Whole Dog Journal's Blog May 1, 2012

Permanent Hall Passes

Posted at 03:14PM - Comments: (7)

My Border Collie Daisy is a consummate counter surfer; she hangs 10 with the best. The trainer in me sighs and acknowledges that I was not successful in getting the behavior to cease over 10 years (so she’s now had a decade of practice). The student of canine ethology in me watches in fascination at the opportunistic seeking and realizes this descendent of wolves has not succumbed to learned helplessness. The dog mom in me says “You go, girl!” and is filled with joy that this dog who was diagnosed with cancer over two years ago is feeling this feisty and that her spirit – and appetite - hasn’t been dampened by treatment.

Many years ago I had adopted a Border Collie-mix who arrived trained to leave a room whenever anyone sat down to eat (I was in awe and somehow naively managed to maintain that behavior). When she reached her elder years, the action wasn’t always as automatic and we would gently remind her to go to the next room. One day, during a visit with family, we prepared to sit down to a meal and began to ask the old girl to leave the dining room when a relative piped up and asked, “Isn’t she old enough not to have to do that anymore?” We were all happy to have her stay underneath the table where we could easily hand her snacks.

It’s not that I don’t believe we shouldn’t encourage our dogs to mind their manners, but I admit that I am fascinated by the times they decide not to. And maybe even more fascinating is why we might decide to let them have a free pass.

A good friend and fellow trainer worked for years to reduce her dog’s excited barking. That boy had a joyful bark and you always knew he was happy to see you. And then, suddenly, he rarely barked. His hearing had faded fairly quickly with age and things were suddenly a lot quieter, for him and everyone else. My friend found she missed his exuberant conversations (as we all did) and so, when he occasionally found his voice, she’d smile and let him sing out.

Sometimes stress can cause anxious behaviors and our dogs will find comforting ways to relieve the anxiety. A herding dog I know chews on sofa cushions; his mom shrugs and is thankful that shabby chic is in fashion. At other times, a behavior is so ingrained that it transfers in ways we might not imagine when originally training. Woody, for example, was paper-trained as a puppy and so later he was always given a free pass when he peed on the newspapers that had been left on the floor for recycling.

My sister has a Beagle … enough said? I’ll just add that his nickname is C Monster. She’s in school full-time and that means she studies a lot; she admits to allowing him to sneak up onto the sofa to sleep (and thus stay out of trouble) so she can hit the books – even though he’s not supposed to be on the furniture unless invited. Also, she has yet to try to tackle modifying his digging behavior; instead she secretly lets him dig to his nose’s content and then fills the holes before her husband comes home (hmmmm…not sure how secret this is now).

Another trainer friend of mine has a Belgian Malinois who opens doors. He rationalizes it by saying she always asks first (I wonder if she waits for a response?). This is the same dog who jumps up on top of the crate sometimes when he cues her to “crate up.” She knows what he is requesting, but she has him wondering admirably: Is she trying to demonstrate to him that she can distinguish that the cue can have two different meanings? After all she knows what “crate” is as well as the action word “up” and interpretation can be dependent on perspective – and what she is feeling like doing at the moment!

Fortunately many of us see things from our dogs’ point of view and embrace those perspectives. I’ll confess: my dogs are lifetime members of the permanent hall pass club. Good thing I have a get out of jail free card.

Comments (7)

Although some obedience training is necessary, I think we have to decide what is okay and what isn't for our dogs and our homes. Our two dogs know the basics: sit, stay, come, off, and down. Anything else just didn't take no matter how I tried. They don't walk well on a leash, and they hate going anywhere in the car. But that's okay. They have a huge back yard and a doggie door; they get lots of exercise chasing each other and playing fetch when we get home from work. We give them lots of attention and love. They sometimes dig holes in the yard, and our mini poodle still marks in the house occasionally. But since they are both rescues, we have accepted that there are some things we can't fix, and we're fine with it. I'm with Anna H. in that if a trainer ever came to our house, s/he would be appalled. But they are our dogs, and it's our house.

Posted by: Rainbear | May 8, 2012 7:53 PM    Report this comment

This perspective is well & good with one exception: just like human children, pets need boundaries to truly feel safe, and if those boundaries are not consistent then they are at least useless and at worst confusing and disturbing. In fact, the inconsistency of rewarding bad behavior is the direct principle underlying the marketing success of gambling. The one tiny time someone wins a little gives them the hope to continue pouring their hard earned money into lottery tickets that yield little or nothing more, but encourage further foolishness.
It is far more loving to keep consistent boundaries for our children, furry and otherwise, than to cave and do the easy thing, IMHO.
Blessings with love, Shalom

Posted by: Unknown | May 8, 2012 2:29 PM    Report this comment

When our standard poodle was diagnosed with lymphoma and underwent chemo, we decided that she could do anything she wanted, including counter surfing. She is now five years in remission and although we joke about "what were we thinking?", we are thrilled to have her still with us at age 13.

Posted by: Laura L | May 8, 2012 11:14 AM    Report this comment

Nice article Barbara-you got me thinking of happy things again.
I've always said if a trainer came to my house they would be tsk tsking at the "freedom" our dogs enjoy in and on our house. /they started out as extreme fear dogs, Back then we put a mirror in the front room to watch them as they wouldn't move from their crate if we were within site-11 years later and we love love love their exuberant greetings and every time they jump on the couch or bed and lay on our laps (45 lbs dogs here) or trill at us, we marvel at their ability to recover from trauma, permanent hall pass? Heck yes, in fact they are the Principals of our particular school.

Posted by: Anna H | May 8, 2012 10:31 AM    Report this comment

Sometimes there is nothing quite as refreshing as a dog being a dog, all training aside.

Posted by: Peter G | May 8, 2012 10:23 AM    Report this comment

Discipline and manners are great, and I'm all for them. But still, why have a dog if you can't bend the rules now and then for something you both will enjoy.

Posted by: Carolyn M | May 8, 2012 9:43 AM    Report this comment

I love this article and couldn't agree more! Permanent hall passes are a must.

Posted by: chettich | May 7, 2012 1:38 PM    Report this comment

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