You, the Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Black Labs, Poodles, Huskies, Pitbulls, Rottweilers, Terriers, Beagles, Shih Tzus, Pugs, Boxers, Afghan Hounds, Akitas, Alaskan Klee Kais, Foxhounds and on and on (I love you all)- it is for you that I write this chapter. You have had to carry a very heavy burden as a result of having an angry owner. In this chapter I am going to attempt (I may not succeed since I do not know exactly what it is like to be a dog) to address your needs, wants and desires as you try and live with an angry dog owner. I will also try and give some specific suggestions for how you can better handle his anger and how to help end the cycle of anger in your relationship- even if it means digging your way out of the backyard and leaving your angry owner altogether.
*Since the majority of angry dog owners are men, I will be using the personal pronouns he or his in this chapter. If you have an angry female dog owner, please just substitute she for he.
It’s Not Your Fault
Probably the first thing that every dog in a relationship with an angry dog owner should know is that his anger is not your fault. Most angry dog owners are reluctant to admit their flaws and shortcomings, so they will try and blame you for their problems. It seems as if they are getting angry at you because you are pulling on the leash, not sitting when told, going to the bathroom in the house, barking too much, digging holes, chewing up their personal belongings or playing too rough. But you know him better than anyone else and deep down he knows that you can see through his bullshit. You know that he is not getting angry because of the things you do but instead his anger is a result of things like: his unsatisfying job, his difficult relationship with his parents, the fact that he always has to lie about how much money he makes, his failed promotion, the problems with his erection, his failed expectations of himself, his difficulties with intimacy and so on. Because he knows that you know these things about him you may therefore be a threat to him, and he will feel less threatened if he can somehow shift the responsibility for his actions on to you. So you will become the reason for everything that goes wrong in his life. I know it seems unfair, but it is the way it is.
You are the one whom he abuses, verbally or physically, and this makes him feel guilty. It may sound strange to you, but at the same time that he feels guilty for all the terrible things that he does to you, the fact that he feels guilty only makes him angrier. Since you are the one that he feels guilty about, you are the one that is the focus of his anger. This is why he does not seem to care that he does not walk you for weeks on end and leaves you in the backyard all alone, all day and night. His anger is being directed at you and as a result he sees his abandonment of you as fair punishment for the “disobedient” things that you do.
Getting Angry Dog Owners To Move Beyond Blame
In my role as a psychotherapist, I encourage angry dog owners to look back and see why they became angry at their dogs. I ask them to be honest with themselves about how they felt when their parents mistreated them in both big and small ways. How did they feel when a parent humiliated or abused them or when they got in a lot of trouble for doing something that they did not know was wrong? This is an important part of the coping process, since so many angry dog owners have walled themselves off from their feelings and from their unpleasant memories that they truly do not understand why they are getting so angry at their dogs.
As the angry dog owner proceeds in his therapy process he begins to remember what it felt like as a young man to continually have one or both parents angry with him for doing nothing other than being himself. At this point in the therapeutic process I encourage the angry dog owner to move beyond blaming his dog for his anger. I help him to see that putting too much emphasis on blaming his anger on his dog is to put the emphasis in the wrong place.
You Can’t Fix Him
I know that you have nothing but unconditional love for your owner. I know that all you want to do is be with him and help to make him happy. That is what is so wonderful about dogs- your continual desire to please and to love your owner. But keep in mind that human beings have domesticated you through hundreds of years of trial and error. They have manipulated your DNA and trained you to nurture, comfort, heal, love, protect and make huge sacrifices for your owner. Your needs are supposed to come second, or third, after everyone else has been taken care of. The trouble with this ethic (for lack of a better word) is that your needs often never get seen or tended to. By the time everyone one else’s needs have been taken care of, your owner is tired and ready to go to bed or zone out in front of the television. This often leaves you hungry and alone in the backyard.
In particular, dogs are trained to realize that it is their job to be subordinate to their dog owners and to always put their owners needs in front of their own. Any time you attempt to get your own needs met you will almost always experience anger from your dog owner. A dog is supposed to be “loyal to their owner.” As a result most dogs are trained to believe that they have very few needs and it is their main job to “fix” their owners. Dogs come to define their role in life very narrowly. They come to see themselves as having little other purpose in life other than to provide obedience, comfort and happiness to their owners. Suddenly, their owner’s problems end up becoming their problems.
