Sunday, March 9, 2014

Don't Let Him Do That!

This is my dog training motto, I've heard it countless times from trainers both online and in real life. It's in dog training books of all sorts, and something nearly everyone can agree on. At face value it can seem a little harsh, or just plain vague.
Brisbane takes the sport very seriously.
The purpose is to correct problem behaviors, things I don't like my dog doing. I don't like when he steals food off the kitchen counters, a behavior dog people like to call "counter surfing". "Don't let him do that!" isn't exactly a solution, but it's a route to a solution.

Even without a working understanding of behaviorism, I can begin brainstorming a list of ways to stop him from performing this behavior. (When I read Karen Pryor's Don't Shoot the Dog I was delighted to see the same thought process.) Even without classifying these as positive/negative, or reinforcement/punishment, or using dog training phrases like "train an alternate behavior", I can come up with a number of ways to prevent Brisbane from counter surfing.

1. Don't let the dog in the kitchen anymore.
2. Put up baby gates to keep the dog out of the kitchen.
3. Rig the counter with mousetraps or noisy pots and pans set to fall and scare him when he steals something.
4. Don't leave any food on the counter.
5. Tell him 'NO!' every time he stands up to investigate the counter.
6. Bait the counter with secretly yucky food so he gets a nasty surprise when he steals something.
7. Set up a Scat Mat on the counter to zap him when he puts his feet up there.
8. Set up an indoor electric fence to prevent the dog from entering the kitchen. 

Not all of these are good ideas. Not letting the dog in the kitchen or telling him to stop when he starts investigating the counters requires me to be present every time Brisbane has access to the kitchen, otherwise I end up teaching him to stay off the counters when I'm looking, listening, or paying attention. I could crate him or keep him leashed with me at all times if I felt this was the best way to prevent him from counter surfing. 

I've tried booby-trapping the counter, but it didn't teach him that counters are scary so much as it reinforced the idea that random, loud, frightening things sometimes happen for no reason. I'm much too easily distracted to remember to rig the trap every time I leave the kitchen, and as long as he has occasional success he will probably continue to steal stuff off the counter. Booby traps mostly just increase his anxiety level and lead to other problems.

Applying "Don't let him do that!" to Brisbane's counter surfing has ultimately meant training myself and everyone in the house to not leave food on the counters. It can be inconvenient for us, and it sometimes means Brisbane walks off with half a package of Oreos, but it's the solution that has been easiest to carry out. Briz has an incredibly strong stomach and seems to be able to eat just about anything with little to no ill effect (5 lbs of cat food at once, half a flourless chocolate cake, entire sticks of butter...) so right now this works for us. If he had digestive issues, were prone to pancreatitis, or got hives from eating allergens, I would have chosen a different solution. In the future I may have to alter my current method of managing this issue, but for now this works.

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