Posts Tagged ‘morals’

It’s all just semantics after all, you could be saying “yellow,”  “apple” or even something like “rotten tomato” to your dog and it wouldn’t make a difference to him as long as the words are a tip off of something pleasant.

So why does it matter then whether you say, or think, in terms of “thank you” rather than “good boy?” I think it helps us humans a great deal when we’re thinking about rules and expectations for our dogs.

Let’s say you and your dog are walking along outside and you see a neighbor you’d like to chat with, but she’s (for some strange reason) standing right beside a pile of garbage with a nice chicken bone on top of it. Because you want to talk to your neighbor and don’t want your dog picking apart the pile of trash or eating the chicken bone, you ask him for a “sit-stay.” He sits and you carry on your conversation without worry that he’ll be eating the bone or getting into other possibly dangerous or “disgusting” items. Once you’re done talking you release him and then say…? “Good boy” or “thank you?” Try to think of it this way: why is he a good boy?

Not for any grand reason. Remember, dogs aren’t mentally capable of understanding right vs. wrong in the sense of morality (despite that urge for us to think “he KNOWS IT’S WRONG,” he, in fact, does not know any such thing! Dogs don’t have morals, they aren’t mentally equipped that way, to be spiteful or deceitful— don’t you feel lucky to be part of what is quite probably one of the only species to have the ability to be deceitful?*) The only reason he is a “good boy” is because he’s done what you ask. Through some excellent team work he has been trained to react to your cues in the way you want him to.

From his point of view, he could be missing out on the greatest treasure of his life! Natural dog behavior dictates that he explore that pile of garbage! He’d pick it apart, sniffing every inch, ingesting everything edible (especially that chicken bone), possibly rolling around in it getting completely stinky and dirty. All acceptable (even preferred) behaviors for your average canine citizen. Good boy? It’s in the eye of the beholder! You’ve just asked him to ignore several canine instincts and trade them in for some strange human whim: would you sit patiently there inches from a mound of all your favorite snacks or a huge pile of money just because I asked you to? So close to something you wanted or enjoyed, yet unable to do anything about it simply because you were asked? Think of the level of restraint involved!

In your dog’s mind you asking him not to eat the chicken bone, not to roll in the smelly pile, not to root his nose in the very bottom of the pile makes no sense. For him, you are the strange one for not wanting to particpate yourself, and certainly for not wanting him to do such things. But he does these bizarre things you ask anyway. Why? Because you have worked hard on this bond, you have taught him “sit,” “stay” and “leave it,” you have worked around distractions and you have rewarded handsomely when he’s resisted difficult distractions. He now understands what you want and does what you ask because the pay-off has been high enough during training. That’s pretty amazing if you think about it!

So while we don’t want him to eat that bone because we know he could be seriously injured, we don’t want him to poke around in the pile because we’re afraid he might injure himself with whatever may be beneath all that gunk and we don’t want him rolling around in it because he’ll get dirty and track it into our living room and jump on our bed, I think it helps to think in terms of “thank you.” To thank him for not doing what comes ever so naturally to him and trading it in for our acceptable human norms.

I really think “thank you” helps us put things into perspective: how difficult a task may be to a dog who is really fighting his natural instincts by not digging in trash piles, picking things up on the street, chasing that squirrel or barking every time someone walks past our house.  I think “thank you” reminds us that they have done their best for this canine/human bargain by learning such oddities as not drinking out of the toilet, the largest water bowl in the house!

Of course as I mentioned, it’s all semantics. Do I say “good boy” to Special Dark? You bet. In fact, to be honest I think I probably say it more than “thank you.” But more often, I find myself smiling to myself when I say it; reminding myself that what I mean is “thank you Special Dark… for ignoring your natural instincts and doing what I asked you to do.”

If the situation were reversed, think of what it would take for you to change if your dog made the house rules and asked you not to eat desert ever again, decided that he didn’t want you to speak too much because he didn’t find it as pleasant as a bark, asked you not to shake hands anymore and instead use the canine form of greeting…  

Now think of how quickly you were able to teach your dog the things you’d like from him. That’s the beauty of training when it’s a partnership, and it’s really something remarkable to see in action. Try thinking about that as you work with your dog and toss in a “thank you” every once in a while to remind you of how remarkable your partnership is.  

*There is some debate about whether certain species of non-human primates, some birds and a few other species are capable of deceit. In any case, none of the few possible species in question are canids.


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