On Good Behavior LLC

Teaching Your Dog (NOT!) to Raid the Garbage

You’ve probably heard me say that when you are teaching your dog something new, you want to increase the level of difficulty slowly and steadily. So how does this look for a slow and steady training plan?

One Monday, the phone rings as you are scraping plates into the garbage. You hang up the phone and find Buster, your 1 year old Lab, happily eating out of the garbage can. You yell at him and close the lid. Buster has never gotten in the garbage before and it’s been there his whole life, so you don’t think too much about it.

Tuesday, you find that Buster has knocked the lid off the trash and shredded paper towels everywhere. You put a phone book on the lid to hold it on and resolve to buy a sturdier garbage can.

Wednesday, while you are upstairs taking a shower, Buster can’t knock the lid off with his nose, so he jumps on the can and knocks the whole thing over. You come down to a gigantic mess. You run out to the store and buy a heavy metal can.

Thursday you are sure the problem is solved. Phew, a day with no mess!

Friday you don’t have time to walk Buster in the morning and he is all wound up. You leave him in the kitchen alone for just for a minute rather than putting him in his crate and Buster takes the opportunity to play kick the can with your new garbage can. The Simple Human proves no match for a determined Labrador!

Over the next week, you try bungee cords, putting the can up on the counter, putting bricks on the lid. All seem to work at first, but Buster is getting good at problem solving and he continues to find ways to help himself to table scraps, tissues, and other goodies. Besides being really frustrated by the mess, you begin to worry that Buster is going to eat something truly dangerous.

The next week, you buy a smaller can and make room for it in a locked cabinet under the kitchen sink. Problem solved. If you had started here, Buster would have forgotten about the garbage, but by presenting him with gradually more difficult challenges, you accidentally taught him to go to great lengths to raid the trash.

Often, when we are trying to teach a dog to do something (come when called, for example), we increase the level of difficulty way too quickly and the dog quits. Yet when we are trying to stop the dog from doing something (raiding the garbage, jumping over a baby gate, escaping through a gap in the fence), we make his task very gradually more difficult and the dog becomes very good at the very thing we are trying to stop.

So, keep this in mind: Dramatic changes in level of difficulty will cause your dog to quit. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on whether it’s something you want (Come) or something you don’t (garbage raiding).

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