One of my favorite messages from Dr. Ian Dunbar is in reference to potty training dogs. He instructs the first thing we should do when our dog has a potty accident in the house is to quickly find a newspaper, roll it up tight and bop OUR own head several times for not supervising our dog closely enough to PREVENT the rehearsal of going potty inside! Oh, how true! 🙂 His wise advice is based on the realization that when we bring a dog (regardless of age) into our living environment, it is our responsibility to manage the environment so that their only option is to rehearse the desired behaviors.
To put what we expect of our dogs in proper perspective, take a quick trip with me on this silly but applicable analogy! Imagine one day an alien walked into your house, put a leash on you and took you to their home. They do not communicate via your native language. The environment is dissimilar to what you are accustomed to and their traditions seem unusual from your natural ways of being. Ponder for a moment on how you would figure out just the basics of functioning such as finding food, shelter, going “potty”, where to sleep, acclimating to the new noises, objects and routines. Consider the mental, emotional and physical impact. How would you know what is available and approved to eat or for that matter when you can eat? What do you do if you need to go “potty” and how would you know where to go? Where and when do you sleep? Being that we are social beings and thrive on interactions with others, how would you initiate interactions? How would you know who or what to turn to for guidance? I think you get the idea. Although, this is a bit of a reach to consider, it is parallel to what dogs experience when we bring them to our “home” and/or new environments.
As our dog’s guardian, it is our responsibility to gently introduce them to the human lifestyle. We must understand their needs and create an environment that supports them making the desired behavior choices. This applies throughout their life as they are exposed to new experiences (noises, animals, surroundings, etc.) There is so much for dogs to learn and explore in our world. Their natural instincts often conflict with what we deem appropriate. In their natural habitat they go to the bathroom when and where they feel the need, they hunt and eat when they are hungry, chew on whatever is available, and bark when desired. In the human lifestyle, both time and place for all of their functions are deemed by the humans’ schedule and wishes. They eat when we decide to feed them and what we select to feed them, are only allowed to play with what we decide is appropriate, bark only if we feel it’s warranted, and, of course, only potty in our approved designated areas.
I am in awe on a daily basis of the power of the canine / human bond and our dog’s ability to adapt to our crazy world. I can honestly say I am not confident in my abilities to change and adapt the way they do every day. Their genuine desire to be with us seems to power them through very tough and challenging changes. Keeping all of this in perspective, the least we can do for them is to guide and support them with positive learning associations and experiences.
So let’s talk about this adorable puppy in the drawing. He wants to play and explore. How is he to know that the child’s teddy bear and a family member’s tennis shoe are not authorized toys? They were accessible so fair game, right? Absolutely! Case in point, when I was a child, my mom took great care of my LONG hair. One day she had to step out of the room for a moment while I was in my playpen. Well my playpen was near her dog grooming table and I decided to try her grooming scissors on my hair. Of course, my Mom was horrified at the new hairstyle I had created for myself in just a matter of seconds! I wasn’t trying to be naughty, I was just curious. I can assure you that I never cut my hair again as my Mom made sure the scissors were completely out of my acrobatic reach at all times. 🙂
Our simple resolution to the prevention and/or elimination of undesired behavior by our dogs is proactive planning, effective management and LOTS of positive reinforcement.
⇒Adopt a beginner’s mindset. Understand your dog’s natural instincts as well as their physical/emotional/mental needs. Recognize that what you allow is what you teach, therefore, if you allow access to undesirable behavior options while in the learning stages, you are reinforcing the very behavior you want to prevent or eliminate!
⇒Make sure there are a variety of accessible fun doggie approved toys and activities that provide adequate mental and physical stimulation. Specific to toys, rotate them at least once a week to keep them exciting and interesting.
⇒Manage your dog’s environment so they can and will make the right decision. If you can’t watch them closely to prevent a rehearsal of an undesired behavior, then don’t leave them with the options of making the wrong decision.
⇒Praise and reward them for making the right choices and allow them to continually rehearse the desired behavior so it becomes a habit.
⇒Increase their “options” ONLY when they have repeatedly demonstrated the correct behavior choice is now a “habit”.
⇒If your dog gets the cherished shoe, calmly and indifferently offer to trade the shoe for a dog toy, praise them for playing with the toy, then take the shoe and and bop yourself on the head as a reminder that leaving the shoe out for them to access in fact gave them the option for the undesired behavior.
⇒As they mature, get a lot of practice making the right choice and are properly reinforced for doing so, you will be able to gradually give them more freedom because they will have the information and experience to make the right behavior choice!
When contemplating how to address any behavior, adopt a beginner’s mindset. Move from a place of judgment and frustration to understanding. Create the conditions needed to achieve the desired end result. Focus on progression, not perfection. Enjoy the process because the final outcome only provides temporary bliss. Recognize dogs seek comfort, fulfillment and happiness just as we do.
Learn to be your dog’s GPS – carefully map their way to the most efficient and effective way to get what you BOTH want!
Stay tuned for more Happy Woofs from the K9 Professor!