He knocked your down? He saw what? You broke your wrist!? What were you doing? So he broke his stay command and just took off after that other dog? Oh, I see…
I can’t tell you how many times in my career I’ve heard the famous last words “my dog knows better.” Is it really a case of your dog knowing better? That would be like you saying that your 3 year old grabbed a piece of candy from the super market’s tempting candy wrack, but he shouldn’t have because he knows better. Why is it that most everyone with a small child recognizes that it’s so important to proactively manage their kid but no one ever seems to stop and think about how the same rule applies to your dog? Your dog is not a robot, yet somehow people seem to think that once a dog has been trained that it’s as simple as keeping the “go” button switched on and that the dog will magically just operate on some sort of autopilot system. I wish!
On his best day, your dog is no more capable of making correct decisions than a human kid. Here’s what we know about human children between the ages 2-3:
Behavioral Impulse Control – There isn’t a magic number at which kids suddenly gain impulse control. Instead, it is a process that develops over time. Fran Walfish, a child and family psychotherapist and author of “The Self-Aware Parent,” explained: “The toddler phase of development, beginning at age 18 months and rounding out at age 4, is the period of time when children are practicing and learning delayed gratification and impulse control.” It’s normal for 3-year-old children to scream, lash out in anger and get easily excited. However, as children approach the age of 4, they should be developing improved ability to manage their impulses, and hitting and tantrums should subside. (Amy Morin, Mom.Me)
Did you read that? Read it again if you need to. It’s a normal stage of development that your child might easily get excited. Your child has to practice impulse control over several years, with your help, to develop good self control. But unlike a human child, your dog will never be a 4 year old, he’s stuck between two and three… forever! Why is it that humans seem to expect so much more from our dogs?
Now, don’t think for one second I’m discrediting the profound intelligence and capability of our beloved domestic dog, because I’m not. Dogs are brilliant. Dogs can do cool things like retrieve a beer from the fridge, then go back to close the refrigerator door. Be the eyes for a blind person. Smell the scent of cancer! You get my point.
Just because the dog is absolutely brilliant doesn’t give us permission to forget that they can’t read our mind. They don’t even speak english (or whatever your native tongue is). Dogs have learned to preform behaviors as they relate to a hand signal, sound, or other form of signal (cue) that we give the dog as information. Without this critical information, then our dogs are left to be, well… a dog! And what do dogs do? They do dog stuff of course!
Now picture a man in his 60’s, innocently putting the loop of his leash around his arm, near his elbow. First mistake. While juggling some sort of shopping bag, and now his 80lb adolescent dog, he props one of his feet up on the bumper of his SUV. That was his next mistake. To top it off, he thought it was an amazing idea not to give his big happy go lucky strong as hell dog instructions as to how he, the dog, should behave during the shoe tying endeavor. So, what does his dog do? He acts like a dog. Just like that this man is on his ass with a bruised hip and a fractured wrist because when his dog saw another dog somewhere on the other side of the parking lot he decided it was time to play, lunging to the end of his leash as hard as he could towards that other dog, twisting the man’s arm behind his back, then taking the leash across the back of this man’s legs and finally sweeping him off his one stable foot where he hit the ground. Hard.
This man has an amazingly well trained dog. Yet, this accident happened because he simply didn’t ask his dog for attention, followed by a down and stay command.
Every dog depends on us to tell him them what their next move should be, otherwise they have the right as a living, breathing, thinking, emotional and intelligent animal to do whatever it is that they thinks they should be doing at that moment. You may disagree that his behavior is inappropriate or that he knows better, but this is where once again you’d be wrong. Inappropriate to who? Your dog who thinks it’s super fun to say hi to dog friends? You did want a social friendly dog, didn’t you? Or does he knows better than to put you in a position where you could seriously break bones in your body? Unfortunately your dog has no concept of how many bones make up his own body, let alone yours!
As a dog owner you are your dog’s day-to-day trainer. You are ultimately his trainer for the entirety of his life. Your dog trainer was just his trainer during the learning phase of his education. Now it’s your responsibility to actually use the training your dog has by giving him clear directions on what he should be doing when you expect for him to behave a certain way. For me, that’s just about every interaction with my dogs unless I’ve specifically taken them off leash to play somewhere, or they’re on their own free time just hanging out around the house.
If you did ask your dog to do a down-stay, for example, and he broke that command to take off after another dog, person, bike, etc, then that IS a training “he knows better” issue. In that case, you need to do more proofing of your trained behavior around distractions. It’s time to call your dog trainer for a refresher course. But more often than not, dogs “misbehaving” is simply a matter of miscommunication.
Dee Hoult, MBA, CDBC, CPDT, CTDI
[featured image, photo credit: Alex Gregory, New York Cartoonist]
Dee is the owner of Applause Your Paws Dog Training, South Florida’s largest privately owned pet dog training company, and Miami’s number one user rated and reviewed dog trainers on yelp.com. At only 33 years old she’s semi retired these days from training dogs, but maintains her great sense of humor and no nonsense attitude when it comes to training dogs to be the ultimately human companion. With her new found freedom found through her successful business, Dee volunteers regularly in the animal welfare community, mentors other entrepreneurs, and dedicates her time to reading, writing and traveling. Dee shares her home with her English husband, two border collies, a yellow labrador, and two cats. Her key to success? Be so busy working on your own grass that you don’t have time to worry if someone else’s grass is greener. Woof.