Dogs do not have Human Manners
No matter how much we like to think of dogs as being human, they’re not. There are certain behaviors we ask of them that are just not natural. When they see something they want to chase, they chase it. When an item of food magically appears on the ground in front of them, they grab it. And when they see something that excites them or makes them wary, they bark at it. These behaviors are part of a dog’s BIOS (basic input output system) and if we want them to behave differently, we have to show them rules that allow them to make sense of our world.
Teaching Human Manners to a Dog
So now that we’ve welcomed a dog into our home we have to figure out a way to reprogram their BIOS to follow our rules. Don’t chew on this. Don’t lay on that. Wait quietly before dashing out the door and mind your manners at dinner. All these concepts are foreign to dogs and if we want them to become happy members of our family, we have to show them how to get what they want using our rules.
For example, asking a dog to sit quietly before you let them outside is easily accomplished if you have more patience than your dog. By simply refusing to open the door until the dog settles into a sit, you reinforce the exact behavior you want by giving the dog the exact behavior it wants to indulge in. A “real life” reward. We can gradually ask for longer sits and calmer waits until we arrive at the exact behavior we want while still giving the dog the exact thing it wants. Information assimilated.
When the Rules are Bent the Behavior Breaks
When a behavior starts to fall apart, it can often be a simple shared trait between dogs, humans, and electricity that’s to blame; we all take the path of least resistance.
As humans, there are moments when it seems we have neither the time nor the patience to enforce the rules. We come home from a hard day and we’re tired. We just want the dog to go out and do its business. The dog is happy to see us and has a lot of pent up energy from being inside all day. You throw open the back door and the dog does three barking backflips and heads out the door at warp speed.
Now typically having this happen once in a while isn’t going to result in a dog who no longer remembers that waiting quietly at the door is the rule. But just like anything else in life, do this often enough and you’ve established a new pattern and eliminated the expectation.
We get agitated at our dog for misbehaving when what’s really happened is that we’ve bent the rule often enough that dog defaults to its own natural behavior. The dog is getting to engage in a more dog like behavior by jumping and yipping and yapping and they still get the reward of going outside. Why wouldn’t they choose this over the non-doglike, human alternative?
The Solution – Unbend the Rules
Luckily, the solution to the problem is simple, unbend the rules. Go back to the rule you established for a particular behavior and stick to it. The longer you’ve bent the rules, the longer it will take to get them back to where they were, but generally it won’t take as long as establishing them in the first place.
Just remember that you need a place to start and then increase the criteria slowly until you get exactly what you want for giving them exactly what they want.
And finally, don’t beat yourself up over it. We all allow our dogs to get away with things because we don’t have the patience or we think whatever their doing is just too darn cute not to let it go on. But remember, we’re the ones in charge of establishing and maintaining the rules, we can’t get mad at our dogs if we suddenly decide the rules are too much of a hassle.