Don't Make These Mistakes

Learn the top 10 Mistakes dog owners make when training their dogs, and what you need to know to avoid them.

I never had a Malinois puppy….until yesterday.

IMG_1419I can honestly tell you, everyone has always been completely and utterly jealous of my pup. Through a perfect alignment in the stars, I acquired Jacque des Ombres Valeureux (aka “Shank” – cut him some slack – he needs to maintain his street cred), a Malinois puppy that had been returned to his breeder because he was “too aggressive” and “too much to handle”.

After a short while in my home, this “Riot Dog” began to closely resemble a lazy lab, sinking into his daily routine as if he was born for it.

Housebreaking?…. I didn’t have to – he came perfectly housebroken and never had an accident.

Chewing everything in sight?…. He wasn’t interested.

In fact, I never used a crate, was never forced to confine him to a run, and never worried about that suspicious silence that previously meant the puppy was getting into trouble. Silence for him simply meant he was taking a nap. At only 4 months old, he was quite literally, the perfect dog.

If you know the Malinois breed, you probably know that as puppies, they are….well….demons….straight from the depths of Hell. I’ve raised dozens upon dozens of the little hellions and I can honestly say, while raising a Malinois is one of my favorite things to do, it poses a challenge that more often than not results in significant bloodshed along with a mass destruction of anything and everything even remotely of value.

But I didn’t have a Malinois puppy. For whatever reason, I had a perfectly well mannered adult dog tucked into a puppy body. He didn’t lack drive. Actually, he had more than most dogs that I’ve crossed paths with. He was made to work and yet, around the house, he didn’t have to have something in his mouth all of the time. If I didn’t give him a toy, he wouldn’t go ripping screens off the side of the house to make his own, like my last dog often did. Instead, he’d simply opt to take a nap and wait me out until I was done with my work and ready to play.

He was perfect…..until yesterday.

At just over 8 months old, my non-Malinois puppy changed his tune.

Yesterday, he became that demon straight from the depths of Hell that I was so used to seeing. As I vacuumed, he tried feverishly to rip the hose from my hands, death shaking it when he did finally grab hold, and barking excessively if he couldn’t get it. When I locked him outside, he spun circles, trying desperately to find some outlet for whatever demon was pent up inside of him. I had never seen him do this before….but yesterday his energy level was off the charts.

When I let him in, he’d grab the comforter from the bed and run through the house, begging me to chase him, shredding it if I didn’t. As I tried to launder the dog beds, he’d pounce on them, riding them as I drug them into the laundry room, wrapping his massive paws around them and securing himself on his ride through the use of his crushing jaws.

Yesterday, I lost two pairs of sandals, one cowboy boot, some of my unmentionables and my screen door. At one point, I had to kick him off of the dining room table, where he stood, begging me to play, yet fully preparing himself for the possibility that I may take offense and he may have to run to save his own life.

He was completely out of control.

But yesterday, one of my other dogs fell ill…

Kira is a 13 year old great dane who has suffered from chronic aspiration pneumonia following a surgery she had 5 years ago. While she always pulled through in the past, yesterday she obliterated my hope.

When I woke, Kira wouldn’t get out of bed. When she did, I had to lift her and when she stood, I found she was laying in a puddle of urine. She’d stumble outside, only managing a few steps before she’d collapse, panting hard and heavy as if she had just ran a marathon. And when she used the bathroom, there was dark, tarry blood.

Yesterday, Kira broke my heart….

Given her state, and expecting the worst, I tended to her every whim. Watching her like a hawk, I laid with her on her bed, and restlessly searched the internet, speaking with experts and doing my research, begging for a diagnosis that shed some hope on our situation. I alternated between fits of crying at the sheer thought of losing my dog, and intense determination to scrub every last inch of my house, effectively keeping my mind off of the urgent matter at hand.

I never had a Malinois puppy until yesterday. Because yesterday, I didn’t have the capacity to engage. Yesterday, my mind was elsewhere. I didn’t exercise him. I didn’t train him. He had no outlet for his drive. I didn’t give him the routine he was so used to having and, more often than not, I met his puppy antics with desperation and frustration.

kira2


Far too many times, as dog owners, we fail to satiate our dog’s need for exercise and stimulation. We get overwhelmed with life and the stressors that come along with it….and when that happens, we love to blame our dog. We get frustrated…exasperated even, as our previously well mannered pup begs for attention by causing trouble.

Believe it or not, it’s ok for life to get the better of you. It’s ok to be overwhelmed at times and it’s ok for your pup to take a backseat when pressing and urgent matters arise. However, we can’t blame our dogs for the fact that we let life get in the way. While frustration is a natural response to a dog’s desperate plea for engagement, it’s critical we examine the context of their unwanted behavior before jumping to punishment or other tactics driven by emotions or irritation.

