I am working with a client who has three large dogs. We are practicing waiting at the door. He tells me that his newest addition to the family has escaped twice from the front yard. One of those times it was when he was taking the three dogs on leash to get in the car. He explains that the dog was able to pull away from him.
I tell him that I think it’s best if he takes the “girls” who are older and have better doggie-manners to the car first and then return back for the third more rambunctious one. He gives me a funny look – as if I had suggested he gets rid of this naughty one at once. I explain to him that every time his pup is successful in making a beeline to the sidewalk it is one for the dog and as such the behavior is getting not only reinforced by the chance of taking in new sites and smells but it is in effect making new neuron connections most likely making the behavior more engrained and difficult to curtail.
I can see that he is still not convinced that making two trips to the car instead of one is worth it. Okay, I tell him: Decide how you want to spend your time… chasing your dog down the road or taking your dogs to the dog park which is the reason they are all in the car in the first place? This time I think that I am getting through to him.
I explain to him that we need to set up the dog for success as well.
Think about it. Every single time we cut corners – and we all do it at some point, we are most likely setting ourselves and our dog for failure. Protocols are there for a reason. They help us curtail pesky or dangerous behaviors such as my client’s dog routine of jumping the front yard fence.
I think part of the reason people cut corners and do not follow protocol as they should is in part because in most cases, it takes time to reach the level of success that we want with our dogs.
Now, allow me to give you a reality check… How long do you estimate it will take you – or anyone for that matter to learn to speak (fluently!) a new language? Six, 1 hr. sessions? Eight? You catch my drift right? Why then, do we expect our dogs to learn stuff fast? Frankly, not fair if you ask me.
Realizing that any learning takes time and repetition will hopefully remind us to exercise empathy towards our dogs when they are learning new stuff. Empathy will also help us in keeping our expectation in check.
I continue to be amazed as to how our dogs not only can point us to a more healthy lifestyle by having to exercise them, but they can also serve as vivid reminders – if we care to pay attention to our need to slow things down and to resist cutting corners. I don’t know about you, but in my life playing with my dogs and hanging out with them is the one event that truly (okay “trash” TV can also do the trick :)) helps me disconnect from a busy schedule, frustration and the everyday routine.
So my hopes for you and your pup are that you take the time to invest in your relationship with your pup on a regular basis. Not only when they are behaviors to modify or train, but just for the joy of it.