I am at home waiting for a home delivery. The home delivery people had called ahead of time as requested and now both dogs are in my office in their crates.
I hear a knock on the front door and in unison with my “come in” I hear Rio barking. Ah, she probably wonders: who is at the front door and why is it that I am locked up in my crate and cannot come to say hi! She continues to bark and now Deuce has chimed in once he has heard that yes indeed there is now someone inside the home.
I wait for a few seconds of silence and then I walk into my office. Both are looking at me and still silent. Gooooood dooogs! I tell them as I exit the room and close the door.
Rio begins again. I think about my strategy and my options.
Sure, I can walk in there pretending to be furious and yell at them a couple of times in my best impersonation of a sergeant’s voice or I could also walk in there with a water bottle and spray both of them in the face, or use one of those popular pet correctors this one emitting a hissing sound that some dogs find very scary or I could….
I opt for a “nicer” option. Not only because (most of the time) I am a nice person but because I also know that instead of scaring my dogs by pushing my weight around with my bullying tactics, I can use this golden opportunity to teach them what I’d much rather that they do when I ask them to go into their crates and forfeit their meeting everyone that comes through the front door.
I wait again for a long silent pause from the two of them and once again, I march into my office carrying an (almost deadly-weapon)…big chunky slices of hot dogs!
I begin to toss them the hot dogs and as they eat them happily I walk out of the room. More silence… more hot dogs coming their way at different time intervals from one another.
By now the delivery has ended. I go back to let both dogs out of their crates and as I open Rio’s crate she just waits inside – no rush in getting out. Her coy expression asking for more hotdogs. I slip her one more piece just for being cute and we march out towards the front door so that they can act as pet-detectives and sniff around perhaps somewhat disappointed that they missed out in making new friends.
Tonight I will sleep very well. Not only because we now have a firmer mattress, but because I did not cave in to intimidation to get the job “done”. Instead, I followed what the science of animal learning has proven time and time again: we do not need to intimidate, create pain or discomfort to modify behavior. We can instead make it up to the animal and reinforce WHAT we WANT them to do!!
Doesn’t this make more sense? Why focus on the “problem” – a problem for whom may I ask? Instead of what we want our dogs to learn?
As an added bonus to me experiencing a warm-fussy feeling inside, my dogs are also feeling that warm-fussy feeling towards me. No scary owner, no yelling into submission – with nowhere to go (remember they are crated) instead they are left with a better understanding of what I would like them to do when they are in their crates.
The bottom line is that in my personal as well as my professional view, we must time and time again choose to teach with the knowledge that reinforcement works. The second point, when anyone acts according to their (moral) values they are not in a situation of conflict: love my dogs but I scared them/hurt them etc. and that is a great recipe for a good night’s sleep! Zzzzzzzzzz