Sunday, December 6, 2015

How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Dog in One Easy Step

Just last month I wrote proudly about our dogs not begging at the table. Things can change in a blink of an eye, all it takes is one slip.

With Cookie being under orders for strict rest, her range of things to do has shrunk substantially. I do try my best to come up with games to play and last couple days she got to go out on short, low-key, mouse hunts, but in general what she should be doing for most of the day is to rest and relax.

When she showed interest in hubby's soda crackers while he was having lunch, we figured it would give her something to do so he shared some. She thought that mooching crackers off him was great fun. It gave her something to do alright. Now she shows up every time there is any food on the table. Oops.

All that it takes to ruin a perfectly good dog is to reward something you don't really want them to do.

Worked once, ought to work again, right? So now we have a dog begging at the table. Of course, given the circumstance we don't really have the heart to be strict about this stuff even though we know that each time we give in will make it that much harder to un-teach this new habit.

It IS kind of funny and cute and it does give her something to do ...

Every time we resolve it's the last time.

We do need to put a stop to this. At some point. Maybe tomorrow. Either way it will take some serious willpower to ignore her efforts.

To a dog, "just this once" doesn't mean anything.

All Cookie knows is that she batted her eyelashes and got a cracker while daddy was having lunch. Worked once, ought to work again, right? And so far it has.

Fortunately, it's not a major deal to us. But it illustrates how little it takes to teach a dog a bad habit.

The upside is, that teaching your dog things you do want them to do isn't really all that much harder.

It's all about well-timed, attractive enough reward. The goal, of course, is to teach our dogs more of the things we like and less of those we don't like. Most of the time, if your dog is doing something you object to, chances are you inadvertently taught them to do that at one point or another.

Instead of being mad at your dog, try to figure out what have you been doing to encourage that behavior.

It might not always be as obvious but trust me, it's there.

Related articles:
From The End Of A Lead Line To Casa Jasmine: Meet Cookie, Our New Adoptee
Creative Solutions And An Incidental Product Review
Taming Of The Wild Beast: Cookie's Transition To Civilization  
Staying On Top Of The Ears: Cookie Is Not Impressed  
Who's Training Whom? Stick And Treat 
Observation Skills Of Dogs  
If You Want Your Dog To Do Something, Teach It  
Tricks? It's Not Just About The Tricks 
What Constitutes The Perfect Dog?
Are Dog Training Classes Really For The Dogs?  
Look Where You Want To Go: Finding My Reactive Dog Training Zen Zone? 
Dog Training And Emotions 
Dog Training And Emotions: Postscript
Dogs Love Sentences In Question Form?
Not All Dog Trainers Were Created Equal Either 
A Thought On Separation Anxiety
Happy One-Year Adoptoversary, Cookie!
About Freedom, Trust And Responsibility: A "Pilot Study"
So, We Have A Bear 
About Happiness: What Makes Your Dog Happy? 
Our Example Of The Use Of "Look At That" (LAT) 
Why Do Dogs Dig?
Who Is In The Wrong?
Your Dog Wants To Follow You. You Just Gotta Be Going Some Place
We Still Have Two Dogs: A "Pilot Study" Part Two  
Early Winter Safety: Exploring New Territories
Cookie Is Okay. We ... Might Be, Eventually. (Don't Try This At Home)
One Thing I Love About Winter: I See What They "See" 
Give Your Dog What They Need, Get What You Want
Cookie, The First Of The Great Hunting Rottweilers  
Distance Is a Relative Concept  
Dog Communication: Be Good to Cookie or She'll Tell on You
The Benefit of the Doubt 
Putting The Guilty Dog Look To Rest?
The Stench of Fear: Is There Good and Bad Timing for Vet Visits? 
I am a Helicopter Dog Mom
Routines: Easy Come, Hard to Go
Mosquito Apocalypse 
Things Always Change: Cookie's Hunting Adventures 
The Advantage of Your Dog Not Barking All the Time: Cookie Saves Horses' Asses
"Look at That" (LAT) Game and Barking at Traffic  
The Role of Thresholds in Dog Training and Behavior
Dog Days of Summer: Keeping an Eye on Cookie 
Dog Days of Summer: Cookie Gets Her SprinklerThe Evolution of My View on What Is and Isn't Dirty
Not F***ing Cheerios, That's for Sure
Hi, My Name Is "No", What's Yours?
Dogs, Porcupines, Wasps and Learning
Mouse Hunting, Leash Pulling, Begging at the Table and Intermittent Reinforcement 
Self-Entertaining Dog? Dogs Need Interaction  
Dogs Are Always Testing the Waters 
Tick Alert: It's a Conversation if You're Listening


  1. I hope Cookie feels better soon! You are so right! It only takes one time for them to be reinforced for doing something you don't want. Some dogs can even be reinforced by their owner laughing, just like little kids. Management is so important and setting them up to win instead of fail.

    Great post!

    Have you been to Donna Hill's youtube page? She as a video about games to play for dogs who are on crate rest and you might find it helpful! :)

    1. She is getting better but it will be a while before she can go back to her life as it were.

      Yes, you're right, many things can provide reinforcement, even laugh. And in many sad cases, even punishment as a source of attention.

      Yes, I follow Donna's page and yes, we are playing many of those games.

  2. J does this with Zoey, because he thinks it's cute. Now she jumps up into my lap when I'm eating - not so cute now that she's fully grown. She's learning to wait patiently until I'm finished eating before demanding attention (and treats).

    1. The problem is, it IS cute LOL Cookie was always patient but since she's been "ill" rules got slacked.

  3. Well, Cookie's recuperation time just got a little more fun with getting to eat at the table now, eh? Hehehe. When I first adopted Blueberry, she never bothered me at all and almost acted like it was wrong to be near me whenever I was eating. Well, I like sharing my food and now she is a shameless beggar. She even tries to go up to strangers if they have any sort of food. When we walk past picnickers she always tries to stop - and with a red face, I coax her away. I don't mind it at home, but I know not everyone else feels the same way. On the plus side, if she ever (God forbid) gets lost, I know that she won't hesitate to approach someone if she gets hungry enough. ;)

    1. Yeah ... that's kind of why we let it happen :-)

      We always shared our food but AFTER the meal. So now the rules had changed a bit LOL

      That's the problem with these things - if it works one time, they expect it to work every time, they don't differentiate when it's appropriate and when not. That's why simple consistent rules are important.

      LOL love the plus side; makes great sense. So it's not bad behavior, it's survivor training :-)

  4. Aside from Cookie being forced to rest, this is an awesome post. With a funny story, you made the point of how powerful positive training is.

    I sure hope that Cookie is better soon!

    1. Thank you, KB Bear. She is feeling better but cannot be let back to her activity level until it not only feels better but is completely healed. So in the meantime she has to have most of her fun at home LOL

  5. I hope Cookie's crate rest won't be too much longer :-) I've given in to my girl Missy's asking for more lovings when she paws me for it. It is just too darn cute...

    1. They have this special power over us, don't they? :-)

  6. Our dogs stalk Rob whenever he eats french fries. I say, "You notice they don't do that to me." (Because I always eat all my fries). "You TRAINED them to do this!!"

    1. :-) Yep, every time a dog is doing something "wrong" it's important to look back at "what did I do wrong."

  7. OMD, so true. And what makes me crazy is when the person who reinforced the undesirable behavior complains about it.

    Yeah, that's fair.

    1. That is dumb but many people don't realize they are the ones who "taught" that.

  8. I actively encourage begging, but I do tell Ruby "don't be rude" so that she lays down, and Boca follows suit.