Teaching a Dog to Be a Dog

I am building up the will to discuss neurological issues and how I quit my job this week but also… didn’t… but who cares about any of that!


So this week I’m going to focus on my new understanding of what people mean when they say you need to teach a dog what it means to be a dog.

First of all, that sounds controversial.

Secondly, I guess I took what defines dogs for granted so… this week I’m reflecting on what I think dogs should do and how well we and our June are doing in regard to her evolution.

So here is my take on:


The first thing that comes to mind is… how nice it is when a dog seems really excited to see you when you appear.

Unbridled Enthusiasm

It’s nice when any creature is excited to see you but dogs are MUCH more likely to be blatantly, openly, happy to see you than either humans and cats.

You come home from a stupid day with stupid stress and then… you see your ridiculous dog

who is fucking over the moon to see you.

…it happened it happened it happened it happened it happened…

And you see your dog and their reaction and realize that… the dog is doing better with perspective than you are, your stupid day is not worth the time and energy you’re giving it and your dog who loves you needs you to brush it off so you can take them outside, and…

you feel better and then you and your dog go for a walk.

However, when your dog looks either ambivalent or scared when you walk through the door…

that was the one thing I really wanted to work to change if we could.

Because I realized that a primary reason I want a dog is because they usually react positively when you come home.

To her credit, June did make progress quickly (and also wonkily) in this regard.

On the second day, we came downstairs to find her where we had left her on the couch and she sat up and started to engage in a kind of fidgety/rocking motion.

When seeing any change in the active behavior of a traumatized dog, you have to at least consider it as potentially positive.


I mean, she barely knew us so any reaction (short of crashing through the wall to escape us) was great.

And, as time went on, June’s weirdo movement definitely looks more “excited” than “terrified” so… any day now, she will be 92% excited to see us when we come home and maybe even get up off the couch.

Yeah. The couch…

Able Dogs Should Have Independent Movement

Dogs are known to get into things. You leave them alone and who knows what trouble they’ll get into.

This is why people now crate their dogs.

However, June doesn’t really move on her own.

Like… at all. Until recently, she didn’t even move to get comfortable in her position on the couch. She’d just stiffly lay in what looked like a super uncomfortable position.

And stay that way. She also didn’t know what to do with her new luxe Amazon Best Seller dog bed at first. Poor thing. She simply backed away from it and cowered in the corner.

In fact, the only independent movement she did was cowering and backing up.

However, she has made great progress in this regard too. First, she learned to LOVE her luxe dog bed and has no problem now jumping into it on her own at night.

Her bed has taken the #2 spot to her place on the couch.

From a psychoanalytic perspective, while she certainly has made tremendous progress, it seems that June is now equating “safety” with “supreme comfort” and that doesn’t quite wash out as legitimate.

But, after a few days of her residency, June also started to move as long as we put her collar and leash on and led her (though the leash just hung, slack, so we weren’t really leading her as physically, tangibly accompanying her).

Other dogs I’ve known have regarded the collar/leash/harness as an enemy. For example, our last dog Hemi regarded her leash as THE BIGGEST THREAT but one even she could take on.

She was ridiculous.

the brave one, killer of Leash

June, on the other hand, feels safe and able with her collar and leash on and connected to her. Thus, we put them on and she is generally very willing and able to follow us wherever.

With this advancement, I started to take June on regular walks around our kitchen as I get my coffee and then upstairs as I get dressed and she helps me set up my bath tub in the bathroom… during this time when she and I are taking our tours around our house/car, if I’m standing in one area, I’ll often be able to set down the handle of her leash and she… doesn’t run back to the couch.

This is probably less progress and more her fear of movement…

… but she looks a little more relaxed in different spots in our little house and other now-familiar spaces.

Dogs Eat and Drink Water

The whole “drinking water” thing was a priority.

June had been so shut down in her young life we worried she would again stop eating and drinking with her transition to our home.

We quickly learned that she wouldn’t move to eat or drink. We had to physically bring her her food and water bowls to her on the couch.

There were a handful of times when she was able to eat while in the kitchen or hallway or on the living room floor but, generally, she still receives her royal treatment.

I only accept table service.

But now that she is eating and drinking regularly, we are going to focus on getting her to spend a little less time on the couch and making at least a little effort to eat and drink.

This has been tough because she is not food-motivated… rather, she is couch motivated.

This week, however, we all ate dinner while sitting on the living room floor, but then David and I moved up to the couch, and June stayed on the carpet.

She impulsively lunged forward to jump up on the couch but we said “no”.

And she was positively responsive and she did not.

Confused, but responsive, she didn’t continue to attempt to jump up on the couch.

