Some things in life are uniquely American. I could word vomit a list of things typically seen in country music videos that would make you nod your head (either up and down or side to side, your choice) but I’ll stick to two.
America has over 75 million dogs in the country, more than double the runner-up Brazil, with only 35 million dogs. America also has the highest car ownership per capita, with 910 vehicles per 1,000 people. It’s safe to say we have a love affair with the open road and hair covered clothing. And since this is a dog blog, I’m going to compare the rules of the road to dog training. Buckle up and read on.
First, I am going to ask that you use your imagination and imagine that our country used a road system without speed limits. All the speed demons are thinking “hell yeah!” Now, imagine that there were suggested speed limits on each of the roads. And in every vehicle was a device that measured your speed and location. Every time you followed the speed limit for a certain amount of miles, you earned a credit for gas. Essentially, if you spent the entire tank of gas following the suggested speed limit, you would earn enough credit to pay for the next tank. Pretty sure we just heard a “hell yeah!” from the penny pinchers.
This sounds like a pretty good deal: follow the suggested rules and get rewarded for it. Don’t follow the suggestions, and there is no consequence… you just don’t earn the reward. I see everyone fitting into one of three categories.
The first group would have a small number of people who would disregard the suggested limits and opt for a great time going fast without fear. They don’t need the credit; they have a fast car and want to use it that way. Or they have a big bank account and a full tank of gas isn’t enough to dissuade their lead foot.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, a small group of people who would never go over the suggested speed limit. I imagine my dad falling into this group. My mother loves to tell the story of how dad melted the candles in the house because he was too cheap to turn up the A/C. My dad (and folks like him) would see the value in never paying for gas in exchange for following the suggestions.
The largest group of us would likely fall in the middle of the road (pun intended), between the speed demons and the penny pinchers. When we weren’t in a hurry, we would gladly take our time and earn our credits towards free gas. But when we were running late for work or the kids soccer game, we would fly down the interstate without fear of blue lights pulling us over.
This alternate world of suggested speed limits is the real world reality for most dogs and the parents trying to train them. The gas credit in the first scenario is the food reward in dog training. And like the first scenario, I see all of our real dog/parent teams falling into one of three categories.
The first category is also the most notorious: the crazy canines. You know them when you see them. These are the dogs that when out in public could give a rip about a tasty morsel or a good-boy pat on the head. All these dogs are interested in is pulling on leash, barking at everything that moves and paying zero attention to the parent. If your dog happens to fall into this category, odds are they don’t get out of the house much because of their behavior.
The next category are the dogs that only care about the reward you have. These are the model canine citizens, the envy of every parent in the prior category. These amazing dogs always listen to the commands of their parents because they want the treat in their hand. They aren’t concerned with the squirrel or rabbit running in the front yard while mom is walking with them holding last night’s grilled chicken tenders. That reward is everything to these dogs and all the real world distractions aren’t a problem for these pup parents.
The final category is by far the largest one. These dogs will sometimes do whatever their parents ask in the right setting. They can sit, lay down, and roll over in their living room when mom is passing out hot dogs. But when the real world comes knocking, in this case your friends from next door, the once quick-as-a-whip pup turns into Cujo at the sound of the doorbell. Barking and jumping all over your guests instead of taking the hot dog and sitting politely on his bed when they enter. Almost breaking your glass door when they see another dog outside. This category of dogs are easy to walk on a leash so long as another dog isn’t around and all the rabbits are in their holes.
This is why so many pet parents struggle in training. They know their dog has the ability to sit on cue for a treat, under the right circumstances. Just like most of us would follow the suggested speed limits for our gas credits, given we weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a free gas for following the suggestions world. Yet on the whole, most of us follow the rules. But why? It’s because there are consequences to our actions. If I’m speeding on the interstate and get pulled over and receive a $200 ticket, I am much less likely to speed in the future. In our society, the rule of law is what keeps us mostly civilized. Read Lord of the Flies if you want to know what can happen to society when rules and common decency are thrown out.
Dogs can’t quite comprehend the written rules and regulations humans apply to each other. But that doesn’t mean that a dog can’t have rules and boundaries for being a good family member. Dogs thrive on structure and consistency. The crazier the canine, the more structure and consistency they need in order to be successful.
To have a well-rounded 4 legged member of your home, you must apply positive and negative consequences to their actions. Teach them what to do and what not to do. Reward the good and fix the bad (don’t just ignore it— I’m looking at you midnight dog walkers). We humans live in a society with rules, limits and consequences. This maintains order, keeps the peace, and allows everyone the opportunity for a comfortable life. Our dogs deserve the same.