Your Dog is not Stupid!

I have a black Labrador. His name is Zulu, and I love him! He has the most lovely nature of any dog I have ever owned. When he looks at me with those gorgeous ebony eyes, all I see is utter love and devotion. Those eyes show me that all he wants in his life, is to do everything he can to make me happy; and most of the time he has, but that hasn't always been the case.

When we first had Zulu, he didn't understand the concept of house hygiene. He was two years old when he arrived and had never set foot in a house; up to that point he had been a yard dog, and so house rules on toilet hygiene had never been a priority to him. How was I going to tackle the daunting task of getting Zulu house trained? I made many mistakes and ended up getting very frustrated, not with Zulu, but with myself. Then it clicked! I needed to stop thinking like a human and think like a dog.

Whether you believe humans have evolved from lower life forms, or whether you believe we were created in the image of God, the fact remains that humans have an intelligence that is totally different to any other life form on this planet. I personally believe the latter. Having said that though, when I see the stupidity and senselessness that is the hallmark of so many humans in the world, the former appears more normal! However, I digress! If I am to understand my dog, I need to understand his thought processes; and this is what I find.

The biggest problem for your dog are the mixed messages

Think about it. Whenever your child, or your husband or wife, says or does something that disagrees with your principles, it will either develop into a blazing row, or a sensible discussion to get the issue resolved; by the power of reason you reach a point of agreement, and then get on with the rest of your life, knowing you are all the wiser. By discussion, you will probably reach a point of compromise. 
You realize that not everything is black and white, and thus find the grey, that's the human way.

Your dog sees everything as black and white. It's either good or it's bad, positive or negative, right or wrong. Your dog does not have the capacity to presume or reason your instructions; you are either happy with him, or you are not.

So. How do we apply this?

Well, let's keep on the subject of toileting. As you are reading this article, you are probably familiar with the following scenario. You get up in the morning, walk to the kitchen, and splat!! You tread on a dollop. Your immediate reaction would probably be to raise your voice and get very angry because all you want to do at that point is to get to the kettle and make a cup of tea. The last thing you want to do is get the shovel and bleach out! You call your dog and show him his "mistake". You point at the "mistake" and rant at him, scream at him; he can see you are not happy. So you tiptoe past the "Mistake " and put the kettle on. As the caffeine takes hold, you begin to feel like life is not so bad, clean up the" mistake"...................and then feed the dog. Do you see what you have just done? First of all you have shown your dog that you are unhappy with him; but hey ho.... you then reward him and then assume your dog has understood all the messages you have given him.

Of course, you need to feed the dog, but the negative and the positive have to have clear dividing lines. Sure, tell your dog off, let him see you are angry. As you wipe your feet, keep emphasizing his wrong. As you prepare your caffeine fix, shun him, have nothing to do with him, after all the wrong is still wrong, time isn't healing this situation.

As you clean up the mess, change the tone and gradually resume eye contact. "What's This?", "Who did this?". Everything is clean again. Keep maintaining eye contact and change your expression; return the love he longs to see from you. Give him a ton of love and affection, feed him, and then forget.

This may seem over-simplistic, but it does work. As long as you keep the positive and negative events as separate as possible, your beloved pet has a better chance of differentiating between the two events; the mess is bad, no mess is good.

Give it a go. You can apply this to all situations, whether it barking, biting and general disruptiveness, the more black and white your instructions are, the better