As a dog professional one of the questions we get most often is “Why does my dog ___?”
We don’t know. No one knows. And our dogs can’t tell us.
If the question is something behavioral – we also don’t care. We deal with the situation, not the cause. It’s hard for some people to wrap their minds around that. We’ll never know what caused the behavior in the first place.
Our job is dealing with what is.
Fixing the problem
We got a question this week from a person whose dog gets crazy when her car’s windshield wipers go on. The dog’s owner speculated that the dog viewed the wipers as a threat, and was being protective. Maybe that’s true. We don’t know and the dog’s not talking.
There are three ways we can deal with any not-ideal behavior:
You’re the only one who can decide which of the three paths you’ll take.
Every dog owner’s tolerance is different, and how your household works is no one’s business but yours. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
If it’s something that makes you go “huh, that’s interesting,” it may not be worth the time and effort involved in changing it. It doesn’t particularly bother you, so you can ignore it.
If it’s an occasional occurrence that you can prepare for and secure the situation in advance, it could be that management is a good option for you. For example, if you’re having work done on your house and expecting plumbers, painters, or other professionals, you may not need to train your dog to greet them politely and allow them to go about their business. This may be a case where you secure the dog in another area of the house and deal with the temporary inconvenience.
But if it’s a part of everyday life that your dog isn’t good at dealing with, it may be time to pull out the training kit and get busy. There are times when you must use the windshield wipers. And it would be really nice if your dog didn’t care.
This is the time to train your dog.
Again, we’re not trying to psychoanalyze the dog to help it cope with the trauma of windshield wipers. We’re going to use positive reinforcement training to help the dog deal with the reality.
You can’t do that in the midst of the trauma. If you’re driving down the highway and the skies open, pouring down cats and dogs (sorry, we couldn’t resist), it’s not the time to train your dog. Or yell at it. For that moment, it’s an “ignore it.”
When you’re home and the car is parked on the driveway or in the street, that’s the time to take a few minutes to condition your dog to either ignore, or even enjoy, the windshield wipers.
Get some incredibly yummy treats (about 10) and go out to the car with the dog. Give the dog two treats. Turn on the windshield wipers for a second. Turn them off. Give the dog a treat.
Do it again until you’re out of treats. It won’t take more than a couple of minutes. You can do it again later, but not too much at a time.
The next day, or week, or whenever you have a chance, turn on the wipers and give the treat when the wipers are on. Then turn them off. On=treat. Off=no treat. When the 10 treats are gone, you’re done.
Step by step
We’re sure you see the progression. Gradually increase the length of time between turning on the wipers and giving the treat. Wait until the dog is quiet before you give the treat. Be patent and grow the behavior gradually. If you take too large a step and the dog regresses, just take a step back and go a bit slower.
There’s no deadline for either you or your dog. It took a while for the behavior to become habit – it takes just as long (or longer) to reverse it.
As much as we’d love to know why our dogs do certain things – we can’t. We can help them deal with whatever it is. And everyone will live happier ever after.