The Good, Bad Dog

Like people, dogs are not perfect and each one has its own little quirks and eccentricities. It’s a big part of what I find endearing about our chosen companions. Even though I recognize and treat them as dogs, they still have personality traits that I can relate to. Some of them I find amusing, some of them I find irritating, but I suppose it’s much the same for them.

A little over a year ago, the newest member of our little commune followed my van up the driveway looking for a warm place to sleep and some much needed food in his belly. Since then, Elbee has certainly made himself at home and has both delighted and exasperated canine and human alike. I really try not to play favorites, but, if you put me to the question, Elbee would be my favorite out of my current gang of four.

One of my favorite things about Elbee is also a supposed no –no, but one that I find funny so I allow it. Being a terrier mix, Elbee has a different energy level that my other three dogs and will occasionally find things to occupy him if he decides the level of entertainment lacking. If my wife or I have been lazy, and haven’t put things like boots or shoes away, he’s libel to waltz into whatever room we’re in with them in his mouth.

One of the first behaviors I taught Elbee when he joined us was leave it, he picked it up very quickly. When he walked into a room with something he wasn’t supposed to have, I would ask him to leave it, when he did I would praise him and give him something he could play with or chew on.

The funny thing is, while this has not stopped Elbee from grabbing items we may not want him to have if left within his grasp, he doesn’t damage them in any way— he just relocates them. There are about four of five items that we habitually forget or are lazy about, including half eaten packs of Giant Sweet Tarts. I am not fond of the lemon ones and sometimes I forget and leave the lemon ones in the package where he can get to them.

It’s not uncommon for Elbee to come into the room with me with the remaining Sweet Tart in the pack and stare at me. Now, he could have eaten the Sweet Tart in the other room and I would not have (and never have) punished him for it because it’s my fault not his. But he chooses to come into the same room with me and show me that he has it. Because he’s been asked to “leave” those particular items often, he does not chew or destroy them but it hasn’t stopped him from picking them up.

I find it an interesting turn of mind that he has and also a powerful reminder that we don’t need to yell “Bad dog!” and “No!” to get our points across. If we really don’t want our dogs to have something, then it’s simple to teach them “leave it” and then redirect them to appropriate outlets. Any chance that a dog has to grab onto something we don’t want them to have is our fault not theirs. It may be a “bad” behavior in our eyes, but their just “good” at being a dog.

I’d be interested in hearing what you think Elbee is doing here. Do you think he’s asking for permission, or is he bored, or just demanding attention? Has it become a game to him and he is just playing his part? What kind of “bad” behaviors do you allow your dog just because they make you laugh?

I look forward to hearing from you.


8 thoughts on “The Good, Bad Dog

  1. Very cute story and a good point, Kevin.

    I think Elbee is doing what you taught him to do. Trading up! It’s a game of sorts (request for attention?) but also a learned behavior. He knows the game but does not necessarily understand the context that you’d intended.

    My dog Dune will bring my hiking shoes to me when he’s ready for a walk and also will occasionally pick up something inappropriate and bring it to me and growl and shake his head hoping for a rousing game of “I’m gonna get you!”

    • We’re at the point now where a trade up doesn’t always happen. However, even the Leave it provides attention and more often then not I let it serve as a reminder that he needs a bit more attention at this point in his life than the other dogs. In essence he is training me as well. 🙂 I probably won’t extinguish it just because it doesn’t really bother me and I want to see where it goes.

  2. I think it’s almost as if Elbee has decided that “swapping something of your for something of his is the way forward 🙂

  3. We have a dog training friend whose young lab stockpiles household items sort of like this. He doesn’t chew on them or anything. He just moves things very deliberately, like all of her shoes from the closet to his dog bed.

    As long as he doesn’t start doing it obsessively or doesn’t start resource guarding the items he moves, I think you are OK. It’s probably just a game.

    I did a magazine article recently on OCD in bully breeds and wrote about a dog who hoarded rocks, and it had become a real issue. The family could not distract him from the task. They could not take away his rocks without risking injury. The poor dog spent much of his waking time at the task. He was clearly suffering anxiety and the rock thing somehow soothed him and created more stress at the same time.

    • Roxanne my uncle had a German Shepherd that I believe had OCD. He would fetch, of all things, bricks. He would drop them on your foot if you did not throw it for him and would eventually sling his head and let the brick fly. Not a good situation for anyone.

  4. I heard of a border terrier that trained his mum to feed him every time he brought her a bit of plastic. His mum was concerned about the dog eating bits of plastic, and she would ‘trade’ the items for food. This soon resulted in the border terrier actually seeking plastic items and bringing them in, in order to get the reward of the trade.

    His mum soon wised up to the game, and stopped trading the plastic for food. The border terrier gave up on the game soon after, and never actually was interested in eating the plastic after all.

  5. I think Elbee is providing you with a great excuse – whenever you or your wife looses something you can say that Elbee must have moved it! This could come in really handy as you get older. 🙂

  6. Teaching “Leave it” should come with the dog adoption training course. We used it often with our poodle mix, Sydney (featured jumping).

    As for what your dog Elbe is doing, remember that possession is nine-tenths of the law with all dogs, plus dogs love sneaking things. Elbe seems to be showing you he’s a working dog with a job.

    Are you getting this on video? I’d love to wait him in action.

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