Dog’s Eye View: He’s just being stubborn
If I had a dime for every time I have heard this — he knows better; he’s just being stubborn —you know the rest. Think about the times you may have called your dog to come, and he hesitated. He may have stood still and looked at you, and you thought he was being stubborn. My question is, “How did you teach your dog to do that?”
Dogs are so good at reading our body language and, in addition, are quick to learn the consequences for their actions. That’s how they survive. Labels such as “stubborn” can get in the way of understanding the real problem. Dogs know what works for them from past experience.
We expect a lot of abstract thinking from our dogs. That’s not to say they’re not intelligent. They are. Dogs constantly amaze us with their ability to sort out situations and learn new things. But some things are just there, right in front of us, and it would be helpful to take another look and ask ourselves why.
Here’s a common scenario. You’ve left your dog loose in your house and gone to work. You come home and find he has chewed your brand-new, expensive throw pillow. You don’t know when this happened during the day. You are weary, and this just puts the cap on it. You call your dog and take out your frustration on him. You scold him and perhaps abruptly put him outside in anger. Now, what do you think your dog learned from this scenario?
What we know is that the length of time between an action and the understanding of the connecting consequence for dogs is a matter of seconds. What you probably taught him is that when you walk through the door, he had better be wary. You might explode and come after him. The next time you come home and call him, he might stand back and look at you. He might be sizing you up to see what the consequence is this time.
Think about this scenario. Your dog is playing with another dog at the park. You haven’t been there very long, when you look at your watch and realize you might be late for an appointment. You call your dog, but he’s having a great time. He’s been cooped up all day and needs this play time. You’re getting upset and anxious, because you have to get going, and he is not responding as he usually has in the past when you’ve had more time. You finally get his attention. He comes toward you, and you grab his collar, snap on the leash and drag him off to the car in a huff.
Your whole demeanor is different this time. The consequence of his coming toward you is very different than it has been in the past. He will remember that the next time you call him while at the park.
Both scenarios might help us understand something about ourselves and how dogs learn. In the future, let’s strive to think a little more carefully before we put a label such as “stubborn” on our wonderful companions.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 30 years of experience. She is a teacher with Total Teamwork Training, LLC.
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