Thursday, March 3, 2016

How Not to Train a Dog

Dogs can be wonderful companions - but the key thing is, they want to be your companion, too.

I mentioned the cost of owning a pet earlier in my blog.   A pet can easily cost over $1000 a year with pet food, shots, heartworm medication, flea and tick medication, and occasional boarding and vet visits.  Easily.

Thus, it always amazes me that people on "fixed incomes" or folks who cry poverty are the first to go out and get a pet - preferably an expensive "breed" pet they pay money for - and then whine about how broke they are.   If you are only making, say, $25,000 a year, if you get a dog, you just spent 4% of your income - and that's a lot.

It also amazes me that people who work 9-5 jobs or even worse, those jobs requiring 10 or more hours a day of work (plus commuting) decide to get a dog.  Dogs are pack animals and what they want most in life is to be part of the pack, be accepted by the pack, and to always be with the pack.   They rarely are lone wolves who want to be alone.  

As a result, if you get a dog and then leave the house for 10-12 hours a day, your dog is almost guaranteed to end up neurotic.  It will eat the sofa, chew your shoes, and shit/piss all over the floor (the latter usually due to the fact that other than greyhounds, most dogs need to use the bathroom every few hours).  The owner comes home, is outraged, and gets angry with the dog, tossing him outside because as we all know, "dogs like to be outside."

No, they don't.  They really don't.   I was raised on this nonsense - my parents had dogs and promptly neglected them (their attitude toward children was about the same).   Other than the attention the pets got from us kids (which was intermittent at best) the pets were neglected and of course, neurotic.   My parents tried to "paper train" their dogs and when that didn't work out, my Dad would whip the dog with a rolled-up newspaper and "rub his nose it in" and then toss him outside.


And I am not saying I am the perfect "dog parent" either.   When we had our Lab/Chow mix (a very active and intelligent dog - not recommended!) we used to work all day long and then come home.  The dog was happy to see us, and we would "let it outside" where it would do its business and then stand by the door wanting to come in and be with the pack.   We didn't understand why, as it was "cooped up" all day long and surely it would want to go out and "run around" - right?

Wrong.  What the dog wanted was to "be with" its owners - its pack.   And it took a long time to learn that the dog didn't need training, its owners did.

One thing we did right, in retrospect, was to crate the dog while we were away.  I made a 4' x 4' pen for the dog in the basement and when it was a puppy and we had to go out, it stayed there.   The dog learned not to soil its own space and really "house training" the dog was a non-event.  It was far less dramatic than my Dad's technique.  But in his defense, in the 1960's, that is how people trained dogs.

When I started my own practice, I could bring my dog to work, and when I started working from home, the dog was always asleep in my office, at my feet.  The dog was in dog heaven at that point - "being with" its humans almost 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.   Not surprisingly, the dog really mellowed out at that point - no more separation anxiety.

When we got our greyhound, I was working at home all the time, and it was not hard to stay with the dog most of the time.   I learned quickly that the greyhound never really wanted to go out, other than to do its business, and once in a while to run like hell for about three minutes.   The mistake people make with greyhounds is "letting them out" in the backyard and assuming the dog wants to hang out there for an hour or so.   It doesn't.  It wants to sleep at your feet.   When you leave the dog outside for hours at a time, it gets bored, digs under the fence, escapes, and gets lost.   Greyhounds do not naturally run away, it is the owners who leave them out.

All the greyhound wants in life is to "be with" and that's about it.  Most dogs are this way, if not all.  Again, they are pack animals and the instinct is very strong.   When you leave a dog alone for long periods of time, they get neurotic.

So the first thing in training a dog is to decide if a dog really fits your lifestyle.   Like it or not, a dog can be a real damper on your lifestyle, as it gets inconvenient and expensive if you want to travel.  Traveling with a dog can be problematic (which is why we have an RV) and leaving the dog behind in a kennel can make it neurotic as it suffers from separation anxiety.   Again, the extent of this depends on the dog, some are very sociable and enjoy a kennel.  Others just want to get away from other dogs.  Perhaps being raised in a kennel the greyhound is not too keen on returning to it.

Second is crating.   My neighbor just got a puppy and says that crating the dog is "like putting it in jail" and that is bullshit.   Dogs love confined spaces like caves and dens and again this is part of their instinct.   They will cherish the kennel as "their" space and go to it as a safe place when there is thunder or whatever.   Long after they are puppies, many dogs love to have a kennel or crate to retreat to.

For a puppy, the crate or kennel is a way of house training.   Dogs instinctively do not shit where they sleep which is pretty much common sense if you think about it.   In the dog den 1,000 years ago, if a dog shit in the den, it probably would be thrown out of the pack.   So they "hold it" until you get home and let them out (provided you don't leave them for 12 hours at a time).   They naturally learn not to shit where they sleep, and as they get older, they start to learn that the house is the "den" for the pack and would not dream of soiling it unless it was an emergency (which is often the fault of the human, not the dog).

Our neighbor refuses to kennel, so the dog shits and pisses all over the place.   So they tie up the dog outside "so it will go outside" and they figure that the dog's bladder and bowels will be emptied this way and the dog will somehow pick up - through osmosis - that it is supposed to "go outside" to poop.   No, this does not work.  The dog merely whines and barks while tied up outside, being bitten by mosquitoes and noseeums.  It wants to be inside, with people.

The neighbor just ignores the barking, figuring the dog will "bark itself out" and if they let it in, they are "giving in" to the dog, which needs "tough love" or something.  They also have an asinine theory that the dog will learn house training from their other dog, which is an interesting concept, but a flawed one.   The dog is just fine, it is the neighbors that need training!  Or more precisely, the neighbors should be tied up outside for a few hours with the bugs biting so they can think it over.   Maybe for a week or so.

The result of this asinine "training" technique is that the dog learns nothing other than its owners hate him for some reason.  It still poops and pees all over the house, which now smells like dogshit, literally.  The dog barks and whines and annoys the whole neighborhood.  They now resent their own dog.  The husband calls it "a little rat" which is not very nice.   Why bother getting a dog in the first place?

And again, it goes back to the idea of do you really want a dog, or is this just some passing fancy?  When you are 70 or 80 years old, it is something to think about.  A dog can be a 10-15 year commitment, and it may outlive you.   One neighbor down the street decided to "rescue" a pit bull mix puppy, which seemed cute at the rescue center.  However, once it grew up, it dragged its owner on the leash, and they fell down and broke their hip. 

Here's a hint:  Want a dog or cat that is pre-trained and a short-term commitment?  Adopt a 10 year old dog or a 15-year old cat.  They are usually very mellow and laid back and happy to be with someone at that stage in life.   And because they are not cutsy-wootsy puppies or kittens, they are much harder to adopt.   You are really being a saint in adopting an older pet - particularly when some oldster has to go into the home and has to leave a pet behind, which breaks their heart (another reason old people should think hard about getting a pet!).

But tying your dog up outside for hours at a time?  That is not "training" that is just pure neglect.