Culpability and a Roast Chicken
No dog/human relationship can work unless both parties take responsibility for their behavior. For instance, excuse a dog for a bad behavior it knows is bad, and you’ve lost the game, and damaged the relationship. Of course, it must be a behavior that happens in the present, with you there to witness, and not one that occurred hours before. Dogs live in the present, after all, and don’t understand being reprimanded for an act that’s hours old.
People too, need to be culpable for their mistakes. If you fail to reprimand your dog for improper behavior, or don’t praise for the good, you injure the relationship. If you fail to feed good food, or don’t train properly, you’re culpable. If you overreact, or forget to exercise and entertain your dog, you’re liable. Most of all, if you deny a dog an honest, concrete, easy-to-understand set of rules and consequences, you’re showing your canine naiveté, and not being responsible.
None of this makes any sense, unless you accept the idea that dogs, like people, have free will. When your dog jumps up onto a counter and pulls the roast chicken down onto the kitchen floor, she knows what she has done, and is culpable. It doesn’t even matter if you irresponsibly left the kitchen for a moment, or that you haven’t worked on counter-surfing or boundary issues; your dog MUST be held accountable for actions like this. If she bites the neighbor’s child, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t properly socialized her; she still must be accountable.
Oddly, this is a bold premise today, one which many trainers and owners either don’t get, or else won’t accept, especially those who believe that every canine misbehavior is rooted in human causality. It’s just NOT true. I have trained thousands of dogs, and can tell you with great authority that they express free will all the time, despite training. They author new behaviors constantly- some good, some bad (as defined by us, and by the “domesticity” covenant we have with them). Even the best of dogs, when presented with the right conditions, will ignore what they know is wrong, and instead do what is in their best interest at that time. At this moment, consequences must occur. Not ignoring, not distraction, but honest, forthright consequences. The roast chicken is a case in point. Even those who insist on treating dogs like human children should understand this; good kids sometimes author bad behaviors. When they do, it’s a parent’s job not to ignore it, and instead hold them responsible in some way.
But increasingly, that’s not happening. I bring up the roast chicken scenario for a reason; I actually read a blog post by a “trainer” last week, who dealt with this very situation in her home, right in front of her, by distracting her dog away from the ruined chicken on the floor, using an “alternate treat lure.” No reprimand, no consequences at all- just distraction, as if she could extinguish the deep-seated love of chicken from her dog’s mind by waving a jerky treat around.
Nothing was learned. What was the point? What favor did she do the dog? It’s agonizing and ignorant, and increasingly responsible for dogs being surrendered to shelters for uncontrollable behavior. This amateurish fashion of training kills dogs.
Dogs are not automatons, or moronic meat-eating machines. The reason we get along with them so well is because they, like us, are smart. They express their feelings, wants, desires, and emotions with great aplomb. We like the same things, respect the same social mores, revere the same traditions and routines. Believe me, a dog with the chutzpah to steal a chicken off the counter, right in front of you, knows it’s wrong, and knows that you’re just enough of a patsy to let it happen.
I for one couldn’t live with that scenario. I’d rather have a grumpy cat and a stinky litter box. If anything, this type of absurd, craven training ideology insults the dog, and creates a dishonest, patronizing atmosphere. And frankly, it offends the honesty of the ancient dog/human relationship.
Watch a group of dogs in a yard or at a park, playing. If a young upstart steals an older, more established dog’s ball, the more mature dog will most likely teach the youngster a lesson in possession. He will reprimand the young dog by barking, chasing, and probably grabbing back his property. Sometimes, a neck shake and a nip or two will be involved. It’s because they have free will (the young dog stole the ball even though he knew it wasn’t his), and because they have a deep-seated sense of consequence. The elder teaches the younger. This is the doggish way. Why the heck would you speak any other language to your dog?