Being a trainer of dogs, you'd probably expect me to have a perfectly behaved dog. Well, I'll admit that my dog V is pretty well behaved. With that being said, there are some things that he does that would be considered "wrong."
Today for instance, we went for a hike with a group of friends. This is the first time we went in a month or two. When we arrived and people started gathering, V started barking. He barked and barked. He's always been a vocal dog, but this was fueled by a lot more excitement. What did I do about it? I let him bark for a lot of the time. Why did I let him bark? Because he was having fun. ( I did ask him to be quiet and got him to look at me a couple times during it.) Once we started the hike I strapped his leash to my belt and we went along. On the hike the leash was tight the majority of the time. He was pulling me with about 10-20% of his strength. Why did I let him pull? Because he was having fun. Hiking is by far his favorite thing to do. For the record when a group of walkers and a dog came towards us we stepped off the trail and he held his sit like I had asked. But to sum this all up, some of the time he was barking and pulling on leash. Why did I allow this to happen? Because he wasn't out of control and he was having a blast.
Ready for more?
On a daily basis V whines for food. (His food) Why? Because just about every morning he wakes me up via whining to feed him. This results in me feeding him so he'll stop whining and I can go back to sleep. In his mind whining = getting fed. Because the whining has equaled getting fed in the past, it makes sense to him to try it again when he's hungry. (If I didn't regulate his intake he'd weigh 100 pounds easily. He's currently around 70 pounds.) To sum this up, within an hour or 2 (or sometimes 3) of his meal time, he will stare and start whining. This is my fault as I've created this "monster."
And here's one more:
If left alone, and the garbage is accessible, or something is left on the counter, he will find it. He is an opportunist. He is a dog. Why? Because it isn't possible for me to introduce "bad" consequences when I'm not there. All the options that are out there either won't work, or will scare or hurt him and that's not what I want to do to my best friend. He does this because there is a reinforcement history. In the past he has gotten either on the counter or in the garbage and it resulted in pleasure for him. In his mind, it makes perfect sense to do it again. The equation is: getting in the garbage or on the counter = often times getting good stuff. (Since I am not there to introduce "bad" consequences, it only results in good consequences for him.) To solve this problem I use prevention and management. I make sure the garbage isn't accessible and there is nothing good on the counter for him to get. (Another option would be a crate or a gating system.)
If left alone in my car, or left in a new place, he gets anxious which often results in vocalization. (For the record he is only left in the car for 5 minutes or less and it's only when either the car is running, or it is cold outside.) Anxiety isn't necessarily a "wrong" behavior, but it is something I could lessen and it would be assumed that a dog trainer's dog wouldn't have it. V has had separation anxiety (and still does in some instances obviously.) He no longer has it at home and that's because I put the work in to get him to start to realize that being home alone isn't so bad. He is no longer anxious in the car when we are going places because I put the work in there to help him relax. (I've put a little work in with the car barking but not enough and I have done nothing with the issue at someone else's house.) The anxiety doesn't lead to destruction of anything or injury to himself, so I haven't put the work in to curb it. It is also very seldom he is put into these situations, but it happens on occasion. So to sum this up, V gets anxious sometimes resulting in excessive vocalization due to anxiety.
Since I mentioned some things my dog does "wrong," I'm going to mention some things he does "right."
- He is excellent at off leash hiking on trails.
- He has overcome aggressiveness issues and reactivity issues towards other dogs.
- He doesn't pull on leash if asked not to.
- He loves people.
- He is a therapy dog.
- He sleeps a ton.
- He doesn't beg for food.
- He doesn't get into the trash or on the counters when I'm home. (Or not home due to prevention and management.)
- I could go on and on but I'll just end it there.
In conclusion, remember that dogs are animals. It is possible to change their behavior if consequences are managed correctly. Did I mention this can be done without hurting or scaring the dog? Behavior modification takes time and dedication. (It took me 8-10 months of solid work to get him to stop the dog aggressiveness issues.) Remember that there is no such thing as the "perfect dog." What is the "perfect dog" anyway? Dog trainer's dogs aren't perfect either. My excuse along with a lot of other trainers' is lack of time. I teach 10 classes and work with 7-10 private clients a week. And when I'm not doing that I am writing training plans, answering calls and emails, and all the other stuff that goes along with running a business. Also, it's okay to let dogs have fun. As long as it's manageable and no one's safety is at risk, (the human's or the dog's) then it's probably okay to happen on occasion. Let them be dogs.
Photo by: Dog Breath Photography
By: Kevin Duggan, CPDT-KA