My dog has muddy paws

There have been more comments about pets and their owners personality following the comment I posted in The Conversation. This is a digression about pet ownership and parenting styles.

Brendan Young posted:

Interesting reading. I am just curious as to how you handled the “under-controlling parents”? Could you change the level of control over the dog without referring to the level of control of the children? Were you able to get positive results with the dog’s behaviour?

I replied:

Thanks for your comments. It’s a bit delicate of course, because it’s not my job to tell people how to raise their kids. Some people make the connection themselves. Teachers often recognise what I am doing, and they will say, for example, “oh, that’s what we do with the kids – distract them” or whatever the technique is.

Kindergarten teachers will recognise “mat time”.

Yes I have a lot of success with getting good results for dog behaviour. There is one thing your dog can be doing right – lying quietly on the mat – and an endless number of things he or she could be doing wrong if allowed to charge around the house uncontrolled. And it takes a lot less energy to train a dog to go and lie down on the mat than it does to run around the house all day chasing the dog and yelling at it every time the dog steals your dirty socks and undies, or gets into 101 other types of mischief or mayhem.

But kinder kids and dogs need both quiet time on the mat and active play time. The trick is to get it happening in the right place at the right time.

On occasions “under-controlling parents” put me in a position where I had to intervene directly with their child. Once at puppy class a child of 3 or 4 was playing on the puppy play equipment. I asked her calmly and reasonably to get off, because it was for puppies, not for kids. It wasn’t strong enough for her and I didn’t want her to get hurt.

Response: selective deafness, continued play. Just like a puppy in the park, really. With my credibility on the line (maybe tonight’s puppy class was about the principle “give your command just once, then follow through”) I calmly and gently picked the child up, and placed her, without a word, on the seat next to her parents. Nobody said a word. The class continued and there was not a peep from the little girl. I don’t know whether the mum and dad changed their parenting style.

On another occasion, I was working at home with a girl and her quite unruly dog. Her younger brother was being jealous and disruptive. From time to time, the mother would yell at him, to little effect. He was riding his trike into to dog, or throwing a ball to try to distract the dog away from our training.

So I said, “that’s great Jack” (or whatever his name was) “thank you for helping us train Coco. Can you run up and down past her really fast, so we can teach her to sit and not to chase you?” At first he couldn’t believe his luck. Being invited to behave badly! After a few goes (“that’s great Jack, now wave your arms around” or “thanks Jack, now yell as loud as you can when you run past”) Jack became bored and wandered off to do his own thing. Coco had a few opportunities to be rewarded for sitting instead of chasing and grabbing him. The mother ignored us, probably glad to have someone else dealing with her kids for a while.

Brendan Young posted:

The psychology of kids, parents and pets is still fascinating to me. I guess my curiosity was sparked mainly about a corgi we had as kids, a few lifetimes ago, that was so excitable that whenever allowed inside he would knock over everything and never tire or calm down. He had what I saw as a fairly miserable life because of it, being left outside most of the time, punctuated with uncontrollable excitement, even as he grew older, of occasional visitors and some camping holidays and summers at the beach. It is a little sad to think that with some simple training – for him, for our parents, and for us fairly unruly kids – his behaviour could have been improved, and his life much more rewarding as a result. We live and learn I guess. Thanks for the response and the chance to reflect.

I replied with this comment:

Yes it is sad that problems which make the dog unbearable to live with can be solved relatively easily.

The Lost Dogs Home a few years ago published a report saying that one of the top reasons people gave for surrendering their pets was “muddy paws”.

I “deconstructed” this by saying the dog has never been trained to follow a few simple house rules, such as come in and settle down on your mat, and sit to say hello instead of jumping all over people. Therefore the dog gets put outside. Therefore the dog gets more and more excited about coming in. The dog gets even less training because he or she is outside, to avoid contact. Except that Mum can’t hang the washing on the line without being jumped on. The kids can’t play outside any more without being knocked off their feet, and by the time the “Christmas puppy” has become an unruly adolescent it is winter – hence the “muddy paws”.

Unmanageable inside, unmanageable outside. Lost Dogs Home, here we come.

About transformational1

I have many interests and I have had a varied career. I am a semi-retired professional dog trainer, specialising in the use of positive reinforcement. I do some consultations, I run instructor workshops and I am setting up a Dogs and Psychotherapy Research Project. I have a law degree from Melbourne University (but have never practiced) and I am passionate about Human Rights. My first degree was in Sociology. I worked as a social researcher on issues such as low income housing, women's refuges and women in the workforce. I live in an inner suburb of Melbourne, Australia, and I have a German Shepherd called Chance.
This entry was posted in Behaviour problems, Dog training, Dogs, Dogs and children, Human-animal bond. Bookmark the permalink.

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