Again, she is terrified to move so once the movement became less automatic and more conscious… she was stuck on the floor while we were on the couch.

After she came in from her night walk, I took off her harness and, she didn’t lunge forward to jump on the couch.

Instead, she looked up at me and I said “stay”.

She is about a year-old and I had no idea if she knew the basic commands but… she stayed.

Emboldened, I sit “Sit!”

And she… well, she instantly responded and her bottom half went down more than her front half did while her entire body looked as if it was bracing for impact…

But she did “sit”. And she continued to stay as I set up her spot on the couch.

And then I said “come! Up up up!” and she rushed forward. I don’t think she really knows “come” but I appreciated her responsiveness anyway.

Now I set her food and water bowls near the edge of the couch and no longer hold them up for her.

So she has to move to eat and drink.

That 👆looks pretty unremarkable but to have that be her standard eating/drinking mode now is serious progress.

She is making a physical and mental effort to eat, drink and survive.

And she is eating different things. A dear friend sent June a Bark Box which had various dog treats and… June, after some time, ate one of all of them.

Good progress with her eating and drinking. She is now dangerously close to being a dog in this regard.

Dogs Wag Their Tails

I think it was the first week of having June when I felt she was exhibiting bonding behavior but still had not yet moved her tail.

I didn’t know if tail-movement was an innate behavior or something she had to learn.

So one night I gently wagged her tail for her while we were enjoying a nice evening.

And now… she wags her tail… not in a dramatic way, but it moves.


Dogs Like Other Dogs

This “definition characteristic” is as true as saying all dogs love car rides.

All dogs do not love car rides.

June, however, is great in the car and does seem to enjoy car rides.

But we haven’t been able to see whether she liked other dogs. Due to COVID and the really cold temperatures, we haven’t seen a lot of people and the one friend we did see didn’t feel comfortable bringing over his old dog before he met June.

And then he saw how she doesn’t move so… yeah, now he knows it’s safe.

But, before we first met June at the shelter, we waited in a little room with another person who had a severely scared little dog.

These dogs were walking, living ASPC commercials.

When I put my hand out to the little black dog, they ducked and quickly backed up to cower and shake.

And then June was brought out and she looked petrified too but, when she saw the little black dog, they both rushed forward to chat and they both seemed very excited.

In the excitement, the little black dog licked my hand, as if they had momentarily forgotten their terror.

This made me think “We need to get another dog.”

The shelter staff person said it would take much longer for June to adjust without another dog at home but it was totally possible.

And we’re doing great BUT I’ve been pushing to get another dog. Because presently June is still scared of her food dish.

And I worry about her being alone all day when we are at work.

SO a couple friends are coming to stay with us next weekend and they’re bringing their little laidback dog Wednesday.

So we will see if June transforms with a friendly little dog friend staying here with us.

In the meantime, June continues to learn what it is to be a dog.

Our Last Dog Was a Perma-Teenager So Dogs We Know Also Behave as Human Teenagers

If this is a qualifying attribute of “being a dog”, today June is doing GREAT.

This morning, June willingly left her beloved bed

and followed me downstairs without her collar or leash. We passed David in the kitchen as he was making coffee and said “Hey, David, good morning!” And he said, “Good morning, everyone! Good morning, June!”

And June casually plodded along next to me as if we were a normal family with a normal dog.

Things were going well. June ate a bowl of food and drank a bowl’s worth of water and so I was going to cut her nails because June has talons and we aren’t teaching June to be a bird of prey… though, if we could, I would.

The nail-cutting went great but I wanted to brush off the nail dust from her super luxe couch blanket and… June refused to leave her spot on the couch.

So I gently lifted her up and set her on the floor, telling her “no” and “stay” and, sure, the dog is not trained but she knows the words and, instead of heeding, she practically crawled over me to get back on the couch.

This action sequence repeated three times.

I told myself “Be patient, stay calm and be consistent.”

June has to learn to obey reasonable requests from her human housemates. So she was consequently banned from the couch for the day.

…this was not a happy dog…

The couch cannot continue to be her crutch and she cannot completely ignore a direct order. I said for the first time “Bad dog.”

This was extremely tough news to accept for this extremely pampered pup so she stared at me from her place on the floor for a couple hours (I returned the stare occasionally and kept it until she looked away are you kidding me), and then… I stood and gave her the chance to redeem herself.

I walked around the table and stood in the doorway of the living room and encouraged June to “Come!”

She had a big decision in front of her:

1. Either go with this super mean person who separated her from her wonderful couch


2. Listen to the person and go with them.

And my mind was blown when she voluntarily – without leash and collar – got up and chose ME over the couch:


So June was now standing next to me and so I happily, delightedly, praised her profusely and I… started to walk to the bathroom (this was the reason I had to get up – overshare) and June continued to follow me.

