Saturday, October 8, 2011

Take Responsibility

Dogs, like kids, don't know what you don't teach them.

Imagine this: You're in a public place (say, a library) and there's a kid running around, climbing on things, and yelling or screaming. The caretake is either not in sight, or following the child around at a much slower pace, occasionally saying things like "Billy, no, come here, you can't do that here, Billy, come on. You're in so much trouble, mister, we're going to have a talk."

Now imagine a dog doing it.

A lot of dog owners I see laugh off their dog's behavior if the dog is barking, pulling, or jumping around.  They say things like "oh, I can't control him" or "I can't make him stop."  Well yes, you can.  You can teach him a different thing to do.  You can reward things other than the behaviors you don't like, and after awhile, it won't be worth it for the dog to keep doing the "bad" things.

A child, unlike a dog, has the benefit of understanding English.  Before you go someplace, you can say "Now, Billy, when we go inside, you need to stay with me, and use a quiet voice."  A dog, you can't.  A dog, you have to anticipate a behavior you don't want, and head it off.  But a child and a dog aren't so different in that, if you set them up to succeed and then reward them, they'll want to repeat the rewarding behavior.  They'll think "Well, if I was so great at the library, and I got books, maybe I'll try that other places and see what else I'll get!"  Is bribing kids wrong?  I'm not really sure.  I also don't remember running around public places and screaming, because I don't think the adults who were with me let me do such a thing.  When I'm in public with Elka, I don't let her jump on people, and if she's inclined to bark (this is rare), I react immediately and redirect her attention.  

This is my responsibility.  This is your responsibility.  

New behaviors take time.  Sometimes things seem like they're "not working", when really, they're making their way through the system.  There's this little frustrating thing called an "extinction burst" (defined here on Karen Pryor's web site), where a behavior, before it disappears, increases dramatically.  One last hurrah, as it were, where the dog (or child) tries the behavior again frantically, because it always used to work.  They used to get something out of it.  When it's gone, though, it's gone.  Unless you drop the ball.


  1. Hurrah...we are going through what I can only pray and hope is Felix's extinction burst with his barking. He literally barked at a gust of wind today. I will never give up on training him to do better, but really? I would be the best Thanksgiving gift ever if this is the beginning of the end.

  2. Great post! Very well said :D

    This happened to me at the dog park today! A doggie was playing a little rough but his owners were nowhere in sight!


  3. Irresponsible owners drive me batty


  4. I have often wished I could talk with my dogs, Frankie especially! He probably wishes the same, lol! But I totally agree about our dog's behaviour being our responsibility. Frankie is still a work in progress but we're getting there.

  5. Thanks Rumpy!

    @Kolchak it's hard to explain the wind to a dog! Frequently, when out for Elka to relieve herself, she'd be all ready to go, and then the wind would blow and ruin everything! Good luck ;)

    @Luna On one hand, I wish there was a dog park here, but on the other, I'm not. Why would you leave your dog at the dog park and not supervise? That's scary

    @Kari me too! It's a big pain!

    @Greyhounds CAN Sit sometimes, I think they do understand what they say! Not frequently enough, though. And I know Elka wishes I understood her, for sure! Patience, patience.

  6. Great post. Bella, even with all her issues, still behaves better than a lot of dogs we run across because we've trained her to do so. (And if she acts up, we leave.)

    Laughing off bad behavior, making light of it or not taking it seriously is a recipe for disaster. Someday the ill-behaved dog is going to cross paths with the wrong person or animal and it will be the dog who pays the price.