A Sure Way to be Wrong (but make the right decision anyway)!
I am usually the last one to say I know what a dog is thinking. Sure, it’s useful to to take a guess when trying to change behavior and I’ll normally give you that when Moose is looking at a squirrel she’s thinking about engaging with it in some way, maybe just chasing it for the fun of it but I doubt it. I mean she’s never claimed be a pure dogfoodatarian. But after you make your guess at what the dog is thinking and design your subsequent behavior around getting the behavior you want, be sure you’re getting the behavior you want. That’s the holy grail in training-getting the desired behavior. If the dog isn’t doing what you want your program isn’t working. Almost every time this happens to me it is a simple matter of not understanding what the dog’s reinforcement is.
A quick example. Often when we are out at the park and Moose is doing exactly what I want and I give her a click to treat her; guess what-Moose cares nothing about the delicious treat I want to reward her with. She is gone-BAM! Chasing that squirrel she’s been keeping her eye on throughout her very obedient sequence of behaviors. She knows, better than me in these cases, that a click ends behavior. Once you click, you pretty much have to accept whatever the dog wants to do. It can be aggravating, but that’s the situation.
Skeeter was a dog I agreed to pick up on December 19th. As you’ll remember, December 18, 2012 was the end of the Mayan Calendar or something and the world was supposed to end. I chose to believe it. Life was complicated and I had The Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!) hanging over my head. About the only hope I had was that the world would end, what with all of my responsibilities and the typical holiday stresses added on top of it. Believing that the world was going to end meant that I could actually have fun and not worry about the future for once. I could have fun making The Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!) as good as it could be. I could even take the time to go to my cousin’s wedding, which was on December 18th. Since I was sure that the world was going to end I could agree to anything-the joke would be on the universe, right? Well, unfortunately the world didn’t end and I wound up with this owner-surrendered Pappillon.
When I got Skeeter he’d been passed around pretty thoroughly. He’d been driven to the shelter, the director’s house, then to a foster’s house, then the shelter director drove him to a friend’s house who then drove him down to the Dallas area where I picked him up and drove him to Austin. Skeeter seemed to like being with me and quickly got adapted to clicker training. I had him doing some group things and he picked up on them quickly, basically doing whatever the other dogs were doing to get treats.
For quite a while Skeeter was skittish whenever we were in the car, and especially clingy at our destination. My guess was that he thought he was going to be given to someone else and left behind again. Who knows if that’s true, but he did enjoy the extra comforting hugs that he got as my experiment on what to do to make him feel better and more secure!
Those days are well behind us and his favorite place to be is his kennel. Once I pick it up he literally jumps into the open door and smiles up at me. Going into a kennel? “If my dog did that,” some people would say, “It’d be my favorite trick!”
I digress. The reason I bring up this idea of not knowing what a dog is thinking is that I’ve been doing some emergency packing lately and have noticed that Skeeter is watching me especially closely as this has been happening. He is once again getting clingy and I started going through why. Here’s the fantasy that I came up with that might be accurate. The poor little puppy was an only dog, and the owner surrendered him because she was moving into an apartment that didn’t allow dogs. Now obviously that’s the only place on earth that she could move to so I totally understand her giving up Skeeter but here’s the thing-I’ll bet (small sums only, PLEASE!) that Skeeter saw his mommy packing, and it was already stressful, and that’s when his bouncing around to strangers started. My guess is that the poor little guy associates packing with getting left behind. My solution? Lots more one-on-one daddy play time. He’s in my lap right now as I’m writing this.