A decade ago, when I was still active in AKC dog sports, I’d spend each summer at Dawn Jec’s dog-training camp in Puyallup, Washington. It was fabulous. We’d talk all week about the minutia of dog behavior. Dawn would go around the room asking each of us what we wanted to work on that week. Lots of people wanted to fix problem behaviors in their dogs. They’d say, “I want my dog to stop doing…” this, or that, or the other thing.
And then Dawn said something that changed how I thought about “bad behaviors” forever. She said, “If you don’t want the dog to bark at the neighbors, and if you don’t want him to dig in the yard, and if you don’t want him to chew the furniture, and if you don’t want him to chase the sheep, then what DO you want him to do? ” In other words, we couldn’t just expect the dog to stand still all day. LOL. We couldn’t just keep the dog crated all day (ok, that does happen in some horrible situations). We had to start thinking about what behaviors were okay with us.
Now, I think about that all the time. For example, if I’m pushing a wheelbarrow and the dog is trying to herd it / barking at it (behaviors I don’t want) I will pick up a stick, hand it to the pup and say, “Have a stick.” Once they’re older I can just tell them, “Go get a stick.” Then they either run with the stick, try to take it from each other, or lie down and chomp it to bits. These are all behaviors that are fine with me and I can continue with the wheelbarrow, unimpeded.
Another example of this is when I go to feed our free-range birds. If a young pup is just too nosy with the hens, sticking his nose into their butts or upsetting the geese (behaviors I don’t want) I tell the pup to “look for a mouse” (a behavior I do want). It’s not really that we have mice everywhere. It’s simply an activity that’s ok with me.
They know the word “mouse”, because whenever I see them digging and really excited, I say, “Is that a mouse?” It’s fascinating how quickly they understand that word. I hope this helps you and your pup.
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