Remember:

  1. The Squeaky Wheel… – I know for a fact that dogs tend to get more attention for bad behavior than for good. If your dog is standing on your coffee table, with your favorite pair of expensive shoes in his mouth, you better believe you will stop what you are doing to deal with him. But as you are encompassed in the daily stressors of life, do you notice when your dog is good? If your dog is sitting quietly next to you, do you acknowledge him? Do you lavish him with attention when he is laying calmly at your feet? Probably not. And for that reason, it’s time to make a change.
  2. Don’t be a Jerk – It’s ok for life to get the better of you sometimes. It’s ok to change your dog’s routine and it’s ok for you to miss out on a training session here and there. But when your dog acts out, don’t be a jerk. Don’t punish your dog when you’ve failed to give them what they are used to. Now I’m not telling you that you should never correct your dog, nor am I encouraging you to allow your dog to be a maniac. I’m simply telling you to try your best to approach your pup from a place of understanding. When your pup acts out, look at your own behavior to see if you might be to blame.
  3. You too can turn a Malinois into a Lab! – Part of the reason I never had a Malinois puppy is genetics. No doubt about that. My breeder is definitely doing excellent work within these lines. But along with superior breeding, I make sure to spend a great deal of time and energy satiating my dog’s intrinsic drives. I give him a daily outlet for those things that naturally compel and motivate him. I quench his prey drive through calculated training and tug games, and I give him good and frequent exercise, training, and mental stimulation. By doing that, I am giving him what he needs and by default, eliminating his frustration resulting in a calm and relaxed pup.

IMG_3737Today, Kira has made a full recovery. Thanks to some good detective work by some close friends and thanks to the quick action of our vet, we were able to get to the root of the problem and get Kira the treatment she needed to run far away from death’s doorstep and return to the home that, honestly speaking, will never be quite ready for her to leave.

My malinois pup has also recovered. Once I ensured Kira was taken care of and on the mend, he and I hit the beach together for an afternoon of exercise, training, and even a little bit of swimming.

Today, I have a fulfilled dog.

Today, all of my shoes remain intact, I laundered the dog bedding without incident, and silence wasn’t suspicious.

Today, I vacuumed in peace.

Today, I gave my dog the exercise and training that he needed to be completely satisfied and satiated. As I write this, he’s passed out at my feet, mouth gaping around his favorite toy that he couldn’t bear to part with as exhaustion set in.

And today, because I have a happy and fulfilled dog, I no longer have a Malinois puppy. The gates of Hell have closed and I have my perfect dog back.


Meagan Karnes
Meagan Karnes

Meagan has been training dogs professionally since 2002, most recently working with private security, military and law enforcement to provide K9s for high level applications. She owns both The Collared Scholar, an online dog training academy, and 690 Security Services, a company that trains and deploys Executive Security and Protection K9s to private customers. She recently partnered with both Average Frog and SM Leaders, who repurpose the proven performance principles of the Navy SEALs for individuals and organizations.

    9 replies to "Labs, Malinois and the Demonic Possession of a Puppy"

    • Diane Bentley

      This is such a rich and heartfelt piece of writing. I too have a Mal pup, 9 months old. I live full time in a small camper and travel. She has been on the road with me since she was 9 weeks old. I am fortunate I am able mostly live where she can run. I also enrich her with training of tricks and so forth. On days that I pay more attention to doing my art, she becomes, shall I say, very creative,

      • Meagan Karnes

        Thanks so much for the kind words! They can definitely be a handful if they don’t have proper outlets. But they are really amazing companions if you keep them fulfilled!

    • Mike Medo

      Touching article that every dog owner should read! Great advice to us all! Good luck with Kira and Shank!

    • Lauren

      Absolutely adored this post!
      It’s so very true that the vast majority of people blame the dog out of sheer frustration.
      There are many breeds that can be taught to settle and be perfectly relaxed companions when their needs are met.
      The most important thing I ever heard in regards to training a dog and living with a high energy, high maintenance breed was : Reward the Nothing.
      When your dog is calm and settled at your feet, reinforce the hell out of it! We focus so much on reinforcing dogs for doing something…something physical, that we forget how important it is for the dog to know that settling is also good!

      I’m so glad Kira is okay! What a scare.
      Shank sounds like a great dog 🙂

    • Christina

      Wonderful, timely piece. I’ve been dealing with the opposite issue: my lab turned into a mal pup. 🙂 After several days of me laid up sick in bed, my 10 month old lab decided he’d had enough. Good reminder that he just needs his routine and my time back.

    • Amy

      Love this article! Great read.. Leassons to be learnt or reminded to all dog owners, working breed or not. Great work????

    • Gary Wilkes

      Sorry, a police-military trainer who can’t get an 8 mos. old Mal to ‘aus’ from a vacuum sweeper seems a little thin in the skills department.

      • Meagan Karnes

        It’s a pretty lofty assumption you make there. I’m not sure I ever said I struggled with getting the dog to let go of anything. And I think you miss the point. Getting the dog to let go of things wasn’t an issue. The issue was with the complete lack of attention to a young puppy as I shifted my focus to other things that consumed me. The piece was meant to illustrate what happens when we get stressed and emotional and we don’t pay attention or give outlets to young, high energy, working puppies.

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