Social media is a great thing, it unites us in times of social isolation and aids in our creativity when our thoughts are stubbornly stagnant. We can use social media to gain a deeper understanding of dogs, training or even specific breeds and sports. It can help us connect to our puppy’s breeder, handlers of relatives as well as fellow littermate owners.
This can be a great thing, it gives us extra information about potential behavior problems that might pop up as our puppies grow or give us a heads up about genetic health conditions that could occur. You can commiserate with littermate owners who are likely experiencing the same highs and lows as you are in real time and bond over similarities between your new family members.
But there’s a lot of pressure that happens to new puppy owners because of social media and those connections that we make. Whether it’s from accomplishments of those relatives that came before or expectations from the breeder as they keep watch from afar. However, there’s a larger pressure that I experience with nearly every puppy I bring into my home: comparison between that puppy and other puppies I see on social media.
Logically, we know this comparison is irrelevant. Our puppies are individuals and so are we as trainers which means that our paths are certainly going to be very different from other puppies that are growing up at the same time. Even littermate puppies that behave, look and have the same strengths as our own puppies are going to achieve accomplishments at different times.
Logically, we can separate ourselves from this comparison. Emotionally, it’s not so easy. Without fail, there will be a post that makes you feel as though your puppy’s progress is falling behind. It might be something as simple as a behavior that you haven’t quite trained yet or a littermate excelling in an area where your puppy may struggle. It may even be that you are working on the same thing at the same time but not progressing as quickly.
I have experienced both sides of the comparison, the one with the super star puppy who is far ahead of their siblings and having the puppy where I feel like I’m constantly playing catch up to the littermates I follow on Facebook. Neither is a great feeling.
Having the super star puppy may seem great, but there’s a certain amount of pressure that comes along with that accelerated head start. Proving and maintaining that puppy’s high status is consuming and can have lasting effects on your growing relationship if you’re not careful. It can also cause a feeling of guilt at wanting to share your puppy’s progress or even adding a disclaimer or making negative comments to level the playing ground.
When you have the “other” sibling, the one that is still working on the basics when their brothers or sisters are putting together advanced behaviors, it’s difficult to stay motivated. You are constantly questioning whether your puppy will ever achieve what their siblings are doing, or if your training is sub par. This doubt can have negative effects on your relationship with your puppy as well.
Social media is powerful, it has so many positive qualities that I feel have accelerated the world of dog training in the last few years. The sense of community, the gathering of people with the same passion and the sharing of ideas is simply awesome. However, the comparison that happens can be devestating if we’re not careful.
Every puppy and their handler are an individual team, one that has it’s own path and journey and who’s story is unique. I encourage you to create that story with your puppy, make it a happy one, one you are proud of and at the same time follow the stories of other teams and celebrate in their successes. Learn from them and post your lessons so they can learn from yours.