A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste - By Glenda Herrin, ABC Mentor Trainer & Owner Of Heeling Hounds

Saturday, January 30, 2010 : 12:34:21 PM
Updated Friday, August 12, 2011 : 10:55:35 AM
While it’s important that we make the big, day-to-day decisions for our dogs, such as when to eat, how much to eat, when and where to walk, when and how to play, and so on, they also need to have the opportunity to think for themselves, make decisions for themselves, and choose what behavior they will pursue based on what the consequences will be. For example, a dog should develop enough self-discipline to weigh the options of whether to be nice to the family cat or eat the family cat, and know that being nice to the cat will result in positive reinforcement like praise and possibly treats from the pack leader, whereas eating the cat will result in admonishments, negative punishment (a training term, meaning “the removal of something the dog likes,” like human attention), and an unhappy pack leader. It is especially tempting to coddle dogs who may have had difficult histories or illnesses in the past, because that’s how we nurture human beings back to health, but too much protection, indulgence, and affection will produce a dog that is allowed to get away with whatever he wants with no consequences. As I told a recent client who had a gorgeous Doberman Pinscher that had had a rough start in life, even though the dog survived some shaky times in the past, she’s now a beautiful, healthy, strong, amazing girl. The dog is not obsessing about what happened when she was three months old, and she’s certainly psychologically strong enough to begin following some basic rules and boundaries and learning to be polite. Don't let your dog hold past illnesses or difficulties over your head—it would be the same thing as me milking my immobilization after the shoulder surgery I had last summer to repair a torn rotator cuff: my husband was amazing at taking care of me, cooking meals, taking care of the dogs and cats, running the household, and fulfilling all our other obligations. It would be selfish of me and somewhat manipulative to demand that he still do all those things for me even though I’m now healthy enough to do things for myself, and that’s how we can look at it with our dogs—they won’t ever learn to make decisions for themselves if they’re not challenged to think for themselves and make choices based on what the consequences will be.

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