January 11, 2015 by Julia
Frequently when someone outside of dog sports sees me training my dog, they’ll comment on how well trained she is and joke about having me take home their ill-mannered pup. The thing is, Delta’s house manners are far from perfect. What those joking folks don’t realize is that well-trained and well-behaved is not the same thing. Though I believe my New Year’s Eve guests have a good sense of that differentiation now.
To be clear – I’m not saying all dog sport people have rude dogs or skip teaching “house manners.” But there are a fair amount of us who focus on sports and let some “naughty” behavior slide.
Part of this is determined before we’ve even started training. High or “balanced” drive dogs are typically better suited for dog sports, so we’re less likely to be working with a quiet or timid personality. That means working with a dog that you have to actively reel in for politeness. When Delta was a pup, I tried to explain to my mom that we should keep the counters clear so that Delta wouldn’t be encouraged to surf. In her experience, you told a dog a couple of times and they stopped. It is safe to say that was not the case with Delta.
Another piece is, if we’ve done our work right, the dogs are accustomed to exploring and interacting with their environment. They’ve been rewarded for being nosy or putting their paws or mouths on objects. Delta’s first instinct at a vet’s office is to look over the counter. She’ll jump on low shelves to see investigate what’s there. Climbing on rocks, in boxes, jumping over small obstacles – all automatic reactions to her environment.
Their exposure and experience also matters. My friends and I will spend a lot of time exposing our dogs to different surfaces, buildings, being crated in various places. Exposure to babies or large crowds (that aren’t at a dog show) will happen naturally for those who have those things in our lives but we won’t necessarily seek it out. Delta went to a couple of large gatherings and saw some children when she was young but, as I eluded to earlier, her exposure has been fairly limited. At our New Year’s Eve party, she was restricted to a leash until the couples with babies said goodnight. She wasn’t too naughty when the group was just adults, but can you bet I pushed the snacks away from the very edge of the counter.
And finally, dog people can’t seem to help but encourage other people’s dogs to be naughty. Dog is not supposed to jump up? Most dog people I know are the worst offenders when it comes to encouraging it. And not the polite on-command jump that I’ve trained – they’re saying “Come and get me!” and getting climbed all over. Rough and tumble tugging, roughhousing, and illicit treats are all par for the course. When Delta went to her “play” agility event, I had her out by my chair for a little while. At one point she jumped up and put her paws on the chair in front of us, the couple she’d injected herself between just laughed and loved all over her.
The next time someone jokes that I should bring their dog home to teach them to behave, maybe I should show them how polite she is during downtime: