25 Aug The Spanish Lady…
It’s a beautiful morning in the park, kids are playing on rugs with mums and dads, dogs are jumping up after frisbees and the music is barring from the Sydney Park Cafe. There are bikes, scooters and dogs racing along the path and we weave in and out with Beans and Tac heading back to the car.
I notice a large golden dog to my left bouncing through the bushes, leaping over flowering native beds, sniffing the leaves, nose plowing through the winter mulch. A woman, the owner, suddenly lunges at the dog and grabbing it by the collar pulls it off the garden and onto the grass. She knees down, her mouth at the dog’s ear and in Spanish begins to point the dog’s head first at the flower bed and then down to the concrete path. She’s pointing and speaking slowly with great intent and to me the meaning is clear.
“You don’t run through the garden but walk on the path’.
This dog owner is trying to ‘set’ boundaries with her dog. She is pointing out that she doesn’t want her dog running through the bushes, trampling the plants and maybe being covered in clinging foliage. Now the reason this won’t work is not because the lady owner is speaking Spanish, but because She thinks her dog understand her and that the reinforcement of a pointing finger is going to be instructional for the dog.
Heather cracks a joke about the dog holding up a sign that says ‘Si’.
It’s not funny really as so many dog owners really seem to think if they just keeping saying it somehow the dog will get it. Well, I’m telling you it didn’t work with my boys and I kept saying ‘pick up the wet towels’ every day until they left home and I’d have to check in with my two daughter-in-laws to find out if they are still saying it.
Boundary setting for dogs is not complicated. First decide the house rules, no jumping onto the couch, no pinching clothes off the floor, pulling the tea towel off the hook. Once you have made a decision what are the boundaries, then you sign a ‘command word’ to that rule.
Not jumping on the furniture might be ‘off’, because the command word ‘Down’ might mean ‘lie down’. You might use ‘leave’ when you want your dog to drop the sock, because you used the command word ‘Drop’ to meanest on your mat.
Once you have decided what the house rules are, what the boundaries are, and you have your list of common words, then those are the words you use every time. You put a ‘word’ to the action. Dogs learn by ‘Repetition and Association’, one sound to one action, then ‘Praise and Reward’.
Every time your dog does the correct thing, gets off the couch, drops the sock, you reinforce the behaviour with lots of praise and a treat. The reward has to be instant or the dog won’t understand the reward is for getting off the couch or dropping the sock. And there has to be constancy. The one time you let your dog sit on the couch you have undone all the times you gave the command and the reward.
In time the dog will understand there is no payoff for jumping on the couch, for grabbing the sock, but there is a heap of praise for not jumping on the couch or chewing on the sock.
Dogs are not stupid. They will learn the correct thing to do as quick as they will learn the wrong thing to do. It is up to you to decide the behaviour you want and to enforce that with praise and reward.
Penned by Hannah Collins