Savin’ all my love for you
- Louis Armstrong
I like to follow through with Piloting with my dogs for two very good reasons:
1) I don’t have to deal with unacceptable behavior. My dogs don’t jump. They don’t counter-surf. They don’t pull on walks. They are the most thoroughly enjoyable dogs to be around because, like children, manners make them more than tolerable: it makes them charming. Hang around an unruly child or dog for a bit. You’ll agree.
2) When they do misbehave, it’s so blatantly obvious and out-of-character, that it tends to be a warning sign of something else.
Example. A few weeks ago Orion woke up in the middle of the night barking. That is completely out of character for him. He is a very good watchdog, though, and the times he does bark are completely legitimate: someone’s at the door, a car pulled into our drive, etc. So I went racing downstairs to see what had set him off. When I got downstairs, he was merely standing in front of the baby-gated mudroom, where he and Sparta are crated at night, staring at me. Okay then. Maybe he just needed to go out. So I unlatched the baby gate to let him out. Sparta wasn’t in the mudroom, which was odd. If figured that maybe my husband had forgotten to lock her up before bed. So I let Orion out. I snapped my fingers for Sparta….who didn’t come. That is NOT like her. Now I was getting panicky. I couldn’t find Sparta! I looked all around the house, and she wasn’t there. I ran back to the door to watch Orion (who isn’t allowed outside without Sparta at night for fear of coyotes, and that’s when I found her: wandering along the fence in the back yard. She had been left out all night!
I noticed immediately that she wasn’t acting right. She was grazing heavily on grass, and was pacing like a caged animal. I went outside in my pj’s and stayed outside with her for about an hour, until she calmed down again. Every time I’d try to call her inside, she would ignore me(!) and continue to pace. Again, not like her. Most of the commands I give her are followed by a “Sir, yes sir!” from her. Obviously she was till not doing too well. Finally she came inside when I asked and went to sleep in her mudroom, looking a lot better (and a lot, er….lighter).
Now, about her being left outside all night. I was furious. My husband’s routine is to let the dogs outside and then lock them up for the night before coming to bed. How could he have left poor Sparta outside all night?! My little girl, outside by herself in the dark. I tried to control my temper, but this was my baby, and this was a huge mistake! I woke him up and told him he left Sparta outside and she had been sick. He swore up and down that he didn’t. What, did she magically transport herself over the baby gate and open the front door to let herself out? Right.
The next morning I went downstairs to let the dogs out. Both dogs were where they belonged, and Sparta looked a lot better, giving me her usual “Good morning!” dance. I let them out, and things were back to normal. I sat on my couch in the living room to keep an eye on them while enjoying a cup of coffee. That’s when I noticed it. A huge tear in the screen of the window, roughly large enough to let a dog through. I stuck my head out the window and noticed that the flowers beneath had been crushed as if something heavy had landed on them.
Sparta had gotten sick in the middle of the night. She’s not a barker for no reason (as if this wasn’t a good reason, though!), so she didn’t alert us. Unfortunately, she had some…shall we say intestinal distress going on. She also knew she wasn’t supposed to go to the bathroom in the house. So she did what she thought was right: she jumped over the baby gate and let herself out the only way she knew how – through the screen.
I was floored. Poor Sparta! She had never done anything like that in the past! Obviously it wasn’t her fault; she was only trying to solve a problem without doing something “bad”. I showed my husband the next morning. “My God….that’s the most well-behaved dog I’ve ever seen”, he said. I agreed.Think of all the “bad” things that my dogs did that evening: Orion barking (trying to alert us of Sparta’s problem), Sparta not coming when she was called (still sick), my discovering that she had hopped the baby gate and jumped through the screen (trying to make the best choice out of bad options). All of these things had a very good reason. There was a problem, and these dogs were only trying to solve it, and or get help, in the only ways they knew how.
So the next time your dog is “misbehaving”, ask yourself, is this out of character for my dog? Could there actually be a problem rather than Fido just being obnoxious and unruly? I see it happen all the time during training sessions: people getting frustrated because their dogs won’t listen. Maybe they’re listening perfectly, maybe you’re “speaking” in ways you didn’t mean to.
I had a couple clients last night with three dogs, two large and one only 10 lbs dripping wet. Apparently, feeding time could be pretty chaotic with them, with barking, jumping, etc. I showed the humans how to mandate calm during these times, feeding one dog at a time while the rest waited patiently a few feet away. The mom, who we’ll call Mindy, tried it. Mindy got the two larger dogs to calmly sit side-by-side away from the area she where she wanted to feed them. Now for the smaller dog. No matter what she did, the dog wouldn’t join her canine companions. She kept avoiding the area. Mindy started getting frustrated. I stopped her. “Your little one is trapped”, I told her. “She has no place to go because you keep pushing her away from where you want to feed, but the other two dogs are occupying all the space of where you want her.” A simple rearrangement of the dogs’ positions, and the little one went right where we wanted her. All three dogs were fed separately, with the others calmly waiting their turn a few feet away. Success.
Yes, sometimes your dog can be a brat. Sometimes they are actually trying to take money out of your Piloting Piggy Bank. But take a look at the situation from their perspective. Your dog isn’t coming when you call? How does your body language look? Try squatting down, stop facing them, and give them your profile rather than staring them down. Call them in a voice that doesn’t say “Mom is angry!”. Ah… there you go. That was the problem.
Maybe your dog ain’t misbehavin’ after all.