Joe. Maisie. And the Cheese
This is a little story about how dogs learn, and especially how we can communicate to them certain behaviors which displease us. Most importantly, it’s a story about how/when/if to reprimand a dog for having engaged in one of those behaviors.
This story is especially useful for new dog owners, or those whose ideas about dog training hark back to the days when people mistakenly believed that smacking a dog with a rolled up newspaper when he had soiled in the house would “teach” him not to do that again (when what it actually taught him was to avoid people coming at him with a rolled up newspaper, hours after he made a piddle in the kitchen!)
There’s a new man in my life, Joe. Which is great news for me, and also for my girls, Maisie and Wanda Weimaraner, who have taken to him like ducklings, imprinting. They follow him everywhere and gaze adoringly at him. He touches them lovingly and talks to them while looking them earnestly in the eyes (just as Weims seems to like) and has won their hearts. Maisie, in particular, brings him an ever-changing array of mangled toys to play tug with her (which he obliges) and it’s remarkable that Joe has actually never been around dogs before — he’s had cats, He’s certainly never lived around the clock with ever-present canines. Yet now he finds himself in a house where two extremely large and intrusive female Weimaraners are never more than an arm’s length away, although they do have lovely manners: they move out of our space when asked and curl up by the wood stoves and behave like perfectly behaved ladies.
Until I went out to play tennis one day. Joe was left at home and took out a piece of cheese which he left on the big kitchen island while going into the living room to put wood in one of the aforementioned stoves. Only to return and find no trace of his cheese.
He proudly told me that he’d given Maisie a firm talking-to about the disappearance of the cheese (since she’s the only one who ever jumps up on the counter) and told her in no uncertain terms what a naughty girl she was.
The only thing he didn’t know was that it meant absolutely nothing to her (or maybe just a different sort of attention from this man whose attention she craved!) I explained to Joe that unless you catch a dog right in the act of doing something you don’t want (like relieving themselves in the house, gnawing on a piece of furniture, playing in the potted plants, etc) your opinions and comments are irrelevant and fall on deaf ears, no matter how abashed a dog may appear to be.
Even if you catch the dog in the moment of snatching the cheese, all you can do is tell her “Off” the counter and remove the piece of cheese from her mouth (creating a second-order problem of what you can possibly do with the cheese now, one wonders?!)
The only solution to the problem is to never leave a nice piece of cheese or anything else delicious on an accessible surface!
Marcy Burke, one of the Avidog International trainer/breeders who are my co-hosts on my dog training show GOOD DOGS! told the story of the stick of butter her husband once left on their kitchen island. Their lovely well-manner Golden Retriever who swallowed it down has been checking out that counter ever since, hoping for years for another windfall.
The only solution to the Cheese Problem is to avoid temptation in the first place.
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