In a dog daycare setting, you see other people’s pets at their naughtiest. Mom and dad aren’t there to enforce the rules, and “everyone else is doing it” tends to apply; once one dog starts digging a hole, suddenly everyone is digging. One barking dog gets everyone barking. (Not that there’s much wrong with digging or barking–these are normal dog behaviors that I would redirect instead of outright squash.)
But a lot of these urban pets lack manners on top of that.
These dogs’ people have a lot of reasons for this. “She’s bossy,” or “he’s too excited all the time.” Or, the most common one: “He’s just really stubborn!”
Here’s a super amazing secret: this has nothing to do with the dog. Any one of those dogs could have excellent manners very easily, and it has nothing, nothing, nothing to do with them, at all.
You, their person, just aren’t worth very much.
Dogs are highly sensitive. They are bombarded by a million stimuli that we do not notice. They can hear things and smell things from, literally in some cases, a mile away. They can hear what is happening underground and smell the frustration on your breath. There is so. Much. Happening. in their world.
So you bring your dog outside and she starts sniffing, because that’s how dogs do, and also down the street someone’s barking inside the house, and also on the next block someone is using a leaf blower, and there’s a soccer game at the school a half mile away. But you need to get your keys out, so you tell her to sit.
Does she ignore you?
Have you practiced sit inside with lots of rewards? With fewer rewards? With no rewards? Did you go back to using lots of rewards while you introduced mild distractions, like the presence of cookies loose on the countertop nearby? Did you fade out using lots of rewards in that circumstance? Did you work up to working with cookies on the floor? Tossing a ball while she’s in a sit? While your cat eats on the floor next to her? Did you then take that whole game outside and start from the beginning? Because that’s how you make that “sit” valuable and easily doable for your dog in lots of different environments.
Have you done that work?
Then whose fault is it that she doesn’t immediately sit? I don’t think it’s because she’s stubborn.
I think it’s because listening to you is a job that’s too hard on a way-too-low pay grade. You haven’t made that sit–and working with you–valuable enough to your dog.
This sounds like a lot of work, but it isn’t. All of those steps above, in bold? You can go through those in a few weeks to a few months, in five-minute increments, depending on you and your dog.
Beyond the Backyard by Denise Fenzi is a great place to start. I’m going to be teaching a class on this curriculum at Four Paw Sports this summer, so stay tuned.