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Just Exactly What Are You Teaching Your Dog?

Author: Andrea Obey | Date: November 14, 2012

I heard a rather funny story the other day from one of my coworkers at the animal hospital.  She has a friend who wanted some tips on keeping her dog busy during the day by means of enrichment.  Together, they came up with some ideas, which included hiding food throughout the house for the dog to find.  Mom placed kibble all over the house including on bookcases and other places a little high up so the dog had to use her nose and a little exercise to reach up and find it.  Not too long after doing this, the dog started digging in the garbage, counter surfing, getting into the pantry, etc.  So, what happened?

Bless this owner’s heart for wanting to do the right thing and give her dog enriching things to do during the day to keep her mind active.  Little did she know she was teaching the dog to do other less desirable things like counter surfing.  It was successful for her dog to use her nose and look up on the bookcase for food so why not the pantry?  Hey!  There’s food there too!  Mom put food on the bookcase for me and it smells like mom put food on the counter for me too. Mom certainly couldn’t blame the dog or be mad at her for a behavior she taught the dog.  And man!  I’m sure getting into the garbage was really rewarding!  There are all kinds of good, stinky things in there! Unfortunately, most of those stinky foods can mean a trip to the animal hospital.

If you think about it, most undesirable behaviors are a lot like this story.

Take jumping for example, which is one of the most common behaviors that usually drive us nuts.  Little puppy jumps up on you, you give it attention, that move was successful, viola!  Dog finds food in bookcase that was placed there for her to find, dog gets yummy food, dog follows her nose to counter, dog gets yummy food, Eureka!

Definitely don’t stop doing enriching things for your pet (this applies to kitties too!) for fear of teaching an unwanted behavior.  It is so much fun to be creative and learn together but keep the basics in mind when teaching new behaviors. Practice being very mindful about what you are teaching your dog and what you are letting your dog practice. Ask yourself questions like, “Do I really want my dog to know how to do this?  Could this be a dangerous scenario if I teach Max to jump over something that is the same height as our fence?  Sure it’s cool that Roxie can get me a soda from the refrigerator but what says she won’t stop before she gets to the turkey dinner?”

Do you have a similar story to share here?

I’m going to guess there are some agility dog owners out there that have interesting stories about finding their dogs on the kitchen table.


    1. Amy in Chicago says:

      Actually, I have two agility dogs and neither of them jump on people, sofas, tables, counters or chairs, although they easily could. It is all about the behavior that you encourage or reward. In the house, we only practice jumping over an agility jump. They are not asked or encouraged (or permitted) to jump on anything else. In agility class and outside, they get treats for jumping on the table (it is a specific type of “obstacle” in agility). And when they aren’t sure – like when we go to the chiro vet and she brings out a box for the dog to stand on – they look to me for instruction. Dogs are super smart – – they “get” the fact that location matters.

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