“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.”
― Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan
Photo courtesy of Brittany Graham Photography
I hear a lot of odd thoughts on how people train their dogs. Sometimes it involves a squirt bottle of water, or as I refer to it, “water-boarding technique”. Some people shake a newspaper at their dogs… as if threatening them with the New York Times crossword puzzle is the answer. Even if it is in ink. Others think that 100% positive reinforcement is the answer. I ask you this: has 100% positive reinforcement ever worked on children? I don’t know…I’d ask the Menendez brothers’ parents, but they’re both dead. Let’s face it, not everything your dog does is lovely, glorious and in need of praise. Sometimes you want to discourage the behavior. Other times you want to get your dog to repeat a wanted behavior (such as when housebreaking). But HOW? Start by getting rid of the biggest misconception about your dog:
My dog is bad.
Well, um, no he isn’t. You can’t get angry at a dog for being a dog. Odds are you aren’t angry because Fido was a bad dog – you’re angry because Fido was a bad human. And that doesn’t make sense, does it? You didn’t get a cat, or a chimpanzee. You didn’t go to the local shelter and adopt a llama. You got a DOG. Who you then want to be a human.
Let’s switch things around a little. Fido has a toy in his mouth (say…the pair of undies he stole out of your hamper) and you want it back. You go to take it from him, and he darts around and runs away from you. Finally, you corner him, and go to take it out of his mouth, and he snaps at you. Why? Because you were, in his mind at least, a bad dog, and he was merely trying to correct your inappropriate behavior. After all, he had it first, fair and square.
Therein lies the problem. He’s correcting you for being a bad dog, and you’re trying to punish him for being a bad human. If we can’t get Democrats and Republicans to agree on anything, how can we find commonality between two different species? After all, Democrats and Republicans are at least both (usually) human! Accept that your dog is a dog, and you are a human, and that is perfectly fine. Now accept that someone is going to have to cross the line into the other species’ Accepted Way Of Doing Things. You’re the one with the opposable thumbs, so it’s up to you. Don’t judge him for being a dog.
Don’t Punish Your Dog for Being a Dog
There’s nothing I hate more than people punishing their dogs. There is no point to it. Punishment is merely a method of retribution, and that concept would never occur to a dog. Dog’s mostly live in the here and now. They don’t dwell on what wrong has been done to them, or the need for retaliation. So time out’s are pointless (unless you just need to have the dog who just chewed your new couch away from you so you can cool down – in that case, you have my blessing). But if you’re using time outs as a punishment, well, dogs don’t do that to each other. Behaviors can be changed, (as I describe here, and here and most importantly, here), but just remember, dogs don’t beat each other. They don’t “rub their noses in it”. Dogs will address a misstep with a nip, a nudge, and/or a bark (which would be translated to “no” in English), and then move on, which is the reason we love them. They live in the moment as we only wish we could. They really and truly don’t chew on your new Jimmy Choos because they are angry at you – they do it because they are a dog, and at the moment you weren’t using them. Only humans are punitive and petty like that. A dog will always do what is right and natural for a dog.
Try love them for that. Those shoes were murder on your toes anyway.