We get a lot of questions about dogs who misbehave …. dogs who counter surf, raid the garbage, destroy the flower beds, run away when called. You might know a dog like this, or it could even be your dog. One thing we all know is that our dog’s misbehaviour can be frustrating! You have spent hours teaching your dog what not to do, but he still does it. That’s what I’m covering in the video below.
When your dog does something like raid the garbage or destroy the cushions, and you walk in on it, it’s natural to think that your dog knows better as he looks guilty or does not even greet you.
It’s like the dog is blowing you off, giving you the middle doggie digit, or even being just plain vengeful. Or, maybe the dog is just plain stubborn. You might know a dog like this. You might even have a dog like this. When you see your dog has done or is doing something he should not, you feel frustration, maybe a bit of anger mixed in with disappointment. And it becomes a session of judgement… someone is to blame and that someone is the dog because he is guilty.
What if we suspend the feelings of frustration, anger and judgement for a short while when looking at all the naughty behaviours our dogs do. I take my view on life from Dr. Wayne Dyer … and his belief is that people are doing the best they can with the education they have and the environment that they’re put in. I believe our dogs are doing the same. Our dogs are doing the best they can with the education we have given them, in the environment we’ve asked them to perform in.
With anything your dog is doing at any point in his life; what if it’s the best he can do? If he takes a toy and does not bring it back, if he ignores you calling him, if he chases the neighbour’s cat … what if it’s the best he can do with the education you have given him, in the environment he is in at that time? Sometimes it can be really difficult to believe that it is the best your dog can do!
Let’s take something your dog knows how to do, but didn’t originally know how to do it automatically. Potty training is a good example. When our puppy or rescue dog first comes home, there may be a couple of accidents. But eventually we help our dog to understand that we want him to potty outside. We don’t go all “cray cray” on our puppy yelling at him for having an accident, because we understand he is doing the best he can and any accident is on us, because maybe we fed him and didn’t take him outside. We understand we are in this together with our puppy or dog and will have success.
As time goes by we are certain our dog is housetrained, but he then has an accident inside… we instantly think he is not well, and head straight to the vet. We believe our dog is doing the best he can, so this accident is not his fault.
So what is the difference between something like housetraining and chasing deer? The difference is that every distraction we add to our dog’s behaviour, we are adding a layer of complexity. With potty training, your dog grows to distinguish the difference between inside and outside because you know the steps and how to set him up for success.
Adding Complexity to Behaviours
Let’s look at a seemingly simple behaviour. “Sit” is something nearly everyone will train their dog to do. Most likely your dog will sit every time you ask when you have a cookie and are in your kitchen. But then you are in the backyard and ask your dog to sit, but you don’t have a cookie … chances are that sit is not going to happen.
Performing the behaviour in the backyard where there might be birds, squirrels, or the neighbour’s dog running back and forth is a different environment to being in the kitchen with you holding a cookie. It’s a massive increase in complexity for the dog that he has not been prepared for yet in his education.
There are layers of learning to any behaviour we want to teach our dogs, and distractions are added strategically to protect our dog’s confidence and grow his capability to perform the behaviour anywhere. Layering the learning leads to our dogs being able to make complex decisions in the face of distractions.
Your dog is doing the best he can with the education you have given him, in the environment you’ve asked him to perform in.
But Susan, My Dog Really Does Know Better!
It is important to understand that dogs are great at figuring out patterns of reinforcement. Dogs are also great at figuring out patterns of punishment, and they want to avoid that punishment. That’s why your dog might appear ‘guilty’, but in reality all he is doing is avoiding punishment. If he has destroyed the cushions and you come home and he does not greet you at the door, it’s not because your dog feels guilty. It’s because the association of bits of cushion on the floor and you coming home means to the dog it is not going to be a good welcome home and it’s best to avoid you because it’s a pattern for punishment.
I’m going to ask you how would your training change if you believe your dog is doing the best he can? What does that idea do when you turn the magnifying glass on yourself? When we think our dog is doing his best, we can ask ourselves the critical questions like: Did I put my dog in the right environment? Did I give him enough education?
If you’re honest with yourself, you can consider that you didn’t give your dog the right education, that you gave him too much freedom that he was not ready for, and you put him in an environment where he did not have enough experience with to be able to make good decisions.
It’s like you gave your 16 year old kid the keys to your Maserati the same day you gave him the keys to your liquor cabinet …. that’s too many choices and some bad ones are going to be made …. and that’s what happens with our dogs.
You might be thinking “all right, Susan, I’m going to believe you, my dog is doing the best he can …. what do I do now?”. The most important thing is to change the way your dog’s education happens, and from where I stand that education begins with games.
The first thing you can do is browse around my blog and try a search on any word that comes to mind that you would like to know more about …. layers and games and reinforcers might be good words to start.
Another option for you is the Inside Scoop Facebook Group (it’s a subscription group by Facebook that is $10 USD per month) where I’ve contributed on the topic of dog training and my friends Dr Karen Becker and Rodney Habib contribute on the topics of health and research.
The next thing to do is register on our Recallers program waitlist and while you are waiting, we’ll get you started with games you can play with your dog.
It’s The Same Mindset For Dog Sports!
This same mindset applies wholeheartedly to any dog sport! Say it’s agility and your dog knocks bars, breaks start lines, jumps off contacts, slows down, sniffs, makes up his own course … you could be annoyed and say “he’s blowing me off” or “he knows better” …. or you could say “he’s doing the best he can with the education I’ve given him in the environment I’m asking him to perform”. The latter is going to help you turn things around to see how you can grow amazing behaviours for agility (or the dog sport you want to enjoy with your dog). Join our Agility Nation and Handling360 notification lists and we’ll let you know when we are next running a Masterclass and when the programs are open to join.
There Is Nothing You Can’t Overcome
Once you adopt the mindset that your dog is doing the best he can, and you apply the gains in your dog training, there is nothing you can’t overcome. I don’t care how old your dog is, and I don’t care what past relationship you’ve had with that dog, because I know it can change today. Take a look at the links I’ve provided here for you. I’m really excited to help you on this journey to a new relationship and a better behaved dog.
Today I am grateful for everyone who has embraced the mindset that their dog is doing the best he can.