Imagine, if you will, that you are enjoying a stress-free Sunday at home. You pick up that book you’ve been meaning to finish. Curled up in the comfy chair. Lighting just right. Favorite beverage on the end-table.
A beloved family member walks in the room.
They take one look at you and tense up. Eyes fixed on the book in your hand. Body leaned forward. Looming as they charge toward you.
“What do you have!?” They command, “Drop it! Give it to me!” Their actions mirror their tone. They grab your wrist. The book is wrenched from your hand. To put it mildly, you are confused. You might feel intimidated or insulted. You definitely feel violated. To make matters worse, they never give the book back. They never even explain what the hell that was all about.
This is how your dog feels when you command them to “drop it!”
In fairness, I am anthropomorphizing a little bit. But, only a little bit. Dogs, especially when they are puppies or newly adopted, do not know what is ‘off-limits’. They explore the world with their mouth. They have an instinctive urge to chew. They are opportunistic omnivores. They take great pleasure in scavenging. In other words, when your dog steals or chews on something they aren’t supposed to – they aren’t being jerks, they are just being dogs.
When our dogs make a mistake, we react poorly. Humans have big, powerful, amazing brains. Yet, when our dogs give us that ‘certain, sneaky look’ and slink out of the room, we turn in to grumpy apes. We chastise them. We steal from them. We trick them. We force them to comply. In other words, when our dogs are just being dogs, we respond by being jerks.
This is not a problem of bad manners. It is a problem of bad results. When we respond aggressively, impatiently, or manipulatively to our dogs just being dogs they are likely to:
- Become possessive (growling, snapping, or biting)
- Become evasive (secretive and sneaky; no longer giving us the opportunity to intervene)
- Become compulsive (Immediately swallowing whatever they can snatch-up; expensive bowel-obstruction surgery will be required)
I firmly believe that trainers should stop teaching the “drop-it” cue. What should they do instead? That’s easy. Teach your dog to trade.
Remember, the smartest dog in the world has the functional brain power of a 3-year-old child. It is not hard to create, reinforce, and benefit from certain expectations. One of which needs to be: when your dog hears you say “Can I have that?”, she doesn’t feel intimidated, insulted, or violated. When your dog hears “can I have that?” she feels excited. She thinks “Hell Yes!”.
You have taught her; you have created the expectation; you made her eager to trade. The better she gets at trading, the less valuable your offering needs to be. But that is down the road. First things first – don’t be a jerk.