I am sitting at a local eatery waiting for a friend to arrive. A group shows up with a dog and sits almost in front of me. I like the fact that the owner of the dog immediately positions the dog next to her and away from foot traffic. Nice! I think to myself. Someone is paying attention.
The dog, which I cannot fully see, now is quiet; I guess just lying down next to his owner.
Suddenly someone moves something and the dog begins to bark loudly. The owner just moves the dog away from the service people and that is the end of the outburst.
A few minutes later, a member of the restaurant staff is emptying ice into a bucket making quite a bit of noise. Now the dog is barking loudly. At this instance the owner, which I am assuming was embarrassed by her dog’s disturbance, begins telling the dog to be quiet and says loud enough that I can hear it that the dog clearly needs more discipline!
What????? It is obvious to me that this woman clearly cares for her dog but she learned somewhere that barking as her dog did just now is a matter of “bad manners” nothing else.
Here is what I wish every dog owner will learn about their dogs. When a dog barks as a result of a stimulus such as a sudden and loud noise – in this case ice being poured into a bucket it is not because the dog has bad manners or is trying to embarrassed the owner it is because it has been wired in them. Dogs have done this for millennia when, from their point of view, there is something wrong and that concerns them.
Ah! I think to myself what a lost opportunity for teaching the dog that noises like this are not to be of concern but instead mean good stuff will show up. Truly, it is seldom the case that a dog is “behaving badly” when they bark at something that startles or scares them.
This owner’s response was to blame her dog. More than anything because she wanted to save face with the people around her.
To her credit, I noticed that she had some treats in her pocket and actually delivered a treat after she asked her dog to sit, popped it gently on the nose (why? I don’t know!) and when the dog sat she delivered the treat.
It is always sad and concerning to me when I witness events like this where the dog is blamed for very normal and adaptive behaviors. When, perhaps, someone like this lady is trying to work with her dog but she has clearly not understood basic principles of learning and counter-conditioning.
Dogs are not people in furry coats! Our world is just a borrowed-experience. They are animals and as such there is much about our world that frightens them. If we are really going to help them get comfortable in it, it really behooves us to see how our world and our decisions, and how they interact in this world affect them.
I wish that every owner would reflect hard before blaming their dog for behaving. Dogs will most definitively have better lives once we choose to see their experience from their unique perspective instead of blaming them for our shortcomings in understanding them, in training them well or just the madness in our world.