What happened to a good old thump on the noggin?

On July 30, 2013 by mattywater

So I’m beginning to realize something here, this positive reinforcement thing is a real pain in the ass. It goes like this: your puppy jumps up on the couch, you lure him off with what they call a “high value treat” also known as a tiny stinky piece of a horrifying meat log made of beef lungs, turkey liver and potatoes. This meat log situation is seriously enough to make you rethink the whole pet ownership thing in the first place. Anyway, sooner or later your dog realizes that whenever you see him up on the couch and start coming for him he is going to get a treat so he makes the decision, on his own (read: tricked into it by me and my horrible meat treat), to get off the couch. Once he has started making that decision, you add the command “get down” “off” “stop ruining my couch you asshole” etc. and he starts to associate that command with his decision to get his dirty-from-digging-up-the-garden-you-worked-on-all-Spring paws on the floor where they belong. Before long every time he jumps on the couch you can tell him to get down and he will!

positive reinforcement doesn't seem to work on bender, the golden retriever puppy with two paws on the couch looking like he's done nothing wrong.

Don’t mind me…

Of course that doesn’t solve the problem of him jumping up there in the first place… Or the larger problem that I’m coming across: when he wants a treat he goes and jumps on the couch and then gets down and comes and sits next to me expectantly. So that’s awesome, I’ve successfully trained him to hang out on the couch for a few seconds. Bravo me!

Bender, two paws on the couch, looking like he's done nothing wrong

I’m just here for the treats

 What happened to the good old days where a thump on the noggin was allowed during dog training? Now it’s all about you manipulating him into making his own decisions. They tell you to be the alpha in the relationship, but doesn’t letting him make his own decision to remove his furry butt from my couch make him feel like he’s in charge? I guess only time will tell. And, to be fair, I trained him to sit using positive reinforcement: treat by his nose, back it up so he sits, click the clicker and give him a treat. And now he sits all the time without me asking. Maybe he’ll start not getting on the couch all the time one day real soon. Or maybe I’m just supposed to give him treats whenever he isn’t on the couch? That doesn’t seem very efficient….

Bender with a mouthful of white down comforter

Delicious

But let me tell you the most demoralizing part. Sometimes, in moments of weakness, all I want is to hold that little furball on my lap on the couch while I rewatch the 3rd season of Futurama for the fifteenth time. I mean really that’s why I got a puppy in the first place right?! So I scoop him up from the floor by our feet, he yawns and, half-asleep, he flops into my lap hiccuping every few seconds. 

Bender in my lap for a few short seconds

Cuddlebug

For a few moments it’s fantastic, and then the other shoe drops, his hiccups wake him up more fully, and he realizes “Oh gross! I’m on the couch! This place is the worst!” and squirms his way back to the floor to sleep on cold tile with his head resting on a chair rung. I take this to mean that he’s just a treat-junky jerk who never even wants to be on the couch at all! At this point all my optimism flies right out the window and in my frustration I decide to write a grumpy blog post. 

bender with his head asleep on a chair rung

That’s more like it.

Disclaimer: No dogs were thumped on the noggin during this blog post. Or any other time.

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