Monday, April 7, 2014

Frustration: The Root of All Evil

I've been having issues with my dogs. Defensiveness with strangers (i.e., pack behavior). Some escapes, some aggression, some fights. One of my dogs, little Sasha, has been to the vet a few times already for stitches.

That's not good.

So I called a couple of trainer friends for help. What am I doing wrong? What could I do better? Most importantly, what's the source of the tension, and what can I do about it? Can I do anything about it?

After an hour observing the dogs here at home, they told me: it's frustration.


Yes, said they. The three puppies (fifteen months old now) were born here, right? They never left?

Right, said I.

That's the problem, they said. When dogs aren't exposed to new things on a regular basis, especially early in life, they never learn to deal with change.

Change being, well, anything new. A new noise. A new person. A new dog behind the neighbor's fence (the current catalyst). Instead of adaptation, change produces major freak-out.

Several years ago, I was hired by a hotel company and sent for a two-month training to one of their resorts in Dominican Republic. Another new employee, a girl from Curaçao, was there at the same time. She had never lived outside of Curaçao, and was horribly homesick. (I say "girl", but she was perhaps 28.)

She spent two hours on the phone every night with her mother. She never smiled. She lost weight.

This was one of those all-inclusive places that serve everything--Japanese, Italian, Chinese, Greek. All-American burgers and hotdogs. A variety of fruit beyond belief. An omelette bar. A salad bar. A Brazilian evening with cuts of buttery beef. A seafood evening with more giant shrimp than I could eat (that's saying a lot).

But my new colleague wouldn't eat any of it. She'd never had it before, wasn't interested in trying it. "Why should I? In Curaçao we're fortunate; we don't have to leave our country to make a living."

And yet there she was, stuck in an alien place for seven weeks. (And I mean, really, how "alien" can a Caribbean island be from another Caribbean island?)

By Week Three she'd had arguments with every one of the employees who were supposed to be training us. Instead of spending weekends at the beach, she locked herself in her room and talked 24/7 with her mom.

Frustration. Major freak-out.

Hers is an extreme case, but aren't we all guilty of this, in smaller or greater measure? Of pretending our lives will continue the same way they always have, of rejecting new things (people, food, ideas) because they're different from what we're used to?

We find comfort in routine, but--at least in this--there may be such a thing as too much of a good thing.

On the trainers' suggestion, I'm now taking one dog out every day to do something new. Walk downtown. Explore a new beach. Get lost in the Kabouterbos (literally: gnome forest) that's about a mile from the house. Expose the dogs to something new every day so that change will stop freaking them out. After a full week, I'm already seeing results.

And not just in the dogs.


  1. I get this; I know when we moved a few years back, Koda seemed depressed after a bit; finally it dawned on me (slow learner here) that he wasnt' getting out and doing the usual car rides we would take with him, take him to Pet Smart, that sort of thing and hadn't in a few months. He was getting walks, but nothing new to him. We took him for a car ride that same afternoon and noticed an immediate improvement in how he looked and acted and now we incorporate car rides and other stimulating events daily.


  2. Good luck with the frustration reduction training. My grand dog was like that as a pup.

  3. I am so happy you stopped by my blog and commented. I haven't made it all the way around the pet blog A-Z group yet... :( I love love love your writing and your attitude towards life. Happy happy to meet you!

  4. This can be applied to my dog, Dina. Thank you!

  5. I could cope with two months' training in the Dominican Republic! I love the Caribbean, as you will see from my D entry in the A-Z.
    We're also going to try varying our dogs' routines a little. After the way they behaved on the beach last week (see, even if they don't become better dogizens, they will love it.

  6. Really profound. I was a bit like your colleague; I'd been very sheltered growing up--very little change, and then suddenly too much change at once. I went to live and work in another country for two years and I was too terrified to leave my apartment (not "homesick" but just way out of my comfort zone). But then I made myself go travelling, on my own. It was great.

    Thanks for visiting my blog :-)


  7. My two doggies grew up together coming together at three months. They struggle with this 'oh my gosh, this is something new' syndrome too. It seems that they reinforce it in each other every day. Thank you for this interesting post.

  8. Interesting post! I acquired my third dog a year ago and we've experienced some pack mentality Fur has flown and there has been blood drawn on more than one occasion. Now that spring has arrived, I'm getting them out of the house in the morning for walks and I think this will help. Thanks for sharing your experience. Very helpful and encouraging! ~ susan


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