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Karen B. London
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Perfect Older Sibling
Struggles of a new dog
Our last dog was such an angel

Among the themes I hear from clients repeatedly is that their new dog just isn’t like their old dog. Maybe this dog is just lukewarm on retrieving but their previous dog would happily fetch at any time. Perhaps the new puppy still isn’t housetrained, but their old dog was perfect at it by the age of three months. It could be that the new dog just isn’t that willing to cuddle on the couch for hours, but the other dog did, and it was so nice. Whatever the specifics are, the commonality is that the new dog is facing expectations based on a dog the family had before, and it’s all but impossible to measure up.

I’m a younger sister myself, and I well remember the expectations of teachers that I would be just like my older sister who was an extraordinary student and never got into any trouble at all. It was a lot of pressure. It makes me very empathetic to dogs who are dealing with excessive expectations because of another, older dog. In fact, I often say to clients who are making such comparisons that I myself know what it’s like to have a perfect older sibling, and I urge them to find what they love about their new dog and focus on that.

It’s natural to compare a new dog with a previous dog, but exercising caution is wise. Thinking, “Wow! This dog is more energetic than our other dog,” can have great value if it makes you realize that you really need to find a way to give more exercise to the new dog, who is clearly an extra peppy individual. On the other hand, if the previous dog was 14 years old and arthritic, it’s important to remember that your new dog is an adolescent who obviously isn’t going to be anything like a geriatric dog, and thank goodness for that.

While comparisons are inevitable, it’s so important to remind yourself to treat each dog as an individual, without assuming that there will be similarities with your previous dog. That’s true even if they are the same breed or happen to look just alike right down to the black eye patch or you trained them the same way. Not only is this fair to your new dog, but it may help you recognize what is really special about the dog who may be the new love of your life. The new dog may be great at learning tricks, or may not be interested in chewing on your only ridiculously expensive pair of shoes. The new dog may be easier to hike with than your previous dog or may sleep through thunderstorms at night. If you pay attention, it’s likely that you’ll notice traits that compare favorably with all the dogs who you’ve had before.

Have you ever struggled with a new dog because you couldn’t help but make comparisons with the “perfect” dog you used to have?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.

photo by istolethetv/Flickr

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