What Our Dogs Learn

Our dogs learn a lot from just watching us! They learn what they can get away with, but also what works. Oreo seems to figure this all out at super speed. My husband wakes up at 5:00 every morning and I sleep in until 6:00. When he gets up he takes the dog out and she comes up to sleep at my feet until I get up.

Unfortunately, this has caused a pattern, which she quickly found out. On weekends, she isn’t used to sleeping in, so will wake up early and bark for us. My husband usually lets me sleep (yay!) and gets up and she RUNS upstairs and jumps into the bed to sleep. Well yes, she did figure out if she barks at night she gets to go upstairs. She has been getting us up every morning earlier. Yesterday it was at 3:00am.

I was lazy and figured it wouldn’t cause too much harm and we would actually get to sleep in if she was at the foot of our bed. WRONG! We didn’t allow her to sleep in bed with us because when we asked her to get off and sleep downstairs she would growl or even snap on occasion. This was solved when we kept her downstairs gated in the kitchen. With my husband’s new work schedule, things have changed.

So last night I got up at 3:00am and took her outside and put her back in her bed, then went back upstairs. I do not want to reinforce the pattern of coming upstairs that has been established. She did continue barking every hour, but we ignored it until I finally got up at 7:00am. Our dogs certainly learn a lot from us. We didn’t even think about it, but it was so clear that would happen. So we are going to continue to try to ignore her when she barks and break the pattern, although she may have an extinction burst like last night (where they realize they aren’t getting the reinforcement anymore and try a million times harder).

Extinction bursts remind me of when I was a child. If my mom would give in after I kept begging her for something I would try again. This time she wouldn’t give in so I would bug her 10 times worse getting angrier trying to get the reward I wanted. Dogs do the same thing.

Training today was a bit of a mess. Oreo is having a hard time again, she is very up and down. It was my mistake to walk her down the driveway at training, where she greeted everyone. I thought that it would be good since she loves people now, I will reinforce that. It seems to have made her into a people monster! She seems to be flicking me off for everyone else (haha that’s what the trainer said as a joke, but it’s true)! She would not walk back with me, but instead when I asked her to come she would sit down and back up as far as she could towards the people.

It took everything I could to not get super upset. She kept sitting and backing up or not moving. Finally I got her to the car after making a trail of chicken (which shouldn’t happen either because now she will LEARN she gets a trail of chicken if she doesn’t come). Next time I will ask everyone to go into the barn (negative punishment), or just pick her up and put her in the car. I also cannot have anyone walk her back with me to the car…she is quickly learning if she hesitates to follow me she gets lots of good things (UGH! STOP REINFORCING IT!)

So we did some practice with her getting out of the car, then we would walk while someone was standing 10 feet away. I would take a few steps, stop and ask for a trick from her or come. If she did not respond within 10 seconds we turned around and headed back to the car. If she refused to come (she did once) then the person would walk away and leave (Oreo then would follow me which was then rewarded). Eventually she figured it out and did very well.

Next we did an activity where everyone sits in a circle (well we are all VERY far apart  70 feet or so). Then we just sit with our dogs and move in closer if they are comfortable. This is working on getting the dogs to just relax in the presence of other people and dogs. People so rarely do this with their dogs (me included) that our dogs are not used to it. Oreo did the worst, even though she has made the most progress with people and dogs. She does not know how to relax and cried and play bowed to go play with the other dogs.

However, the trainer and I discussed how Oreo’s allergies continue to be a problem. Her skin around her eyes is red and tearing and she’s always biting her legs, paws, and back. She had a skin infection before and yeast infection in her ears, and she may be getting them again. For some reason her immune system is compromised and we need to get it back up and working so her allergies will get better. I am thinking of driving quite the distance to visit a holistic vet who has done wonders with so many dogs. We shall see how she improves, I ordered his book to get a better idea about holistic care.

It’s been a stressful day so that’s why I have written so much. At home we gave Oreo a new bone and she growled at my husband for going near the bone (this is a continuing issue). However, I convinced him to do “trade” with her so she was better later, but told him he needs to stop taking things or getting in her face when she has something of value. Otherwise, she will continue to growl (because she has learned that he usually takes things away from her, and she doesn’t want them taken away). If she continues to growl she is practicing the behavior, so it will be more likely to happen. I also discussed with him that if she growls he shouldn’t coddle her (he talks high-pitched and she licks his face then so she is getting a reward for growling). Additionally, when she is told to “go to bed” she sometimes sits down. When she does this my husband pets her, hugs her, and gives her lots of attention. I told her not to do this anymore either-this is a reward. So next time she is more likely to repeat sitting when we tell her to go to bed (get in the kitchen where she sleeps). Ugh! What a challenge. Our dogs learn so much from every single behavior we DO or DON’T do, so we always have to keep in mind if we are reinforcing something on purpose or by accident by our actions.


One thought on “What Our Dogs Learn

  1. Sorry to hear that you had such a stressful time. Learning what is right and what is wrong is a process and giving the wrong messages makes it much harder. Sorry to hear that Oreo’s allergies continue to be a problem. Hope they clear up soon.

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