Permissive

Every now and then I run across dog training advice that confuses me, from people whom I generally agree with. These are always tossed in as “of course, you want to do this…” Inquisitive mind wants to know why I should do that.

One of the most common occurrences of this involves the dog “asking permission” to do things. I am absolutely in favor of having rules. Dogs like clarity, and they pick up on situational cues very quickly. I’m willing to bet, in fact, that you never had to explicitly train any of your most basic household rules.

I’ve never really followed, though, the idea that every house with a dog needed the same rules.

This post is prompted by a discussion with someone whose training philosophy is pretty similar to mine. Offhandedly, she said, “You’ll want to have your dog ask permission before he gets on the bed…”

Do I? Do I really?

I mean, I can imagine scenarios wherein I would care if and when my dog jumped off and on the bed or the sofa. If your dog guards the sofa, for instance. Or, if the dog trying to share your bed weighs enough to hurt you if he lands on your leg. If the dog is injured, or if you had a fancy bedspread that you wanted to preserve. It’s not a rule that makes no sense, ever. I can see why some people like it.

It is, however, a rule that’s pretty irrelevant for me. We don’t have a multiple-dog hierarchy that needs to be managed. Silas knows to jump on the bed at the foot, so he doesn’t land on anybody’s head. He will happily move over and let me in, even if he’s on my comfiest pillow. When he’s having an anxious time and I’m away, he’ll sometimes go upstairs to sleep in the “safe space.” The only effects I can see from trying to enforce this “universal rule” are bad–me having to manage a behavior that I don’t care about, and Silas losing access to his safe haven while I’m not home.

Bottom line: your dog training time is limited. Use it on things that you care about, not some “everybody should do this” rule that doesn’t have any value in your life.

What about you? Do you break “The Rules?”

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7 thoughts on “Permissive

  1. My dogs have free access to the bed, except when I am making it. Then I make Delilah wait until I tell her it’s okay. But you are right, it is the same with raising children, you need to be choosy with your ‘battles’ because if you don’t, everything turns into a battle.

    Some people feel like they need to walk through doors first and give their dogs permission to do things. I’m not one of them. 😀

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  2. I often feel this way about many of the dog training “rules” too. Pyrrha does wait to be invited onto furniture when we’re sitting on it, but we didn’t really train her to do that; she’s just weird. The “rule” that always seems silly to me is “don’t let your dogs go out of doors before you.” That’s dumb. And that’s never happened in our house!

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    1. See, if Silas ever learns to go on walks like a regular dog, instead of being terrified, I actually *would* like to go out the front door first. But that’s not about hierarchy–that’s just checking to make sure there’s nothing scary outside.

      That’s one part of this discussion that I left out, is the whole “Alpha” thing, because I actually see these “rules” coming from people who would tell you all day long that they don’t believe in being Alpha. I don’t know if it’s just a weird, unconscious carry over? It may also be coming from the NILIF crowd, where there can be some paranoia about the dog getting “environmental reinforcement.”

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  3. This is such a thoughtful question. I’m glad to see you asking it.

    I believe it’s a holdover from older training ideas. I know that i was more concerned about rules when i was first learning about dog training. But now I concentrate more on building our relationship. Rules are less important to me than communication.

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  4. You’re right! All dogs are so different. I’m ask a lot more of Kaya than Norman because she tends to be pushy and impatient but that’s for stuff like going through doors(because she wants to shove her way in front of everyone) and waiting to be fed. I let them on the couch and the bed and see no reason in making them ask every time! I don’t see if as any sort of hierarchy or dominance thing, just basic manners and patience.

    When I was fostering Shaka last year, the vet told me I always had to reward the most dominant dog first so the others know their place. I thought it was total crap. I mixed it up, probably based on who was behaving best at the time or just random and they got along beautifully.

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    1. Multi-dog dynamics are something I don’t know anything about. And probably won’t, honestly, given that Silas is kind of a handful. Your door-pushing is a perfect example of a rule that makes sense for your household–Kaya is a tripping hazard!

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