Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Good Dog

I've been thinking about what makes a dog a characteristically, good dog. Spoiler alert: I don't have an answer. So it's your choice if you waste your time reading this post.

Now that we are raising a puppy, it is quite obvious that dogs are very similar to children. For example, Charley (our five month old German Shepherd Dog), takes things without asking then tries to lie about it (conceals stolen item in his mouth until he is out of sight), gets far too excited about meals (have you ever seen how desperate a toddler gets at the thought of a cracker--it's mind boggling), rips up paper, invades personal space (every kid I've ever known--except Isaac) and likes to explore disgusting items, like trash (this is comparable to my kids trying to drink their bath water).

So what do we do with these disgusting and out of control creatures? Redirect. It's pretty simple. But it's time consuming.

There's a reason everyone is told to "baby proof" the house as the baby gets older. Those computer cords you think are boring and hidden from sight, are readily sought after by the curious toddler. Disappointingly, some parents choose to swat the curious toddler's hand every time they reach out to touch a cord or that important piece of paper left on the coffee table that you're too lazy to move. What does this teach that toddler? Fear, and exploration is a negative experience.

I'm still learning a lot about dogs, but I think it's pretty similar. Swat the dog on the mouth every time it gets mouthy, whack it on the hind quarters when it goes after something enticing, knee it in the chest when it jumps. What does this teach your dog? Fear, and exploration is a negative experience--and human hands are not to be trusted.

I didn't know much about dog training when we brought home our now ten year old rescue dog, Stella. It didn't take long before Stella was banned from my parents house for stealing an entire pork loin off the counter followed by an expensive apple tart from the local bakery. How could she possibly resist such a tasty meal? I'm pretty sure Stella's stomach is lined with diaper gel beads. If I could ask her what her favorite thing to steal is, I am one hundred percent certain she would say, "Duh, you human idiot, dirty diapers. It's so fun to toss them around and rip them apart and make a huge, smelly mess for you to clean up. After all, you've been ignoring me for years while you take care of these crying children!" And I'm pretty sure he arteries are nearly blocked from chowing down on sticks of butter. Is it her fault she find these things so enticing and can't resist them when we aren't looking? No! We left the diaper out or the trash uncovered, and we left the butter on the counter within reach. It's simple.

Unless told otherwise, our dogs and our children will continue to make mistakes and probably the same mistakes over and over again. We daily teach and redirect our children so they can become well functioning adults and part of society (though I do wonder if Isabella will still jump on the kitchen counter as an adult) and as dog owners, it is our responsibilities to do the same with our canine companions. You can't bring home a dog and expect it to know what you're thinking and instantly be aware of all the household rules and boundaries.

Imagine I had a lovely piece of cheesecake, with chocolate drizzled on top and lots of whipped cream. And I sat down at the table to enjoy this dessert and just then Isabella walked in the room:
"Oh, that looks so good! Where's my piece?"
"Sorry this is just for me."
"But you know I love cake, and chocolate, and whipped cream!"
"I know, but this is for me, sorry."
Beginning to get desperate, "That's not fair! Why can't I have some?"
At this point she quickly swipes her finger across the whipped cream for a taste.

Replace Isabella with a dog: The desperation is replaced with demand barking and the swipe of her fingers is paws on the counter or table and/or a tongue reaching out to the plate.

Now, obviously I would never do this. Any sane person should know they can't enjoy a dessert in front of child without offering some to them. This is why I save my dark chocolate for after bedtime. I would guess, this is how our dogs feel when we begin cooking dinner or sit down for a meal. Charley assumes he should have his paws on the counter while I'm cooking and demand barks at me while I'm chopping vegetables. I guess my point is, there is no point in yelling at him for this response, he hasn't been taught, or rather, he is in the process of being taught, that this is not appropriate behavior. Instead of yelling or kneeing him in chest for jumping up to the counter, he is redirected to something enticing of his own like a bully stick, or a his favorite toy, and for demand barking, he gets a time-out because this is a behavior we are really working on with him.

So what's a good dog? I think a good dog can be found with a good owner. And most bad owners don't realize that they have a good dog who just needs some help.

Let's set up our dogs for success in the same way we set up our kids for success. Our expectations have to be within reason. And just as you shouldn't be a lazy parent; don't be a lazy dog owner.

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