Dogs – Stupid, Stubborn, or Smart?
This month’s post isn’t about any specific training advice. Rather, it is a musing on something that I hear from just about every dog owner that I talk to. Many are quick to tell me that their dog is smart. As though I might miss that important piece of information during my evaluation and make a wrong judgment. In reality, I’ve never met a dog that isn’t smart in his own way (the Merriam-Webster definition of smart: very good at learning or thinking about things).
Dogs have evolved to quickly learn what works to get what is important to them. It is a survival strategy. When people describe their dogs as stupid or stubborn (and many of my clients do, even the ones that just told me their dog is smart because they are dealing with a frustrating behavior problem), what is really happening is the dog is not learning what the owner is trying to teach.
Different dogs have different motivators, just like people. They don’t think the way we do. They value some strange things (like the smell of another dog’s pee or the taste of poop). They don’t have the same social rules we do (we don’t greet each other by sniffing butts and most of us don’t lick our genitals, at least in public).
The bigger the gap between what we want from our dog and what our dog wants for himself (or what is a natural behavior), the more difficult it can be to get the dog to willingly comply. And the more a dog doesn’t “listen”, the more frustrated we get. The frustration is magnified if the dog has learned to get what he wants using behaviors we don’t like.
Some behaviors that are unnatural for dogs are: coming immediately when called away from chasing a rodent or playing with other dogs; refraining from stealing the roast that was left unattended on the kitchen counter and NOT jumping to greet people. Not surprisingly, variations of these are the most common types of problems I am asked to help with.
After thinking about these common labels placed on dogs, I’ve realized that those same labels (smart, stubborn, and stupid) could be applied to ME by my dog in various situations! Of course, my dog is too “sweet” to think that way (that’s another label I hear from every owner of a reactive/aggressive dog who calls me for help, but that is another story).
Take a look at this video of mistakes I made when Chase “ignored” me recently. Sometimes all of my training knowledge goes out the window when I am frustrated!