A Dog Training Golden Rule: Dogs Do What Works | Kingston Dog Training

A seagull perches itself on my van in Kingston

So I’m out doing my thing, running between clients, and hunger strikes. So I pull into a nearby fast food establishment (don’t judge me) and grab a burger. I have enough time that I don’t have to scarf it down while I drive, so I park in the parking lot, turn on a podcast and enjoy my lunch break.A seagull perches itself on my van in Kingston

It’s not uncommon to hear sounds of birds who are hungry for leftovers around fast food places, but when I looked up to see the bastard perched on my van I couldn’t help but laugh. There sat a hungry seagull on the hood of my van, squawking right at me. I wasn’t all that sure that he wasn’t going to fly right in and grab the fries right out of my mouth.

I waited for a few seconds but realised he likely wasn’t going anywhere and grabbed an empty water bottle and crushed it outside the window to scare him off. I had to do this more than once—persistence little fella he was.

This seagull was only exhibiting one of the golden rules of dog behaviour.

Dogs will do what is most rewarding or carries with it the least resistance!

From a behaviour standpoint, this bird was doing what has likely worked out for him dozens of times JUST THAT DAY! He squawked and then waited for me to comment on how cute he was and give him some food.

This bird didn’t know me very well.

He didn’t get a single bite of my food. There’s 10 people on the planet I’ll share food with and 7 of them share my last name. Also, I didn’t want to encourage this behaviour. Will the bird remember my van when I come back? I don’t know! I just bought groceries so my hope is that I won’t have to rely on fast food for sustenance.

The bigger point is, this behaviour has worked for this bird in the past. Sure, there’s likely others like me who have said “no” in the past, but I’ll bet the average person is quick to toss a fry to my flying little buddy. Why else would he be doing it?

I can’t speak for birds, but I know for a fact that dogs have gambler’s hearts. If something works out to their favour the first time they try it, they will likely try it the next time. If it works out the time after that, a pattern will be discovered and a default will be created. After the default is used long enough, it becomes an unthinking habit. The dog’s brain will not even have to be very active in coming up with a solution to the problem or circumstance because the behaviour is so readily selected.

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Why do dogs pull on leash? because it works. Why do they show aggression? Because it works. Why do they steal food? Because it works. Why do they bark at the door and jump on guests? Because it works. Why do they eat poop? Well, that one is a little more complex (hint: it’s often dietary), but there’s a habit loop in the brain that fires every time the dog poops! This is obviously a simplification of behaviour, but you see the point I’m making, right?

Always remember that dogs will do what works for them. They will default to what is MOST rewarding as well as avoiding unpleasantness first and foremost. In order to change behaviour, we must change the circumstances to allow for change.

If a mother walks in her son’s room and bitches about how dirty the room is WHILE SHE’S CLEANING IT UP, then the circumstances will likely not be reached for the son to change his behaviour.

It’s about knowing how to set up the scenario to allow for change, but first, it starts by not feeding the same old crummy behaviour that you have been feeding.

I’ll update you on if the seagull remembers my van!

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