I'd been thinking about this lately, in fact, when a certain long nosed miss started nosing up to peoples' plates in a manner she had not otherwise displayed. I may or may not have been mostly unbothered by this, for it was rarely, if ever, my plate she was getting too close to. This is Elka, who I can leave in the car with McDonald's or other takeout and she will not touch is. Elka, who has been in a room with a coffee table full of nachos and dip and even pigs in a blanket and not touched a thing. Elka, who dropped a turkey sandwich she had in her mouth when I said "drop it", and left along a dropped tupperware of taco meat when I said "leave it".
(forgive the old picture, I don't have a new one of her lurking in the "safe range" of food that is not hers)
So then what's the deal, princess?
I suspect it's because we humans have become complacent. That's part of the problem with having a smart, good dog. You take that smartness and goodness for granted after awhile. And what happens when behaviors, even those smart good ones you like, go unnoticed? Not reinforced? They fade. Until you wake up one day and go "You're usually so good, what happened?"
So, it's nice to have a reminder, especially from somebody like Patricia McConnell, whose books I recommend as often as I can in the course of my day at the library. Many times people have come in asking for a certain personage whom they've seen on television, and I've gently suggested in my best Customer Service™ and Please Think of the Dogs™ way that there were perhaps other methods they'd be more comfortable with, which would work better for the animals involved.
So what does "training" mean for me, in this context?
Reinforcement is my primary means of "attack" here. Elka works well for a "You're so good!", and a side thumping, and jumping around together. That's just good clean fun. But she works really well when there are treats involved, especially miraculous, well timed treats that show up right when she does the thing I'd really love her to do.
I've seen a book called Catch Your Dog Doing Something Right, and this is a principle I dig. I discussed it in my post If You Like It, Name It. Sometimes, I'll praise Elka for napping, daft as that sounds. Of course, this kind of "passive training" also forces me to be far more alert and take notice of things. I can't reflex tell Elka not to bark at or react to something if I don't know what the thing is. I thank Elka if she barks, and then tell her it's not her problem (if it isn't. We had a guy on the porch who wanted to talk to me about alternatives to my electric bill, and I told him three times, the third far less friendly and polite than the first two, that I was not interested and he was welcome to leave. Elka quietly chuff-woofed behind me). I praise Elka for calmly acknowledging a noise she's heard outside. I praise Elka for looking at the Bright!White!New! lawn furniture the neighbors have next door, and then looking away without sprouting a mohawk or otherwise acting like a weirdo about it.
A lot of training, in my eyes, has to do with trust. There's a point at which I trust Elka to do what I'm asking her to do. I also am asking Elka to trust me. Trust me that I'll reward her, that I'll make something worth her while. To trust that she can rely on me, that I'm not going to do something that will hurt or scare her. Of course, she also trust (or hopes or believes?) that she really really deserves that macaroni and cheese, or that pizza, but that's one of the pitfalls with giving your dog human food. There must be rules and boundaries, or the dog will be exceedingly confused (and increasingly pushy) and the people will be angry or frustrated.
My "I'm eating" rules are
1. Elka may not be on me
2. Elka may not be on any surface involved with the food (plate, table, counter, etc.)
3. Elka may not whine at me for the food
If these rules are followed, she may get a bit of what I have, provided it's dog safe. If she breaks any of these rules, I say "too bad" (my no rewards marker), and she doesn't get any of it. If "too bad" has been enacted, she may no longer "spectate" my meal, and must go lie down elsewhere, or otherwise occupy herself.