As a currency, attention and simple rewards are rendered valueless by too much – too much lavished attention on demand and constantly available food. Owners actually devalue their own worth and relevance by being constantly at the beck and call of their dog.
It’s nice if you can thank a willing dog for doing something for you, like coming in when called, with a small food reward that he appreciates. It’s nice if your dog values your touch, because it’s something that isn’t constantly available on demand nor forced onto him when he wants to sleep in peace. Anything in too much abundance loses value.
So it is with Cassie, a two-year-old Italian Spinone I visited yesterday. Because she is constantly touched, all her demands are immediately met and because she has food available all the time, the owners have no leverage. They have nothing that Cassie would want to work for as she gets it already for doing nothing. Cassie is basically a lovely natured dog who is playing the cards dealt to her by her humans. She won’t come when called, she won’t get into the car when asked. She growls if people approach her food and she is snarly and aggressive around bones. Quite understandably she believes resources belong to her. She also growls if somebody touches her when she’s lying on her bed.
Things are going in the wrong direction. The other day she actually bit the gentleman who, when she wouldn’t come in at night, went out and, shouting angrily, forcibly brought her in. As he is her servant, how dare he insist she does something! This has nothing to do with love, but with respect and relevance.
If Cassie now has to start working in order to earn being touched, her entire attitude to it will change. If she can’t be bothered to take just a couple of steps towards them when invited, then she shouldn’t be touched. This gives her the opportunity to say ‘no thanks’, whilst also telling her that when she does want fussing she will sometimes have to put in some effort . When she nudges for attention she should not always necessarily get it.
There is a happy balance! At the moment it is one-sided in favour of Cassie.
A dog living with rules, boundaries and respect for her humans who put in the effort to be consistent and relevant, is ultimately a happier animal.