Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dog crime and punishment

Reader "e" made this comment on the last post; I started to answer there, and it kind of grew... so it's here: 

Hi, I wonder if you could explain your thinking on this: "Bruce- was on the chain all day....Punishment."
My understanding is that you can teach dogs that what they are doing "now" is wrong but that the concept of getting tied up the day after doing something is too abstract/far removed for them to understand.

This is why punishing them when you come home for peeing/chewing in the house if you've left them alone doesn't work. They only learn to associate your return with punishment.

e - you're totally right, that's the standard advice. I really disagree with it, though the reasons are complex. 

Very quickly- SOME dogs are much much smarter than others- and Bruce is one; he's very smart indeed. I don't think he's got ANY trouble understanding cause and effect even when disassociated. 

I'll point out here- I've got tons of formal training in animal behavior, from the academic side- actually both of the papers I presented for my MS degree were behavioral.  And I train my cats.  I can't tell you how many visitors we've had who have been astonished at our cats; who I do train to have reasonably good behavior.  Most folks consider cats essentially "untrainable"- living with one is a matter of mutual adaptation and tolerance.

A good chunk of my approach is to recognize that animals are very much individuals- what is true for this one, is not necessarily true for that one.  Our current cat, for example, is allowed to meow at the door to go out; the previous cat was not.  For this cat, it's an actual request based on need; for the previous cat, it was mostly a bid for endless attention.  No cat is allowed to meow to come in.

In the specific case with Bruce, he was not just stuck on the chain, and left to suffer.  The chain is right by the door of the Little House- he sees us coming and going.  And he's quiet and resigned about it, when we are in the house.  What he hates is when we all go somewhere, and he isn't allowed to go too.  

When we were leaving to work in the fields- he can tell what we're doing- I took the remains of the chewed up surveyors tape; and the shredded gorp bag- both carefully preserved for this purpose; and presented them to him, yet again.  And talked- "Bruce.  THIS is why you have to STAY -  at HOME.  THIS.  Bad dog.  You know you're not supposed to chew just anything."  

And some more talking.  And petting.  He knew immediately when I showed him the evidence of his bad behavior that - it was bad; he'd been naughty; and his gaze dropped, his stance changed to submissive- he was clearly embarrassed.  There is no question in my mind that dogs, and cats, are totally capable of real embarrassment.

Then I'd put the evidence back out of sight; and we'd go; leaving him behind.  He would cry.  "No.  Not today.  You were bad.  I can't trust you.  You stay home.  No chewing."  He knew.  That whole scenario was repeated all day, every time we came and went.

At the end of the day, I let him off, and of course he was delighted.  Next day- as we set out to work, he came along, but in a much quieter, more reserved way; unless specifically encouraged to play, which he's wildly enthusiastic about.

The books, mostly, stem from days when animals were newly regarded as black-box machines- that concept was considered a major "advance" in our understanding of animals.  They're all the same; input this; and you get this output; totally predictable.  Everybody likes simple rules.

Today, there is, finally, growing scientific acceptance that animals are NOT machines; they can be individuals; and they are both far more "intelligent", and have much greater "self awareness" than previously believed.

Lots of pet owners and lovers, and farmers, and hunters, have known that for a long time, of course.  Guess what?  It's true.  One possible excuse for the scientists' failure to see this- many pure-bred dogs and cats are -genuinely- mentally retarded; white mice and rats definitely are.  They've been bred for docility, and inbred out the wazoo- and lots of them are really just - dumb.  Mutts, mongrels, and alley cats- have their mental functions intact, and are far far smarter than science has allowed.   They can easily remember events and causes from past days.

So far, Bruce has been well behaved now regarding tapes.  

A previous similar episode- he had a propensity for chewing electrical extension cords; not something we approved of.  A couple weeks ago, he chewed up an important one- carrying current to the brooder light for the chicks.  He's never managed to shock himself, I think, or trip the circuit breakers, but it was just dumb luck; the cord was really trashed.

The actual chewing took place the day before we found it.  I took the chewed cord, and confronted him with it; slapped him with it (he's really sensitive about that- he knows it's punishment even though there's not enough force in the slap to hurt; he cries like a baby from the humiliation) and explained repeatedly that I was SO not happy, and he was not to do this ever again.  He knew I was angry, at him- and the chewed cord was why.  He hates that.

