Imagine one morning you get to work. You boss starts shouting at you about being late as soon as you walk in the door, although it’s the same time you arrived the whole month before and it’s well before office opening hours.
You sit down at your desk as you always do and then he comes running from across the room, pushes you by the arm out of the chair, glares at you and angrily tells you to use a chair from the kitchen today. Hopefully this isn’t a typical day for most of us…
Confusing? Certainly. Frustrating. Absolutely. Inconsistent. Yes-sirree. But at least both of you speak the same language.
Now imagine the premise of this scenario which many dogs face. One moment they’re being fed roast chicken skin from the table when they make whiney noises under a chair. But the day stern Auntie Marg comes to visit, the dog is admonished by the owner for the same begging behavior. Or a dog that is invited onto the bed on the day the laundry is due to be done, but told off for jumping up there at other times.
Confusing? Certainly. Frustrating. Absolutely. Inconsistent. Yes-sirree. With an additional consequence added for the dog – fear of doing the wrong thing, which creates a lack of confidence and certainty. If you’re not sure of doing the right thing you’re certainly not going to be sure of doing a lot of things, to avoid punishment – whether it be verbal or physical.
The thing is, dogs don’t know when it’s washing day compared to when the sheets are clean. They also don’t know about social etiquette as not jumping on the couch they usually lie on when a visitor comes around. That’s their spot. From their perspective they’re allowing the visit access to and sharing their couch space.
We expect our dogs to intuit, deduct, instinctively understand or at best guess what the rules are. Isn’t it far kinder to them to make one rule and stick to it? If the outcome you want is a dog that is well behaved, which in my experience is what most people want from their companion animals, then you’re better off thinking about the rules you make and being consistent in their application (I have chosen not to use the word ‘enforcement’ here.
I personally don’t like cleaning very much and therefore don’t allow my dog to sit on the furniture. However, he has his own dog bed and comfortable mattress in the lounge which he is free to sit, lie or play on. When guests come, they can sit on the couch in peace without being covered in dog hair or have their face licked as they sip their cup of tea – and the dog knows exactly where he has to be, though sometimes the excitement is just too much for him and I have to lure him back to the mat which is also okay. Nobody’s perfect! I’m not saying dogs shouldn’t go onto furniture as it’s a personal choice – but it doesn’t work for me and I therefore make it a consistent rule for Zac.
For a happy dog that understands the rules, make them wisely and apply them kindly and consistently. For as American politician Lincoln Chafee said: “Trust is built with consistency”. This lesson applies as much to dog training as it does to running election campaigns. With dog training involving a lot less barking and jaw snapping of course.