Frustration Intolerance

Timber the Golden Retriever learns to out a tug toy

What happens when a dog (or human for that matter) goes his whole life without hearing “no” or ¬†“you can’t do what you want”? Frustration can happen VERY fast. My 2 1/2 year old has taught me more about this than dogs ever could. I always thought temper tantrums were a results of bad parenting. About 5 months ago I was forced to face a difficult reality: do tantrums just happen, or am I a bad parent? I think I’m alright… but I digress.

Rocky and Brennan play cars together
Before anybody starts throwing out opinions on this shot, I had to ASK my son to do this… I do not condone behaviour like this between most children and dogs.

One of the biggest reasons I push obedience so much is because it gives us a controlled circumstance to practice delayed gratification and tolerance of frustration. Most dogs without obedience don’t have this skill. If a dog without training wants to go sniff that pole, he pulls his human all the way over there and only in rare instances does the human stop the dog from doing that. Good obedience makes politely going somewhere the rule rather than the exception.

Dogs have the heart of a gambler

As a rule, dogs really like to gamble. They aren’t blackjack or poker players. They are into slots… completely random and totally unpredictable. If that machine pays out 1 out of 100 times, there’s a good chance, especially if the reward is big, that the dog will continue to pull that lever.

Frustration intolerance is developed quickly by dogs who don’t have training or who aren’t regularly being asked to ignore things or delay that gratification they want. They won’t always like it, but it’s also important for the dog to understand that sometimes¬†you can’t always get what you want.

A great example of this can be found in my latest episode of Doggin’ Around where I discuss this idea with a client who has an overly-friendly Border Collie who does NOT like the idea that he’s not allowed to meet me right away. (context: this is five sessions in and me and this dog are good friends. So this is really weird for him).

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