Do you ever find yourself thinking the old dog used to be so much better behaved? or the old dog always does what theyre told?
When you compare your new dog (probably a puppy) to your older companion does the new one normally come up short?
Welcome to what we call ‘Shadow Syndrome’
Shadow Syndrome is named after the character in the film ‘Homeward Bound – The Incredible Journey’. For those unfamiliar with the film the important part to explain Shadow Syndrome is that in the film there are two dogs: ‘Shadow’ and ‘Chance’. Shadow is an older dog that does everything right whereas Chance is younger and gets into lots of trouble.
Shadow syndrome can happen if you already have an older dog in the household, or if you are getting a new dog after losing a beloved companion. It is simply taking a new dog or puppy and comparing it to your older one without taking into consideration the age difference or experience levels. You expect the new dog to behave as wonderfully as the old one, even though they haven’t had the time yet to learn the rules of the house, what your vocal cues and pointing in certain directions mean, or what is allowed to be chewed and what is definitely not!
I remember on many occasions when doing training sessions or teaching training classes hearing people say how their old dog used to walk perfectly on the lead or how they’d come back every time, one extreme case was ‘my old boy used to fetch my slippers for me’; all classic examples of Shadow Syndrome.
As humans we seem to have this ability to remember the good things about our dogs, which isn’t a bad thing, nonetheless I would then have to gently remind people that the old dog wouldn’t always have been as well behaved as they are now (or before they passed away). Sometimes you have to get people thinking right back to when they first got their previous dog and they will remember that time that Shadow peed in the kitchen or Shadow took off after a seagull on the beach. Then the new dog doesn’t seem all that bad.
I have to be honest I was a victim of Shadow Syndrome (still am sometimes) Any of you who have met me willknow Keira is my angel, she is 9 years old and a spoilt princess, but very well behaved and I can take her anywhere (unless there’s a cat). When we got Kai he was 10 weeks old and absolutely adorable. He had those gorgeous puppy eyes and silky soft fur, just a bundle of cute.
That is, until we got him home and he turned into an absolute terror. He wasn’t toilet trained, knew sit only when he felt like it, thought that my underwear was the best toy EVER, if we let him off the lead anywhere he would be gone, he chewed garage remotes, electrical cables, chair legs, work folders…he was a nightmare! And guess what I found myself saying to him every time ‘Why can’t you be more like Keira?’
It took my partner, Nick, answering me with ‘Because he’s not Keira!!’ for me to realise I was suffering from Shadow Syndrome (I’m glad he listens to me when I talk about dogs and training…because I apparently don’t listen to myself! Ha!)
That’s when I took the time to look at Kai for himself rather than as Keira the second. He will never be Keira because he is Kai; sometimes this has been said as a sort of mantra to remind myself when he’s done something really aggravating!
When looking I noticed that Kai is a lot cuddlier than Keira; he is the sort of dog that just wants to cuddle up in your lap and be close to you. If he gets scared of something he stands closer to you and looks at you like ‘we’ll look after each other right?’ He is an amazing swimmer and makes friends wherever he goes whether they are humans or other dogs. Basically he is as good of a dog as Keira but in different ways.
I then thought about when I first got Keira and had to laugh. Keira used to pull on the lead like nobody’s business and if I was trying to get her out of the car she would barge past me as soon as the door was open just a crack. I remember one time when we had just got to the park, she barged the door open and took off, only coming back to me once she had said hello to every dog and chased every rabbit in the vicinity. Definitely not the well-behaved dog she is today! (99% of the time…nobody is perfect!)
Kai is now 9 months, he was toilet trained by the time he was 16 weeks old, he walks fantastically on the lead, knows many tricks and we haven’t had a chewing incident in a month (really hoping I haven’t jinxed it!) I guess most of the time Shadow Syndrome is inevitable, we will always compare our dogs. The most important thing is to realise you’re doing it or be ready to listen when someone else tells you that you are doing it.
Allow each dog to be who they are, they are all individuals; it’s why we love them so!
(With help from Keira & Kai)