Camerado! I give you my hand!

Camerado! I give you my hand!

Allons! The road is before us!




Friday, November 13, 2015

You Keep Saying That Word...


Your dog sits. You go to give him a treat and he stands up to get it. You think you rewarded him for sitting.

Your dog doesn’t come when you call him. When he finally wanders over, you are angry and pop him with your hand, or shake him by the collar. You think you punished him for not coming.

You come home to find poop on the rug. You yell at, or spank the dog. You think you are punishing him for pooping in the house.

You send your dog out in the fenced yard to potty. He walks 25 feet away and pees and poops. You call him and he runs in, and you give him a treat. You think you rewarded him for pottying outside.

You walk in the room to find your puppy chewing your shoes. You yell “NO!” really loudly, and when you do, he looks up in surprise at the sound. You say nothing. You think you corrected him and he now knows not to chew your shoe.

You are walking your dog and he sees another dog, or a person. He starts to bark and whine, or growl. You shorten the leash and pet him soothingly. “It’s OK, Fido. That dog is friendly!” He keeps barking and straining at the leash, and you keep petting. You think you are comforting your dog.

You sit down to watch TV or read, and your dog barks at you, paws at you, or pesters you for attention. You stop what you are doing and respond to him by grabbing his favorite toy and throwing it for him to fetch. You think you are meeting the dog’s need for play appropriately.

You tell your dog to sit, or stay, or lie down. He gets up and walks off. You do nothing. You think “he wasn’t interested, and that’s OK.” You think it doesn’t matter that he ignored you.

You tell your dog to sit, or stay, come, or lie down. He doesn’t. You pull out a treat to entice him. You think you are rewarding the behavior itself.

You don’t want the dog on the bed, but your husband doesn’t care either way, and doesn’t make him get down when he jumps on it. You think your dog understands that it’s not OK to get on the bed.

All of these common scenarios play out in homes everywhere on a daily basis. Dogs do something, and people respond in ways they feel are appropriate. But as time passes, the dog’s behavior worsens. The owners think they are doing everything right, and cannot understand why Fido isn’t trained.

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” ~Cool Hand Luke

What people need to understand that dogs don’t just “know” how to behave the way we expect. They must be taught, the same way you were taught to tie your shoes or eat with utensils. No one would expect a 4-year-old to know how to ride a bicycle without training wheels and a helpful adult. But every day, dog owners expect their puppies and dogs to read their minds and know what is expected of them.



I think this discord results from our idea of what dogs are capable of knowing. They fit so well socially into our lives and homes that we assume they already know the rules. But the only rules they know instinctively that pertain to living with humans are the ones that bond them to us, not the ones governing proper home behavior. It’s instinctual for dogs to eat anything (or try to) that is in front of them, to chew things, to poop and pee when the need arises, to chase things that move, to bark at novel things or beings, to protect their territory, to seek out things that are fun, and avoid things that are uncomfortable. Some of these things they are born knowing how to do. Others they learn before they leave the mother dog and littermates.

If you want them to do other things instead of these, you need to show them what you want, clearly, using well-timed, appropriate rewards and corrections. You need to prevent them being able to practice the behaviors they know and love that you don’t love. The job of this education is yours. It doesn’t happen by accident.

When your dog sits, then gets up and gets a treat, he thinks that “sit” means “put your bottom down, then get up.” Is that what you meant?

When your dog ignores your call and you get mad when he finally arrives, your dog thinks that “Come!” means “Avoid the human, because she’s a little crazy.”

When your dog poops in the house and you punish him after-the fact, your dog thinks “don’t be in the same room with a pile of poop if a human is coming. Better hide!”

When you treat your dog after he comes back in the house after a potty break, your dog learns that coming in the house is good. He doesn’t learn to only potty outside.

When you yell at the puppy who is chewing your shoes, and he looks up and you do nothing, he learns that chewing shoes is fun and paying attention to humans gets you... nothing.

When your dog is stressed or upset and vocalizing, and you pet him, he thinks, “My human must like it when I do this. I’ll do it some more!”*

When you respond to your dog’s obnoxious attempts to get your attention, you teach him that he needs only to demand something, and he will get it.

When you allow your dog to ignore a command, he learns that he can ignore you.

When you produce a treat (to entice a behavior) after the dog has ignored your command, your dog learns to ignore you until he sees “the goods.”

When you allow your husband to let the dog remain on the bed, your dog learns that he can get on the bed. “Occasionally” and “sometimes” are meaningless words to dogs.

“What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.” ~Daniel Heath

Be clear. Be concise. Be a communicator. Don’t make your dog guess about behaviors that really matter. Do you know of any meaningful, lasting relationships that thrive without clear communication? I don't.

All behaviors matter. Help your dog succeed. If you won’t do it, who will?

FINAL NOTE: You, presumably, are a human being. You make mistakes. Dogs are exceedingly open to changing their ways if you want to make changes. Don't beat yourself up if every "you" in the above post actually applies to you. It doesn't have to. I am not beating you up, and you shouldn't beat you up, either. 

Now you know better, so you can do better. Take a deep breath, and get started.

*This doesn't necessarily pertain to situations in which a dog is truly in a panic, such as during a thunderstorm or fireworks. Sometimes, hands calmly on a dog can calm them. But this is rarely the case with a dog barking at people, dogs, or objects.