Friday, 29 January 2016
Bad Dog... really?
I am doing a lot of pondering lately as we have a new puppy in the house - in fact she's currently sat on my desk lying across my arms. This makes typing... interesting.
Anyway... Bad Dogs... why do we seem to want to tell our dogs they are bad?
I think theres more to this than just wanting a dog to not do something or stop doing something... after all if that were all we wanted to achieve then 'come here' or ' lie down' would (if you have taken the time to train those things) achieve that goal.
We seem to want our dogs to understand that an action is inherently wrong, and thats a big problem because dogs don't have the same social and moral standards we do, and they never will.
I think it goes further than that though, I think most people deep down, understand that a dog is never going to be able to understand that chewing up the iPhone is wrong because an iPhone is very expensive, contains important information and is a pain in the rear to replace, or that Daddy worked very hard to pay for the iPhone and feels bad now he realises the insurance doesn't cover acts of dog and he is out of pocket...
Most folk realise these are concepts well beyond doggy comprehension.
I think, what it is, when we say 'bad dog', what we want is the dog to feel ashamed, to feel bad... its not training then is it? Its revenge. Its us lashing out 'you made me feel bad/lose something important/look stupid in front of my friends', I want you to feel bad, to feel worried that I am angry, to feel ashamed for your actions'...
We do this to children to but at least then, in most cases anyway, theres a 'why' involved.
'You did a bad thing because your actions made someone else feel/lose out on/etc'.. 'your actions hurt someone else'... 'you would dislike it if someone else did that to you'..
Thats why we do this with children (please note, I am not saying that is what we SHOULD do with children either, but at least with children theres the option for discussion and the understanding of empathy.)
There can be no discussion with a dog - I cannot tell Tatty-pup who is currently trying to bite my ear that she is a bad dog for doing this as it hurts me and she would not like it if someone hurt her ear... she's never going to be capable of that level of empathy!
She IS capable of understanding that if she bites me and I yelp in pain, then I'm going to put her down and stop playing with her or cuddling her, so that is what I'll do... but telling her she's bad, this would achieve nothing.
Except... if she really hurt me, and if I weren't a dog-geek, if she were misbehaving in public and people were looking on and judging me, probably, telling her 'BAD DOG, HORRID DOG' would make ME feel better...
So there's that - I think deep down or even, not that deep down at all - people tell dogs they are bad not because they think it will actually change the dogs behaviour or because they really believe a dog can understand such complex concepts... but because it makes THEM feel better.
Why is that important - well firstly if its you doing it - stop. Next time those words are about to come out of your mouth, ask yourself 'is this training my dog, or is it just revenge designed to make me feel better?'...
If you are a trainer and a client is doing this - they need to feel better, how can you help them do that, in a more appropriate manner? (Alternative behaviours are not just for dogs!).
As they say where I am from... think on!
As post script to this - it dawns on me (slow aren't I!)... for those who have dogs who will show appeasement behaviours or in otherwords 'the guilty look' (it isn't, we know that now).. those people have been rewarded haven't they!
They wanted their dog to feel bad, to feel ashamed, they told the dog off and hey presto, dog looks guilty and ashamed!
Dogs! Stop offering appeasement gestures to humans!