t get the dog you want, you get the dog that you need.”

Sometimes we are the teacher and sometimes we become the student. Accept it and embrace the experience. It may just take you to places that you would have never normally gone.

As always, we welcome your questions, comment, and stories regarding this topic. What have you learned from your difficult dog?

When we share our wisdom and our stories we may be helping someone who is struggling with their difficult Snow Dog.

Helping ALL Snow Dogs … one owner at a time.

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10 Comments

  1. my sophie, is obedience trained.on a leash. if she believes she is still on the leach she sits heels watches me.the moment she relizes she is not on leach she runs away for six hrs or more.Danger here..she has already come home with porcupine quills..ran over by a train crossing a river bridge.ran from my van in the city, lost for ten hrs.I have enclosed a baseball park let her loose..responds to call back immediately. if she knows she not confined..she runs runs runs..i admit defeat! any wisdom on repetion? having her respond to call back when she out free?

  2. So although I don’t own a Husky I own a Shepherd mix who has been the most difficult dog I’ve ever owned. We’ve dealt with resource guarding, leash reactivity, fear issues, and more. The strangest thing is I am more bonded with her than I’ve been with previous dogs. What you say rings so true to my own experiences with training and living with a difficult dog. At first I was just frustrated.. Over time I began to realize she’s taught me how to be much more creative and think on my feet. Not to mention how proud I am when we get something right. I’ve had to work so closely with her to be a responsible pet owner; in turn it’s made us extremely close. Every little improvement makes me so happy. I’ve stopped focusing on the negatives, realizing that I’m not perfect, why should I expect her to be as well? Thank you for sharing this; it’s great for people to realize that they’re not alone if they have a difficult dog, and it’s not hopeless.

    • Margit Maxwell on

      Oh, Jen. You get it!! That is exactly why I wrote this article. I want people to know it’s okay to feel frustrated and I want them to know that there is a blessing in disguise waiting for them if they can just get past the emotional part of this issue. Difficult dogs have so much to show us and teach us if we just allow ourselves to see it. And yes, there really is HOPE that this will all turn out great. Great job, Jen. Thank you for showing up and stepping up in your dog’s life. If she could talk in words she would tell you, Thank You <3 .

  3. Thanks for this article! It was very timely because my husband and I are debating this very subject. We have 7 sled dogs and all but 2 are rescues. Our dogs sleep indoors and are one big happy pack except, the “one”, Spirit. He was clearly taken from his mom and litter mates too soon and missed pretty major development stages in terms of behaviour. He is 1.5 years old and he has already been with 3 owners. He is an Alaskan Husky and the most wild dog I have ever seen. Although we are quite experienced at training unruly hyper dogs, he has pushed us to our limit. He cannot be unsupervised with any dogs because the second we turn our backs, he is in an all-out death fight. He is not aggressive, he just knows exactly how to set off and irritate everyone. We are forced to keep him separated, which seems unfair. Normally when I hear a Husky owner has these problems, I assume they are not getting their exercise needs met. Huskies (especially if they are from sled line genetics) need regular running to blow off steam. Our guy has the same behaviour regardless if he’s run 1 mile or 10. There is no one capable of walking Spirit. We are now torn and sad that perhaps he actually needs to be in a big dog sledding kennel where they tether him to a dog house. We have been advised that dogs like him are tethered for this very reason. Maybe he is just too much sled dog that we can handle in our home environment – even though we are mushers and fulfill his needs.

    • Margit Maxwell on

      Leandra, it certainly does sound like you have done your very best to meet all of this dog’s needs and it is still enough. Sometimes you have to make the hard choicse in order to support the emotional and physical well being of your other dogs too. Sadly, this is what happens when someone has poor breeding practices. These issues stay with the dog and the dog pays the ultimate price for the human’s bad choices. So very sad for everyone involved. My heart breaks for all of you involved <3

    • Hi Leandra,

      You’re letter reminds me so much if our Husky, Leeu. No matter how far I walk or run him, he is still one crazy fur-ball! Even when I walk him so far that his paw pads wear down. He is a sweet boy who only wants to play, not aggressive at all. He becomes so tired that he becomes cross-eyed and starts to move slower. But he would continue to behave like captain super hyper dog even when he is exhausted.

      We’ve talked to various trainers and they always accused us of not exercising him enough. I give him a lot of mental training and he is very good at following commands. I’ve read all the books and Internet articles about huskies and dog training I could lay my hands on.

      We were told he was 9 weeks when we got him, but he was tiny! 2,6kg! We suspect that he focussed so much on playing with his litter mates that he did not drink nor eat properly. Or perhaps he was younger than 9 weeks?

      We really struggled to teach him sleep through the night. He would wake us op at 4 or 5 am each morning! And I was covered in bruises and nip marks from his play biting. The more tired he got the naughtier he would become. He had a constant slight runny tummy and the vet could never figure out what was wrong with him. But despite the bad tummy, he was in excellent health and we fed him very high quality food. (I suspect the vet thought we were just attention seekers who are willing to pay expensive vet bills).

      Then we decided to disregard everything the trainers told us. For one his tummy got better when we started to use stronger deworming pills, instead of the ones the vet prescribed. And he became slightly less frantic when he felt better. And surprisingly he became better when we started to excersise him less! He only does about 4km per day plus lots of running in the yard and he is much better. I’ve a huge fan of Emily Lagham’s Kikopup training videos online and we’ve had some success with her calmness training and anti-play biting techniques. He is by no means a docile Labardor, but he is more manageable.

      My heart went out for you when I read your letter because we’re in the same situation. And I thought I should share our experience with you, since I’ve been very desperate at times. No book / trainer tells you to excersise your dog less, but this really worked for us. Perhaps one of our remedies will help you and Ghost.

      How is Ghost now? Is he any better?

  4. Margit, thank you for this article. Hit it right on the dot. Let me tell you.. I have one of those” special” huskies. I also have one that is Miss “cool” husky also. The special husky is one adopted not long ago. Been many challenges, no doubt. Many times I cried myself out of dog parks, as I feel people are judging me as a bad mother to my new young newly neutered trouble maker male. I can’t help how he was mistreated by the previous owners. No love, he didn’t even make eye contact with anyone. Inside, I know I am a good mama as my other female turned out well behaved and friendly to all. It takes time for him to trust again, change behavior, listen and train. Everyday there is improvement so with time, I know my big trouble maker will get it one day. I can’t see my self abandoning, we will work thru it. But my goodness, I was getting anxiety over it and definitely brought my out of my comfort zone. But again, he is getting better every day so we are moving forward. So hurray for “Special” huskies.

    • Margit Maxwell on

      Oh, Em. I am so sorry that you are going through this. I know what this feels like. I endured the ” looks” too. And no, people have no clue what you have been through with your dog or what the dog has been through in his life. You are NOT alone in this. You have help and support right HERE! Hang in there, Em. You are making a difference in his life!!! Thank you for sticking with your special Husky <3

  5. Duncan Forbes on

    I read your article and I think of Ghost. He and Loki are chalk and cheese. Both sides of the coin but I love them both the same. I would love him to be better behaved, but it’s the way he is and we will get there.
    Thank you

    • Margit Maxwell on

      Oh, Duncan, my heart goes out to you! I know how frustrating this can be for you. Please know that you are not alone. There is always help here or even just a sympathetic ear to listen. Many people just have no idea how draining and isolating this experience can be. Hang in there, Duncan. Most difficult dogs, with the right training, do end up being great dogs with much to offer us. 🙂

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