Of course I'm in the kitchen. I am dog.

Kitchendog

Most dog owners are familiar with this scenario.  Doing dishes or wiping the counter is lonely, lonely work, but as soon as the vegetables hit the cutting board, a close friend appears: dog.  It doesn't seem to matter how much the chef begs or pleads, or if the dog ever, ever, snags some of that delicious human food. 

So, what's up with that?

If you have ever seen dogs who find their dinner as scavengers from a dumpsite, you have seen part of the answer.  If your dog's great-great-great-great-great-grandpa was not an efficient and capable scavenger, he may not have left behind any puppies to carry on his line.  Polite, discerning dogs who stayed away from the scrap heap were not successful in the romance department.  Your dog inherited this - "if there is food nearby, act and act quickly, KitchenDog!  You may never get another chance."  Many dogs simply do not need the payoff of occasional table scraps to keep up their eternal and hopeful kitchen vigilance.  Although of course that helps.

Another part of the answer might be right in front of your dog's face: his nose.  Are there scents you love?  Freshly baked cinnamon buns, smoke from a campfire, a particular flower?  If you would detour out of your way and take a few minutes to just enjoy a scent, you can imagine how your dog, with his powerful nose, would do the same.  It is payoff enough to be close to those delicious smells.

That's all well and good, but I want him out of the kitchen!

There are a couple of ways to handle this issue.  The easiest is to just shut your dog out of the kitchen.  Bonus points if you can toss his evening meal all around the backyard for him to find or feed him in a stuff-able toy, which will scratch his scavenging itch. 

You can also train him to stay outside of the kitchen while you cook.  Call on a pro dog trainer or take an obedience class for this one, although you will get some mileage from just "catching" him being good.  If he does eventually give up his hopeful quest and go lay down outside the kitchen, zip over with some of what you're cooking and give it to him.  This seems counter-intuitive, and will likely result in him immediately returning to the kitchen.  Be zen about it and wait.  You'll see a trend of his hopeful behaviour becoming oriented more and more often to the spot where he gets fed.  Then just stretch the amount of time he must stay out of the kitchen by a second or two each day. 

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She won't drop the ball! Doesn't she like it when I throw it?

My dog loves playing ball.  But... she plays keep-away or drops it and snatches it right back up.

Our lives as humans are loaded with conflict between what we want to do, and what we've learned to do.  Wasn't it just last week that you thought: If I eat all that delicious fried food, experience says that I'll feel sick in a few hours.  And I'm not even hungry, and it's expensive.  But it smells so good!  Just one more bite...  It was completely natural for our ancestors to love high-calorie foods - we have inherited that love, even though it doesn't serve us well anymore. 

Your dog is feeling the same kind of conflict.  I know from experience that if I drop the ball, he'll throw it again, and I love that!  But it's just perfect to chew on...  When we play fetch with our dogs, they love it because the ball acts like a fleeing bunny.  It was completely natural for dogs' ancestors to love chasing and catching bunnies - dogs have inherited this as a love of toys, even though it doesn't always serve them well anymore.

How can I ask her to drop it and override the system?

The easiest way is to bring some delicious treats when you play fetch.  Say "Drop It Please!" with the treats hidden behind your back.  Count to two in your head, and then show her the treat - put it on her nose if you have to!  After she drops the ball and you pick it up, she gets the treat.  Keep at this until she learns the game, and starts dropping the ball during the time you are counting silently in your head.  When she's had a few days of practice, you can fade out the food treats if you wish to, by sometimes offering them and sometimes not. 

Or, you can just grab a bag of your favourite guilty snack, and enjoy watching her keep-away game.  It's a peek into her amazing and distant past, bubbling up right in front of your eyes.   

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Old dog. New trick?

Having an old dog is bittersweet: lovely, wonderful, and sad.  It doesn't matter if he came into your life as a wriggling puppy, an adult, or even an old friend from the pound - the white muzzle and cloudy eyes always come too soon.

Since old dogs do seem to slow down (they love a good snooze, don't they?), can they still be trained to do new tricks? 

And furthermore - should they be?

Why train at all?

Sometimes we need our dogs to change their behaviour just to keep the peace.  They're jumping on us, or dragging us around by leash ...so before we pull out our hair, we pull out the training manual and a pile of treats.  But often old dogs are, well, behaving!  We've long ago reached a point where the family just works.

Old dog, new trick?

Old dogs can absolutely learn new tricks, and are just as much fun to train as young dogs.  Research shows that it's a good thing to keep our old dog's brains engaged - and training is very much a brain game.  It's healthy for their brains and bodies.  Let's do it!

How to train an old dog.

Luckily, training an old dog is no harder than training a young dog.  First, you need to get your dog wanting to work - this usually means skipping a meal and having a bowl of healthy but delicious treats.  He may have worked for a ball toss as a young guy, but that's just not a paycheque anymore.  Second, you need a plan: what trick are you training?  The trick should be one he can still comfortably do with aging joints.  Get your paws on a great training guide (one which uses treats and sets realistic, step-by-step goals - shop for books by Jean Donaldson, Pat Miller, or other reinforcement trainers).  Third, have fun.  He loves learning and earning that special snack.  Keep your sessions as short as you want, but no longer than the point when he doesn't care about your treats. 

You may just find a new twinkle in his eye.

 

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Rufus is on the couch. Again.

Why do dogs love to hang out on the couch?  We all have our pet theories - I think it's because the couch is comfortable, it's high up, it offers a great look-out point to see the world outside the living room window, and you're there... In other words, dogs just like the couch. 

It's absolutely fine if you allow your dog to lounge on the couch, with or without you.  Sometimes, though, we don't want Rufus on the furniture.  If this sounds like you, and you're ready to make some changes, read on.

The easiest way to get Rufus off the couch is to buy him a comfortable dog bed and put it close to the couch.  Every day, lure him onto the bed, then reward him with a nice stuffed dog toy or rawhide to chew on.  Whenever he volunteers to get on his bed, make the effort to give him a nice treat or go over and pat him for a few minutes, if he's the type to enjoy a belly rub.  Over time, he'll orient more and more to his bed.

It can also help to keep the blinds closed so the couch isn't as attractive as a look-out, or to re-arrange the furniture. 

If you secretly enjoy having him on the couch but don't want him there when the mother-in-law arrives, you can keep him in the back room with a nice stuffed dog toy when she's around.  You can even train him to lay down in his own spot when guests are around, if you enjoy training (a good positive dog class or a private trainer can help with this one).  Keeping Rufus clean and brushed will help to reduce his shedding, and certain couch materials, those that are smooth, are easier to keep clean. 

If you punish Rufus when you find him on the couch, he will likely learn that it's only safe to snooze there when you're not around.  Hey...  That's not what we're looking for!  This isn't because he's evil, it's just how their very smart doggie brains work.  That's why meeting his need for a comfortable lounging spot with another bed is the best way to go. 

 

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