By: Ashley Majetic
Call me “crazy”..…and this is truly going to sound bizarre, but it is quite possible that I’ve encountered quite a few dog owners in the past few years that would clinically meet criteria to qualify as having Munchausen’s By Proxy.
Yes, you read that correctly!
MBP, for those that may be unfamiliar, is actually a mental illness and a form of child abuse where the person/caretaker will make up fake symptoms or cause real symptoms to make the child appear ill. This seems completely ridiculous considering that we are talking about a child versus a dog. However, the concept is remarkably similar. Let’s face it; in today’s society it is not uncommon for dogs to be replacing the “child” in modern families. The idea that people potentially humanize or anthropomorphize their dogs is very real, and becoming an alarming trend. Behaviorists and dog trainers around the world know exactly what I am talking about. It’s really hard to create a healthy relationship and help a dog overcome a behavioral problem, when in fact everything you do, seems to “never” work.
Let me explain a little more…. If you had to think about it- you’ve all met at least ONE dog owner who, no matter what method, tool, and style you recommend…. their dog never seems to get “better”- or if you are lucky, comes back WORSE.
How and why does this happen?
This got me thinking………. There are a select few dog owners that I’ve come across in my experience so far, that I firmly believe want the best for their dogs, yet nothing seems to “work” or they encounter a “problem” with everything. Despite many hours of training, endless amounts of continued education and seminars, it is just not cutting it. Every once in a while, you meet that dog who seems to defy ALL the rules, makes you think twice as hard, and explore every option at their failed success. Not saying those dogs don’t exist and aren’t out there, because that would be a lie. What I am saying IS, it’s entirely possible that the owners are creating false ideas and continuously seek out problems in their dogs, just to say they aren’t getting better…to keep training. Perhaps they are making progress, but are choosing to avoid seeing it. They create the image of dog they want to see, not the dog that is in front of them.
But again, WHY would they do this? What is the value in it? What do they gain?
When I first brought this topic up to Jay, I thought he was going to say there was NO way that a dog owner was capable of developing something similar. Well, when he and I talked about it, he agreed. He posed several questions to me that are good to address here. Is this intentional, or unintentional on the caregiver’s part? Do they do it consciously or is this a deep-seated subconscious issue? That’s the thing about Munchausen’s. The problem lies NOT in the idea that the owner is making up issues or “symptoms” with their dog (of course, that’s not good either), but because they are doing it in a way to create an identity or establish their worth to the dog. They do it for an emotional gain; to let everyone around them know they care. To the public, they appear as normal, loving, and compassionate owners- OR even dog trainers, willing to do anything for their pets that they love. On the inside though, they are creating a relationship that is truly one sided. To the dog, nothing they do is right. They can never do anything to please you…….or maybe they have, you just fail to acknowledge it because you are already looking for their failures. The expectation that it won’t work, or there is going to be a problem, keeps you from seeing the subtle successes in your training.
While every training session may not be exactly what you had hoped for, at some point, you need to acknowledge how far you and your dog have come.
Take those moments of what they did “right” and celebrate them. Quit getting hung up on the imperfections; after all, your dogs don’t do that with you.
Don’t make your dog, or the dogs you train, the victim of your own egos.