Monthly Archives: June 2011

Dogs don’t have a “How to Live with Humans” manual

Twice this last week, I was saddened to read similar posts on a dog forum in which I participate regularly.

[My new puppy] is 10 weeks old and a total doll! Training has been going really well, I think, but I do have one concern….she has not had an accident in the house yet and it has been 4 days! I know, I know, not really a “problem” per se, but i’m afraid that she will not really be potty trained if she does not go in the house at least once where I can tell her “no”…

I was taken aback to hear from someone whose concern is that their dog hasn’t had any accidents.  I encouraged them to keep up the supervision and potty schedule that is working for their dog and not to rush her, and hope they listen.  Today this snippet came from another poster:

Just wondering, if we never punish [our 9 week old puppy] for going inside, how will she learn she can ONLY go outside, and not just anywhere she wants?

Sometimes people act so confusing for dogs that I'm sure they would be better off if there WERE a manual...

Not a thought about making sure that the only place the dog WANTS to go potty is outside.  This way of thinking is really difficult to grasp for some folks.  I don’t know why we tend to expect so much of our dogs but turn around and underestimate their capacity for learning.

I don’t believe either of these dog owners would mean to do harm to their puppies, but I believe that they are thinking in a detrimental way.  When potty training our children, do we punish them for not going to the toilet, or expect them to know how to use a toilet from the moment they can walk?  No, we manage their behavior with diapers and paying attention to their needs while we teach them where they should go.  Why, then, should we expect an animal species without the ability to communicate verbally to know the rules and understand the appropriate place to relieve itself around our unnatural human homes?

Scolding, physical corrections, scaring your puppy by yelling or making noise, etc, are meant as a penalty for a “wrongful” act. The problem with the idea of a dog or cat doing right or wrong is that would require a moral code and animals just don’t need one.  They follow their instincts or act based on training and experience.  A puppy or new dog peeing on the carpet  is not doing anything “wrong,” it has simply yet to be taught what you expect of it.  I think that’s where people struggle.

Imagine you are a school student.  You have not yet been taught PEMDAS (order of operations) and someone has asked you to complete a lengthy math equation.  Do you expect to be scolded, shouted at or worse, hit, for solving it incorrectly?   You would not look forward to math class or have a good relationship with your math teacher if this was the way these situations were handled.  Luckily for humans, it’s unlikely that you will be punished for this anyway because it just doesn’t make sense.  It’s unrealistic to expect a party to understand something that hasn’t been taught.

With positive reinforcement based training, true operant-style R+ that is, sweeping the globe and recruiting converts from the compulsion camp, it is my hope that things like this will someday be common knowledge and the idea of punishing an animal for our own mistakes or shortcomings will be long gone.

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Lost Pets- Feedback needed, please assist!

Coming full circle to a post I made months ago about lost pets, I will be starting to publish some posts on what to do if you lose a pet and how to prevent the loss of one in the first place.  A presentation/seminar is in the works on this topic and so I am wondering what it is that you would like to know about the search for missing pets.  If you were to go to see a speaker, what questions would you have and what would be your biggest concerns.

Have you ever lost a pet?  How did your pet get away from you?

Stay tuned as my lost pet guide is broken down into blog-friendly parts and posted here.  Please share this blog post with your friends with dogs and cats.

My mission to help guardians who have, may, but hopefully will never have to lose a companion animal is dedicated to Bunny.  Hoping you’re out there somewhere…

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Shutting down

The phrase “shutting down” has been used for a while in dog behavior.  It usually refers in situations where the dog has just become so overstimulated by stress or fear that it becomes unresponsive.  I was recently contacted by an adopter that is attempting to do some pretty advanced training with her new dog and she mentioned that he seemed “exhausted” after a relatively short period and would not even take food from her anymore.  This dog isn’t exhausted, he is shut down.  She is most likely introducing too much, too quickly, or making training sessions go too long, or throwing too much at him at once and he is having a hard time coping with all of it, so he just turns off.  This can happen with fearful or hypervigilant dogs as well, dogs that are so overwhelmed by what’s going on around them that they just can’t process the environment anymore.

The other day I discovered that shutting down applies to more than that when it comes to working with dogs.  I learned that *I* can shut down while interacting with them, too.  I was going out for a walk and discovered my foster Hailey to be HIGHLY reactive on leash.  It is frustration that causes her reaction, she wants to check the dog out and I’m sure her pit bull heritage doesn’t help with that.  She is better after getting a solid sniff and she does fine with the six other dogs at the house, but she was just uncontrollable until she was able to get to him and unfortunately, she can’t be allowed to do that with every dog we see on walks or at classes, which she was supposed to be starting today.  Her behavior was so awful I was floored; I really hadn’t expected it even though she can be a handful.  I should have done something productive, should have taken her out of the situation and gotten her back to a manageable level of excitement, should have used the information I have gathered over the years to help solve the problem.  Rather than using my brain to figure out exactly what I needed to do, though… I simply turned off.  I didn’t want to walk this dog anymore, didn’t want to try and solve her problems, just didn’t want to deal with it.  She was hurting my arm, I could not get her focus, and she sat there squealing and yipping and looking quite fierce because she completely lacks social skills with new dogs and I felt overwhelmed and helpless.  I shut down.

It’s been a hard pill to swallow to realize that there are huge gaps in my comfort level with certain aspects of training.  We’ve had dogs come through here with serious problems that were ironed out pretty easily through consistency and training and a lot of patience and I know that this can be as well.  I have had this degree of reactivity with two fosters now (Cody and Hailey) though and… I feel so lost.  I joke, “why can’t this be as easy as aggression and resource guarding?”

With a dog that is overwhelmed and shutting down, we try to figure out how to keep the level of stimuli to a point where  the dog feels safer and can think and concentrate.  I suppose that now, I need to do the same for myself while I try to help Hailey.  Hopefully I can, and we’ll get through this together.  Baby steps.

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