With the dogs I try really hard to take the long range view. The ‘what is the goal I’m really working today?’ the ‘what behavior do I really want to live with for the next 15 years?’ the ‘how will today impact all of our future tomorrows?’ and then make training plans and actions accordingly.
This can be a hard thing. A really hard thing. Especially when in the moment something goes not according to plan. Or there is outside pressure, like a time deadline, or a score, or feeling like someone might judge, or sometimes I just want the dog to do what I’d like right now without all of the mess of working through it.
It’s sometimes hard to work through the process it will take to make it to the long range goal. To stay focused on that path.
My response to Zora eating duck food is such a problem. She’s developed a habit (really annoying habit if you ask me, a delicious habit if you ask her) of going into the duck pen when I have the door open so the pen can dry out after I clean it, and snacking on the bits of duck kibble she can find.
It drives me nuts.
I then act like a moron and sternly yell at her to “Get out of there! Stop it!”
She usually grabs one last mouthful and comes out.
If we’re in the yard and I’m not thinking, she sneaks in there to snack.
I know there are a long list of things I could do to actually solve this problem.
- I could get a moveable gate out to block her access, allowing the door to still stay open for the pen to dry but her not able to get in.
- I could train a more solid automatic leave it around the duck food.
- I could do a better job of cleaning up the duck food.
- I could train her not to cross the threshold of the duck pen.
- I could let her clean up the duck food without getting upset by it.
- I could keep her on leash close to me when the pen door is open.
- I could make staying out in the yard more valuable to her than going into the pen.
- I could ask her to sit, then release her to eat a bit of duck food, then call her back to me. A response pattern she knows and responds to well in other settings.
So why haven’t I done any of those things?
Because I lost focus. Because I haven’t made Zora’s behavior in that setting a priority. Because when it occurs I’m usually focused on a few other things, not on Zora at that moment. Part of it too is because I just don’t want to have to change myself. I want to be able to wave my magic wand and her to not do it. Because doing all of those things takes planning and forethought and sometimes I go, “God damn it! I’m tired. I have so many things on my plate. Why do I have to? Can’t you just stop eating duck food?!”
I think sometimes part of it too is despite that it annoys me, I also can’t really fault her for it. I mean she clearly thinks the duck food tastes good. And she’s such a good dog overall and she tolerates a lot. And she helps me a lot with the ducks. And there are so many settings around food where she shows immense control and doesn’t touch it (like when the kids drop food). I feel a bit guilty telling her she can’t have a mouthful or so of duck food.
In the end, I have to decide what’s my long game here? Do I want to yell and feel annoyed? No, definite no. Do I want to change that? Yes, definite yes. Do I want Zora to feel she has to sneak around to get what she wants? No, definite no. Am I ok with Zora eating duck food? A lot, no, but a mouthful sure. Those are my goals: set up a management or training plan to enable Zora to enjoy up to a mouthful of duck food without fear and me to not get annoyed or yell. When I write that out it now feels totally doable. I can accomplish that. Sure. Now, to remain focused on those goals.