Now she and I were in the bathroom.

We had been there before and she seems to like the full-length mirror which hung on the inside of the bathroom door.

Amazed, I decided to push it and took a shower. She laid on the bathroom floor (she could have laid on the fluffy bathroom mat but she stayed on the tiling). And, when I was finished in the bathroom, I opened the door and… invited June to follow me upstairs.


As soon as we had reached the second floor, June casually walked into her super luxe dog bed and laid down and I got dressed.

I was amazed as June had never followed me at length as she had done today. It was huge progress.

It was too much progress because, once June was in her second favorite comfortable spot, she was no longer interested in following me.

She was probably having second thoughts about her earlier decision too. The couch was WAY better than this person who was bossing June around, thought June, if she was a human teenager.

But she is simply a traumatized dog who has been nursed back to health through love and pampering and now… she is healthy and having to learn that life is not all couches, hand-feeding, table service and beds.


So I left June upstairs in her bed and then checked on her every 15 minutes for the first hour to see if she was whining or anything because I wasn’t keen on abandoning a dog (in her luxe dog bed) who had already been abandoned (outside in a cemetery).

But she did not whine.

It genuinely felt like she was pouting.

I let her pout. She had a decision to make.

Once again. What a DAY for June!!!!

Did she want supreme comfort or did she want love and company?


Or a return to my company and her misery on the floor?

After an hour or so, I went upstairs with her collar and leash and she sat up in bed (which is her way of saying, “Yes please”) and put her collar/leash on and led her back downstairs.

She then reclaimed her spot on the floor.


While on the floor today, June has made a broad assortment of noises to express her discontent. I’m talking literal groans.

Since she was staying on the floor and despite her dramatics, June enjoyed some peanut butter and cheese whiz and her favorite foods and I gave her all kinds of praise and “good girl”s.

Because she is a good girl and had a very big day.

As she makes progress in becoming a real live dog, she also needs to learn that dogs should also listen. A lesson dear June has learned today.

But, as David texted me, “Life is ruff.”

Hoping you’re all staying safe and sound. I’m not sure how many of you would have taken Supreme Comfort over human companionship but I guess it’s good we aren’t dogs.

Though you know I sat in June’s spot on the couch for a little while because her new blanket is so unbelievably comfortable.

Take care of you! Spoil your dog! Spoil yourself! Don’t go too far!

Rules, rules, rules!


7 thoughts on “Teaching a Dog to Be a Dog

    1. Bahahahahaha oh my WORD Hemi was TERRIBLE in the car.😂 Her goal was to essentially get to the driver’s seat so she could stop/crash the car to make it stop.

      Totally safe. 😂 That photo is HILARIOUS. You’d be dead inside if it didn’t cause you to giggle a little. 😂😘


  1. PS. Non sequitur alert: This is for David.

    Twenty second clip of ninety-six second animated short, “Downtown S01E09,” episode 9, season 1 of Disney+ show, “Short Circuit.” I’m sad I couldn’t find the whole thing to share.

    “Downtown | A commuter’s disappointment in missing the bus turns into a colorful and unexpected joyride when the surrounding street art bursts to life, revealing the heart of the city from an entirely new perspective. Director Kendra Vander Vliet joined Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2013 as a rough layout artist on Frozen, and went on to work on such films as Feast, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Ralph Breaks the Internet and Frozen II. She enjoyed the challenge of telling her story through color and street art, with over 100 custom mural designs created for the project.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are an amazingly patient dog whisperer. June is so lucky to have you. She has made tremendous progress, even though it doesn’t feel like it. I’m sorry about your job. I’m sure you’re mustering the nerve to talk about all that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ohhhhh thank you so much dear Naomi! 😭 Hee hee I used to work with teens who were transitioning from the system and… it’s largely the same approach : you’re safe, you’re loved, you’re held to account. I just worry that June has a degenerative bone disease or something and so making the couch be a privilege so as to expand her security base isn’t as truly torturous as she is making it sound. 😂 And you’re so right… I didn’t instigate it but I finally had The Talk with my boss. I’m not going to be her #2. She deserves someone who is in the field, a young person straight out of school in the field who is hungry, ambitious and wants their job to be their existence because that’s what this job REQUIRES. That’s not my boss… that’s the job. And… I’m clearly not that person. 🤷🏻‍♀️ Soooooo she is starting to look for my replacement and I’m continuing to apply… and I’ve created all these things so that I’m leaving behind a genuine position with guidance and instruction which I did not have.

      And… honestly, I think the talk helped both of us. 🤷🏻‍♀️🖤 I’m drawing the line at finding my replacement… 😂


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