Archive for the ‘barking’ Tag
Give me a break.
Cut me some slack.
We learn from our mistakes.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Despite the fact that our language is littered with phrases that attempt to make us feel ok about making mistakes, or to request that others be less critical of us when we do, we sure as heck do not seem to have incorporated this magnanimity into our lives or culture. Even our dogs are subject to our lack of tolerance for ‘errors’.
When we are afraid to make ‘mistakes’ we become limited in our abilities to learn, improve or innovate. How many of us refuse to try to do something for fear of looking ‘foolish’ or being ridiculed? Few of us are ‘naturals’ at all the activities we may attempt to perform. I rarely participated in team sports when I was growing up because I didn’t think I was ‘good’ enough yet every summer I learned a host of new skills as I played with friends.
I could walk on stilts, jump on a pogo stick, swirl a mean hula hoop, swim, dive, and run. We showed off to each other, shouted to our parents to ‘LOOK AT ME!’ ‘WATCH THIS MOM!’ even as we stumbled or belly flopped. We were cheered on regardless and this encouragement gave us the incentive to keep trying, to screw up our courage and try a back flip, to show how fast we could run barefooted on a dirt road and ride our bikes with our hands at our sides.
Any new skill requires a certain amount of ‘rewiring’ of the brain. Our muscles need to memorize new movements, and dexterity improves with repetition. Even behaviors such as loose leash walking require a dog learn a new way of moving. Sure they already ‘know’ how to walk slowly, but just think how challenging it would be for you to go out and train for a marathon while being forced to hold the hand of a three year old. Old patterns and habits are hard to break.
When your dog’s behavior isn’t quite perfect, instead of finding fault, throw them a bone and help them do better next time.
NOTE: I will be offering a seminar on working with fearful dogs in Santa Cruz, CA on September 9, 2012. Contact me for details.
People often think of a dog’s behavior in much the same way as they think about a sandwich. It’s usually the meat in the middle that they are most concerned with. But behavior, like a sandwich has more going on than just the filling. What’s around the filling can matter a lot. Imagine going into a deli and ordering ham & cheese on rye and being handed ham & cheese on a sundried tomato wrap. It may not seem like a big deal to some but for others, thanks, but no thanks, it’s not what was ordered.
When we are trying to get a dog to change their behavior, what happens before and after the behavior plays a role in what the behavior looks like. There are some who treat behavior like an open-faced sandwich; the behavior and what follows it. If they can figure out a way to either reward or punish the dog, they’ll get the behavior to increase or stop.
Thinking about what comes before the behavior occurs is often overlooked, or misunderstood by us. It may appear one way to us but what matters most is how it is perceived by the dog. There are many behaviors which would change if we were able to adjust what happens before they occur. And there are many ways we can do this, if we only took a moment or two to think about it. We can adapt the dog’s environment to make it easier for them to do the right thing, and make the wrong behavior require more effort. We can do this without ever having to hurt, scare or startle a dog.
Whether we are trying to get a dog to perform a behavior, or get one to stop, if we think, just stop and think, we will discover that there’s a lot more to choose from than just white or whole wheat.
How often do you apologize for your dog’s behavior?
I am surprised at how often people, pet owners and trainers alike will beg forgiveness for their dog’s behavior. We apologize for our dogs when they bark, greet someone enthusiastically or stare at someone’s steak and cheese sandwich with unrelenting intensity. I am not taking a stand for allowing rude behaviors in dogs when they are interacting with people, but I do think it warrants consideration that some of those behaviors do not have to be looked on as misdemeanors, let alone felonies.
When a friend lost her beloved dog after years of companionship she said to me, “He knew that every last bite of my sandwich would be his.” She didn’t share this to complain about a dog who begged while she ate. She was acknowledging that every meal would be a reminder that her friend was gone, and she would miss him.
Any behavior that our dogs perform in order to get a desired outcome can be tweaked so they can learn how to perform it more effectively. We can teach our dogs that lying down quietly nearby will get them snacks more readily than will staring, whining, or barking- behaviors which have served dogs well for thousands of years. In many places dogs survive by perfecting their methods for separating people from their dinner. In countries with large populations of strays it’s not unusual to find dogs who frequent the same restaurants daily, narrowing in on a tourist who falls for their quiet beseeching stares and tosses them a french fry. I’ve watched dogs go from table to table, knowing when a few more seconds of staring or head tilt will achieve the desired results, and when it’s time to move on.
Many of us living with dogs who are afraid of people would welcome the inconvenience of a dog who greeted house guests as though they were lovers in a past life. If we are less inclined to be proud of this behavior there is no need to change how the dog feels about people through the use of punishment, whether it’s physical or a sharp verbal reprimand, to curb their enthusiasm. We help them learn how to behave so they get the attention and information they’re after without creating dry cleaning bills or knocking granddad over.
It should not come as a surprise that dogs bark. This behavior, like begging, was probably one that helped dogs survive and become useful to humans. They are among the best early warning systems around. Many pet owners want a dog for this purpose, to alert them to intruders. Issues arise when a dog is unable to differentiate between the people or vehicles we want the dog to wake us up for when they are coming up the driveway versus those that can be safely ignored. Add to this the fact that many dogs have little else to do with their time, and you can end up with a dog who is annoying to owners and neighbors alike. Enter the industry of ‘barking solutions’ that range from disturbing sounds, shocks, sprays, and surgery. I am NOT suggesting that we should learn to put up with unending barking, but that we assess the cause of the behavior- anxiety, boredom, arousal, alarm- and address that instead of looking for solutions that scare, hurt or intimidate our dogs.
Our dogs can learn new skills and better manners, but at the end of the day they’ll still be dogs.