When the dog falls into the “fixer” role, his or her life becomes more and more constricted. The dog tries harder and harder to please its owner and stops doing all the other canine things that are important to him/her. He/She does not run around and play as much as he/she once did. He/She does not chase squirrels or birds with as much determination and excitement as he/she once did. He/She does not smell and lick other dogs as much as he/she once did. The dog becomes increasingly “de-selfed.” He/She gives up more and more of him or herself in order to try and please his or her owner. But the problem is that you cannot fix your owner. The sacrificing does not work! The more you sacrifice and try and please him, the more he continues along his angry way!!
The most important thing that I try and communicate to the dogs that I work with is- you have got to back off. You cannot fix your owner no matter how hard you try! It is futile for you to continue to try and mold yourself into what you think he wants you to be in a vain attempt to make him happy. I know you feel like it is in your nature to want to please him but remember- this has been domesticated and conditioned into you. It is not a natural part of who you are. Your work is to reconnect with what is natural to your canine being. To reconnect with the authentic self that has been conditioned out of you. As you might imagine, this is hard work. Are you up for the challenge?
What Can You Do for Yourself?
Your angry owner may be pulling you both down. It is important that you do not let him destroy your life. This may mean that you try and escape by any means necessary in order to save yourself. This is better than both of you being destroyed. Lets take a minute to talk about whether you should stay or go.
If your dog owner has physically abused you, chances are that it will happen again. Past violence is the best predictor of future violence. Even though it may not seem like such a big deal that your owner occasionally kicks you or forcefully throws you down on the ground and holds you there against your will, it is. According to the American Bar Association, “Domestic violence is an ongoing cycle producing increasingly severe injuries over time.” According to data that I have collected, almost half of the dogs that have been battered will be victimized again within six months. Remember: there is no excuse for kicking, forcefully holding or hitting you unless of course you are starting a fight with another dog or attacking a human being (I understand that usually the reason why you are attacking another human being or starting a fight with another dog is because you are expressing the anger that you have contracted from your owner but it is not the correct way to deal with your anger).
Other than attacking another human being or starting a fight with an innocent dog, there is nothing that you can do that justifies getting physically abused. It does not matter if you are barking too much, have dug holes in your backyard, have made the mistake of going to the bathroom in the house, continually pull on the leash when you are on a walk, do not come when called, do not sit when you are told or chew up things that belongs to your owner- as frustrating as these behaviors may be to humans, none of them justify having violence inflicted upon you by your owner.
With the majority of dogs that I work with who have been violently assaulted by their owners, I often recommend that they find a way to escape. As hard as this may be, I am sorry to say that unless your angry owner gets into serious psychotherapeutic treatment, the behavior is not likely to change. I recommend that you start digging a hole someplace in your backyard that is not easily noticeable to your owner so that you can get under a fence and run away. As drastic as this measure may seem, I recommend that you look at this measure as digging your way towards a better life.
Now if you decide that you can stay and that there is hope for change, well then- good for you! But you must take care of yourself. The first thing that you need to do is find out where he stops and you start. You have probably been too bound up in his business for long enough. Now it is time for you to start taking care of your business.
Even though you might be left alone in the backyard a lot and not taken on daily walks, there are things you can start doing. Get some exercise. You may find that aerobic exercise is a quick remedy for your depression and anger. You have a lot of time on your paws, so if you have the space, run around in circles as much as you can. Also rather than just sitting around all day with your head down, start doing deep breathing exercises (you can learn more about specific deep breathing exercises in the appendices of this book). This will not only help to revitalize your depressed and stressed out cells but it will also bring you more fully into the present moment. Even though you may be left outside alone on a cold night, use deep breathing to keep yourself warm and satisfied in the present moment. Often times I hear stories from dogs about how depressed they become when left alone outside on cold nights. I try to encourage them to empower themselves in these situations rather than becoming victims of the cold and the negative thoughts that can occur when a dog is left alone for too long. As I discuss in the appendices of this book, some ways to empower yourself are through deep breathing exercises and stretching (keeping yourself strong and fit).
Above all- make sure you stop letting your life completely revolve around your angry owner. It will be better for both of you in the long run if you can take care of yourself and work on your own insecurities and anger. Even though you are not able to communicate with your angry dog owner about the issues that you are dealing with, see if you can find a therapist that specializes in working with dogs who have angry owners. These trained specialists will be able to communicate with you in ways that you are not able to do with your angry dog owner. If you make the effort to take charge of your mental health, I promise you that the results will be worth it!
*This chapter was inspired by the work of Thomas J. Harbin, Ph.D. and his groundbreaking work with angry dog owners.