I’ve often talked about the fact that I rarely believe attitude, dominance, or willfulness are possible reasons a behavior I’ve cued doesn’t occur. To me there are far more plausible explanations that don’t involve a conscious decision by the dog to misbehave. However, there are times when it seems a battle of wills is joined and the outcome usually depends on one thing— patience.
My girl, Tosha, is pretty laid back, especially for an Aussie. She loves to meet people and is generally not suspicious of them. She does not feel the need to herd and control everything in her environment like my male Aussie Gavin does. And unlike all my other dogs, she picks a quite spot away from the clamoring crowd and patiently waits for any treats that come her way.
In fact, she is so laid back that we’ve never really gone too far with her training. She knows the basics like sit, down, stay, wait, leave it, and a few others. Her recall is good enough that I can call her back when she has escaped the fenced yard and gone “walk about” from more than a hundred yards away. But there is one area where she gets a wee bit worked up, when she can see dogs and other animals walking around outside her house.
Our house is surrounded by hay fields on three sides and for a good portion of the year a Shetland pony could be standing five feet away from you and you would not be able to see it. But when the fields are cut, not only is everything visible, it seems to be a cue for all the neighborhood free roamers to parade around the outside of our fence driving Tosha crazy. By the way, this really sucks at the crack of dawn o’clock.
Actually, I don’t have a problem letting her go out to bark at them, at least some of the time. I figure that never letting her go out to do what comes natural could turn the window into a huge frustration barrier.
This approach seems to work. She doesn’t bark and make a fuss every time she spies something. She doesn’t come running to get us to let her out. And while I may have to rumble a “quiet” or two her way, it’s rarely a battle. The battle of wills actually comes when letting her out to do her barking.
I require of all my dogs to sit and wait while I open the door for them to go out. My experience is that dogs can hurt themselves and people when stampeding out the door. My first Aussie, Sundown, blew out her ACL by charging out a door and jumping of the porch.
I put the dogs in a sit and then tell them to wait. I then slowly open the door and release them with an “okay.” The sit part is where Tosha sometimes has the problem. She gets so wound up she ignores the cues and looks right through me towards the door, ready to bolt through.
Now at this point I have many choices including repeating my cues, raising my voice, walking away and using a no reward marker like “too bad” along with many others. But the one I find most effective is to give the cue once and simply wait her out. If she walks away, that’s her decision, but I will stand there for as long as it takes for her to sit, settle, and calmly exit the door. If she tries to bolt when I release her I simply block the door and we start all over again.
I am choosing to let her know that her actions are affecting the outcome she wants. She makes the choice to comply or walk away. All it requires from me is a little time and patience.
I don’t see her behavior as mindful or willful or any such thing. I simply see it for what it is, a temporary lack of impulse control and a chance for me to reinforce the rules of the house by simply letting her choose to comply or not.
So what would you do in this situation? How do you view this type of behavior? As always we’d love to hear how you would handle this. Let’s learn from each other.