He hasn't ever done it again- though the replacement cord is just as vulnerable to him, and he has 100 opportunities a day.  It makes a huge difference that he WANTS to do "the right thing" - and make me happy.


Anonymous said...

I agree. They know why they are in trouble. If we find dog poop in the house, all we have to do is say "Who pooped in the house?" in our big scary voice. We know instantly who did it just by looking at them. The guilty party always looks guilty. They look down and won't meet our eyes. It's not that it's one that looks down every time. They all poop inside from time to time (they all bitterly hate the rain, and we live in the pacific northwest *laughs*). We can always peg the culprit by the look on their face and their body language.

It's the same when we put the youngest on the leash for not coming when called. She knows why she's on the leash, and for the next 2 weeks, she'll be an angel, coming immediately when called (for which she is rewarded, of course). But when she gets it in her head that she just doesn't want to come and we have to go get her, she goes on the leash. And not just on the leash, but the short leash so she can't take more then 2 steps away from us. She gets that for 15 minutes, and then she's good again for a while.

All of our dogs are dachshunds, which are extremely independent and hard headed dogs. All the training in the world won't stop them on the days that they decide it's just worth the punishment to do what they want. You can even see it on their face when you give them a command. They stop and look at you, and you can see the little wheels turning while they consider whether or not they actually want to obey that day. And if they don' they go *laughs*. I love my babies, but oh my goddess can they be stubborn.

Dogs are a lot smarter than many people give them credit for.

Farmer's Daughter said...

Wonderful post. I agree completely that animals are individuals. Some people couldn't believe that my dog Duke didn't like his crate, because their dogs LOVES their crate. They thought it was ME not wanting to put him in there. But as a puppy, in the crate, he'd cry, wet himself, shake, and his little nose would run, if I could actually force him in there. He hates confined spaces and I'm not putting him in there, that's that, I don't care how much YOUR dog loves his crate, MINE doesn't. He hates it.

That's part of the reason I left him with my parents on the farm when I moved. I can't take a dog off a 60 acre farm where he roams free, swims in the pond or river, catches woodchucks, bunnies and mice, chases coyotes, and plays with the other animals, and put him in a house on a 2 acre lot with none of those things, and leave him inside all day while I'm at work. I just won't do it. I feel you can't take a farm dog off the farm.

I think those folks who say animals aren't intelligent or can't reason have never had a lot of contact with them. As someone who grew up with dogs, draft horses, cows, chickens, turkeys, bunnies, goats, barn cats, mini horses, llamas, sheep, and once a pet deer, I KNOW that all animals can think and reason. Some more than others!

It's me said...

Interesting. My boss who is a "dog expert" tells me that dogs don't feel ashamed and that they are only reacting to our voices.

He doesn't explain why sometimes I'll walk in the house and see my dog come cringing into the kitchen. I don't even KNOW that she's done anything wrong. When I go into the next room I'll see she drug out some garbage or something. To me that is explicit proof that she KNOWS what she did was bad and that it's NOT a reaction to my feelings.

I suppose there's an "expert" in every field. I try to ignore them and move on. :)

Anonymous said...

You're torturing me Greenpa. What is the update on the guineas? Cue up the Hammond B-3 Organ sound effects and spill the beans.
Yeah, chewing the plugged in power cables is definitely a no-no.
In my 40 year electrician's career I must have found a thousand mice and rats, dessicated, with their teeth clamped on a hot power leg. But strangely, no dog or cat deaths that I know of, although they do bite those extensions. I had to train all my dogs off of that one. My cats are trained too, but for other faults, like walking on the counters and tables, except one that I think is brain damaged, literally. I adopted her and her mother from the pound. The mother is a very bright siamese, but the daughter is a mix that is really more feral than tame, very much untrainable. Very low cat intelligence. All four of my cats are excellent ratters however. If you live in the forest you can't live without those hard working cats. Oh, and not all of the pedigreed dogs are dim, only a few. I had a Fila that was remarkably intelligent, my friend who trained him {they must be trained as they weigh 185 pounds} for me assured me he was the fastest learner he had come across, but he was the first Fila he had trained.
Oh by the way, if you are getting into poultry, that thin spaghetti type irrigation tube that branches out from the half inch main cpvc tube is mistaken by chickens for being a monster worm and they snap it open. Just so you know.
I had to change over to all half inch and skip the spaghetti. I no longer use irrigation, but years ago, I did lose that battle.
Another day, I'll tell you how I train my plants.

