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Empowering Dog Owners Through Balance, Part II

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In stopping problem behavior, ignoring it, removing attention and simple redirection only get you so far. This isn’t to say that they DON’T work at all. Some actions are blatant attention-getters, solely for the dog’s entertainment of having the spotlight on HIM all the time.

Take the dog that grabs an item off the floor and plays Ring Around The Dining Room Table.

This is not a dog that chews these items up—he simply picks them up and runs. The delight in his eyes as his owners chase him around and under the table is unmistakable (and yes, I’ve seen that look in this dog, if not in this exact situation). One day his owners simply ignored him as he chose an item and bolted off. They didn’t give him any attention, didn’t even look his way. The game fizzled to a stop quicker than Britney Spears’ first marriage.

Of course, one could easily nip this “game” in the bud much quicker by teaching the dog to leave alone things that it is not allowed to touch, and this is part of the homework I am having this particular dog’s owners undertake.

The real problem starts when ignorance/removal of attention, and redirection results come to a screeching halt, or at least a nice long slide on an icy road with grinding anti-lock-brakes.

It’s evident when training manuals or sites say things such as, in relation to the problem of jumping on people, “…he won’t be perfect every time,” that the idea of maybe having a dog that completely learns a concept 100% is impossible. (Yes, the site actually says this. [apparently, they took down the article]! I love how the picture does show the guy actually using his leg as an aversive, but they won’t admit that.)

So, if a dog can never learn to stop jumping on people, whatever are the odds that this same dog will learn to recall on command when called the first time, regardless of the distraction? What about the possibility that this dog might learn to walk at heel off-leash around other dogs without going off to play with them? Is it ever possible that this dog will learn to hold a sit or down even when treats are tossed his way, or other dogs walk close by? Will you ever be able to call this dog off an exciting chase, especially if the animal or toy is headed toward or across a busy street?

See where I’m going with this?

I have some neighbors who have a cute Lab mix. I can’t even remember how old she is, but she was a puppy back when Zeke was getting up there in years. Let’s say she’s 5 years old. These people are pretty consistent with everything, and their children are wonderful, intellectual beings around which to spend quality time. Every time their 60-lb dog jumps on them, they turn away until she sits. I have no doubt this is what they did when she was a growing puppy, feeling her oats in the family household and seeing what behaviors she could use to manipulate her people into giving in to her demands.

In short, they’re STILL turning around and ignoring their jumping dog 5 years later.

Ignoring has its benefits. But what these trainers conveniently forget is that a motivational aversive is what will really teach the dog to NOT do something and CHOOSE to not do it again. For some dogs, it’s the shaker can. A spray of water has its place, too. (The stag beetle that taught Mallory to “Never bother me again” most certainly did not turn around and ignore her, nor did it beg with her to not eat it, nor did it wish and pray that she might not eat it; no, it pinched her nose. And again, before she finally learned the lesson, and still remembers it to this day.) The collar correction is probably the most maligned choice, but amazingly, it’s the one toward which most people gravitate even if they have never been taught how to properly give one, time it appropriately or use the right equipment to communicate their message to the dog in the most humane and effective way possible.

I’d go so far as to label it “instinctive drift” in naïve humans engaging in canine behavior modification. They are going against what they have been taught by higher powers, that one must NEVER “punish” their dog, and reverting to what “feels right” by trying to communicate displeasure with the misbehavior. Maybe the Brelands were onto something here!

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