Many issues that arise when dogs live with humans stem from one thing….coddling! Read on to find out why coddling your dog can actually hurt instead of heal.
The basis of modifying canine behavior stems from conditioning. Many of us have heard of Pavlov’s dog. During this study, each time a bell rang; food would fall into the dog’s dish. The bell was used to condition the dog so he knew that after the bell rang, food would fall. After repeating this process over time, the dog would begin to salivate simply because the bell rang. Therefore, the dog had become conditioned to react to the sound of the bell and respond accordingly. That is a very quick summary at best, but the point is that conditioning is the key to training your dog.
Many people have issues with their dog reacting to the doorbell. The sound of the doorbell means nothing to a dog at first, but over time he will start to become conditioned to know that when the doorbell rings, the pack goes to the door and then new people either come in or deliver something. Your dog thinks, “Well, I guess I need to offer a behavior when the doorbell rings as well”. If you don’t condition your dog to go to his place, for example, when the doorbell rings, he will decide what the appropriate action is, at the sound of the bell. Your dog may charge the door and become overly excited. Maybe your dog even has some anxiety and feels threatened by new people coming in. Either way, if you allow this behavior to continue and then coddle your dog on top of it, you will condition your dog to behave in that way. If every time the doorbell rang you threw a piece of steak in your dog’s crate, guess where he will go, in the future, when the doorbell rings? It’s all about conditioning.
What is coddling?
The dictionary definition is: To treat in an indulgent or overprotective way.
Why is coddling your dog bad?
Coddling sends a confusing, mixed message to your dog. Your dog interprets coddling as praise. Since we often coddle our dogs when they are afraid or uncomfortable, we are praising our dogs at the wrong time (when afraid, uncomfortable, protective or aggressive). Rewarding or praising an undesirable behavior will only cause him to repeat it again and again. You would then be conditioning your dog to behave in a way that is unacceptable, time and time again. This nurtures a fear or undesirable response and may eventually lead to a case of fear aggression, which could in turn, lead to a bite.
What human behaviors are considered coddling?
A very common human behavior for owners of small dogs is picking up the dog, and petting him while he is in the wrong state of mind. For example, you find that your small dog is beginning to have an issue with new people coming into your home. Instead of working towards training the dog to behave in the way you would like, you pick up the dog and pet him. You tell the dog “it’s ok” while stroking his back. Now the dog is thinking that he must be behaving the way you want, since he is receiving so much loving, positive attention and affection. Over time, the dog repeats this behavior with constant reinforcement and the behavior intensifies.
Another common human behavior is thinking that your dog speaks English. Your dog does not speak English! You can train your dog to understand commands, which is true, but having a full blown conversation with your dog will not communicate anything to him. Unless you have properly conditioned your dog to understand certain words, he has no idea what you’re saying. He will react to you speaking because he can read body language and tone of voice. Reassuring him that “everything is ok” can simply be interpreted as praise.
Finally, another common behavior is offering food to distract or appease your dog. For example, your dog is barking at you for attention. You have already played for an hour and have taken him for a walk. Instead of crating your dog or working on some commands, you offer a bully stick to appease your dog. You have just rewarded the unwanted behavior. Your dog now has learned that “If I am barking at my owner and don’t stop, eventually I will get a bully stick. Yay! Success!!”