Wendy said...

Very good post. Yes, I would agree that animals are much more intelligent than we often give them credit for being.

And, maybe, lab rats and mice are "retarded", but those wild ones that live in the walls of my house and outside in my yard are not :).

EJ said...

Hi Greenpa, So glad to hear that both you and Bruce are happy with your training methods and that they work for you. I think dog training is like raising kids - so many ways to do it and we all hope we do it right.
Thanks for the interesting post - and all the other things you write. Your blog is one of the first I read every morning.
Eva in BC

Cynthia O'Rourke said...

If you have any suggestions for training cats I'd LOVE to hear them. I have one very sweet female Maine Coon and one devil's spawn aggressive male short-haired that will be the death of me.

Greenpa said...

Cynthia- I'm a little scared to get too deeply into the topic- I'm afraid of turning this into an animal training blog; which is not the idea! :-)

But- briefly- the cat has to GET that you are really, truly angry, and that there are really truly consequences. The cat world is full of claws, and teeth- they're quite used to a little pain, and it can be effective. When they were kittens, their mama spanked them when they needed it.

They will accept sensible "spanking" from you with no resentment, if they deserve it, and it's all clear.

One specific tactic- grab them VERY firmly- by the scruff of the neck (grab all the neck skin you can get ahold of) and yank them up into the air. Most cats will freeze when you do this, in submission- you are now their mama, and they are the bad kitten. If your hold is loose, they may struggle and claw- if it's very tight, and firm- they will usually quickly desist and submit. In extreme circumstances, like clawing a baby- they'll get a hard rap on the skull with a knuckle, while in this neck hold. (Cat skulls are VERY hard.)

Explain- at the top of your voice if you want, why you are angry, while you hold them up in the air. Speak English- they understand some; certainly words like "no", and "bad".

A specific- both my recent cats eventually succumbed to the temptation of an open butterdish on the table. Very naughty of them to get up on the table- and very naughty of them to eat the butter (or steal any food from the table)- and they totally knew it when doing it.

Consequences- grabbed by the scruff of the neck- yelled at extensively: and I painted their entire face- with butter. So now they have to spend a long long time cleaning their face- and the entire time, the smell and taste of the butter will be with them in a pretty negative fashion. Then they were "excatmunicated" for 24 hours; tossed (literally- rudely dropped a few feet from the neck hold) out of the house, and not allowed back in. When they requested entry, they were reminded- "NO- you were a BAD CAT- you got UP ON THE TABLE. BAD. You stay out."

They totally DO make the connections, and remember why. They PRETEND they don't- a behavior they've often learned will let them escape consequences. They know.

It works. They won't touch open butter, or get up on the table- for a long time; often years. They WILL, probably- relapse. Cats ARE cats. But in the meantime, you have long periods of peace, not constant warfare.

One caveat- all my cats are raised by me, and bottle fed; taken from their litter before weaning. I really AM their mama. That makes a big difference. I did, long ago, have an adopted alley cat, and while these same techniques did work for her, they probably weren't quite as durable, and the alley cat may have resented the discipline more than the bottle babies- who have been uniformly eager to make up and get back the good graces.

Greenpa said...

RC - patience! :-) working on it. There are 10 guineas out right now...

Nancy M. said...

This is a very interesting post. It would be great to be able to train my cats. I am having a hard enough time with my son's chihuahua. Very cool how mutts are smarter than purebreds.

TDP said...

I totally believe animals are smart and have emotions. My cat, whom I've known since she was 4 weeks old, and I are very bonded. She knows what words like kitty out, outside, get-out, NO, kitty down, come-on, now,and ni-nite mean. Her meows often sound like come-on and NOW, not just randomly, but used in the same context I would use them. She continues to learn things that she did not know before. Last year she surprised me when just for kicks, sitting next to her, I asked her if I could have a kiss. She stretched her face up to mine and held her mouth right by my mouth. I live alone, I don't have visitors, I don't watch much tv, so this action floored me. Since then, I can say "can I have a kissy" and she'll do the same thing. Now I'm trying to see if she can learn to say my name. Just might work, I betcha!

Anonymous said...

my two cents, i think chaining a puppy all day is harsh. they're pack animals and they suffer terribly when isolated for such long periods. he gets it the minute you show him the chewed up stuff. chaining also sets him, and any other tethered animals, up for the coyotes.