…and how I learned the hard way
It’s really hard to resist the urge to punish the dog verbally, especially when they are doing something that is not only wrong but also potentially dangerous. Patricia McConnell suggested in one of her books that it has more to do with letting off steam and appeasing our own anger than with anything even vaguely resembling training. But still, it’s just really hard.
For example: despite her training my dog cheerfully walked into the street. My reaction? I shouted at her. She stopped. I did some more shouting. She lied down.
She lied down in the middle of the zebra.
Why? Firstly, despite all the sounds I was making I did not give her any clear instructions. I think she figured out I was unhappy but that’s not a cue or even a clue. Secondly, I must have looked pretty scary to her, no wonder she decided not to approach me.
Luckily we lived in a very quiet neighbourhood with few cars so I had the seconds necessary to put my thinking cap back on, change my body language and tone and make her come to me. I hope I rewarded her plenty for coming back. The whole scene lasted probably less than half a minute but it felt like ages to me…
I’m sure that everyone who has a dog (or a child for that matter) has been in a similar situation. Frustration management is a problem for all of us, humans and dogs alike. Situations like this clearly show that shouting does not solve any problems. The biggest lesson I took from this experience is, well, not shouting at her. But there are other lessons.
First of all, did this have to happen? No. This situation was 100% my fault. She should not have been off the leash in that situation at all because a) I was talking on the phone, and b) we have only started practicing staying on the pavement.
Roads and pavements are just one of these things, just like walking shoulder to shoulder or facing each other during greetings, that are so very natural to us that we tend to make the assumption that dogs should also know what they mean. But my dog has most probably spent her whole life scavenging the countryside, how should she know? The key to being a successful companion is managing their environment and setting them up for success.
In our case that means that I do not talk on the phone when she’s off the leash and – after months of practice – I still let her walk the streets freely only when I can totally focus on her. And I try my best to not lash out because if she ‘misbehaves’ it is because I haven’t taught her a better behaviour.