Management Is Your Friend!
Years ago, I knew a dog trainer who spent hours training her dogs and they were very well behaved.
Every day, this trainer would give each dog a bully stick and have them go to their prospective mats to enjoy their treat. And every day, the youngest one would finish hers, wait until the woman had left the room, and go steal one of the other dog’s chew.
The woman told me about this and said, “I just don’t understand it! I have trained her to stay on her mat but she keeps getting up and stealing the other dog’s chew!” I replied that perhaps she should find another solution. “No!” she said, “I have trained her to stay and she should do it!
We all think about our dogs this way at some point or another and it is not realistic. The young dog kept getting up to steal a bully stick because getting that chew was so much more reinforcing than staying on the mat. And every time she got away with it, she was reinforced even more.
Well, you might be thinking, why not punish the dog for getting up? Why not use a shock collar or hide around the corner and yell at her when she gets off her mat? The woman could have done that, but the danger of such punishment having unintended consequences would be too great. If you scare your dog on purpose, she can start to be afraid of you and that hurts your relationship. If the woman had used a shock collar and remotely shocked the dog, several things could have happened. If the dog was just starting to get up from the mat when she got the shock, she could have associated the sensation with being on the mat. Then she really would not want to stay on it! Or if she was looking at the other dog when shocked, she could associate the pain with that dog and become aggressive towards him. It just isn’t worth it.
So, how do you solve a problem like this? The woman could have made sure she was in the room until all the dogs had finished their chews and then released them, but that might not have been practical. Other very simple solutions would have been to either put the young dog and her mat in whatever room the woman was going to be in, or to train the dog to go in a closed crate to enjoy her treat.
We can stress ourselves unnecessarily with unrealistic beliefs that our dogs should do what we want simply because we want them to, or we can combine humane training, such as going willingly in to a crate, and simple management techniques, so we can live more peacefully and happily with our best friends.