In today’s post, I’d like to talk about our expectations for our dogs. We train a lot of service dogs, but this advice applies to any dog. Many people say that they want their dog to watch over them or their kids. When I ask them what this specifically means, they say that they want their dog to “keep them safe.” What does that mean? “Just make sure that we don’t get hurt.”
Imagine this from a dog’s perspective. What kind of action does “keep us safe” or “make sure we don’t get hurt” lead to? As humans, we’re able to think in broad and abstract ways. For example, the average dog owner often expresses a desire for their dog to be “good.” But what does that statement mean to a dog?
I say all this because people often don’t get to where they want to with their dogs, and it’s usually because they don’t define what “good behavior” is. They have an idea of what is isn’t—for instance, jumping on the furniture or biting—but they don’t have a firm idea of what it is. Have you defined good behavior for your dog? If not, then what are some of the ways that you can be more clear and specific?
One of the first steps I take with a client is defining their idea of good behavior. Whether you have a service dog or just a regular pet dog, I’d encourage you to do this exercise on your own. Try to precisely define which behaviors you want your dog to do and to not do. For instance, if you just want your dog to be “well-behaved when someone comes to the door. Does that mean not jumping? Does it mean going to a spot and lying down? Does it look like running to the kennel? All those behaviors can be taught, but only if you give specific commands. Let’s say you like to hike with your dog off-leash, and you encounter another dog. What does it mean for your dog to be “well-behaved” in that situation? Does he come to your side and heel? Does he go up to the other dog and play? That’s usually a bad idea, but it can be taught.
The bottom line is this: it’s your job to define what good behavior is. Everyone’s ideas about this are different. At my company, we define good behavior as dogs that come when called, stay when told, walked properly, and don’t have manners issues like jumping and chewing. Beyond that, many people want specific things from their dogs. But if you don’t define it, you won’t get it.
You can’t define good behavior in every scenario, because you can’t possibly envision every one. But if you define in enough different situations, you’ll be prepared when new and unplanned scenarios come up.