Monday, June 29, 2009

Making a bad behavior good

Often, there’s something we humans enjoy doing that just drives our dog nuts.
Maybe it’s a game of basketball or baseball, tennis, horseshoes or badmitton.
We’re focused on the activity, and the dog wants in on the fun too. But we give him no role in our sport. We expect him to watch from the sidelines, like a fan.
But he doesn’t. He barks and jumps around, he bolts into the playing area and chases after the ball. He disrupts the entire game, angering his humans. Maybe he even barrels into someone and knocks him or her to the ground.
At this point, we humans try to settle him down, but we’re angry. We yell at him to get, to go lay down. Maybe we grab his collar and drag him inside, while he tries in vain to struggle and get back in the game.
In time, the activity becomes a sort of trigger for the dog. He sees a basketball and instantly he is fixed on it, obsessed with it. As soon as we start bouncing it around, the dog starts behaving wildly and can’t think of anything but the basketball.
“Gotta get that ball. Gonna get that ball,” our dogs would say if they could talk. “Ball ball ball. Gotta get that ball. Get the ball. There’s the ball. Gotta get that ball. Ball ball ball."
We learn that we simply can’t allow him to be around anymore when we’re playing these games.
So we leave him inside, and from the window, he watches and whines. Perhaps he scratches up window ledge.
But do we have to keep him inside and away from our fun?
I say that in almost all circumstances, no, we don’t.
These types of activities create great opportunities for incorporating our dog into our fun. And if we can’t find a role for him in our sport, there is still a fantastic training opportunity presented by these situations.
The mental challenge of training him to behave in a particular way — perhaps sitting nicely on the sidelines for ten minutes and then getting a bone to chew on — will be a strenuous mental exercise for him and will likely do a great job of wearing him out.
Brent and I have always looked at Sensi as part of our family, and we like to include him in as much of what we do as possible.
For that reason, we’ve given Sensi a designated role in most of our favorite past times.
Read tomorrow to find out how to train your dog to play a game of pool.
It might not be the best thing for a precious table that can’t be scratched by dog nails, but if it’s OK with the table, it’s a pretty cool trick to show your friends.
Especially when your dog becomes a better pool player than you.

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