It is still a commonly held belief that dogs are a bit dumb and not capable of free thought or creative problem-solving. This video indicates otherwise.
In this video, we see a dog use cleaver planning stages to solve a rather complex problem. The mission? Make it to the counter-top and scout for resources. This behavior, often called "counter surfing," is a common problem in many homes.
We can learn a lot from this video. Check it out, then let's analyze:
Behaviors like this are not hardwired in their minds as instinctive, inborn traits. Nor are they exclusively the product of various associations and reinforcements (rewards) they receive. They are also, in part, the product of statistical analysis, and self-satisfaction, among other individualized influences.
Treat the cause, not just the symptom
We can see that the owners did not successfully stop the counter-surfing. Why? Because they attempted to treat the symptom instead of the cause. Counter-surfing is the end result of many behaviors that preceded it. Before this event, the dog had made dozens, if not hundreds of decisions. To curb this behavior, the owner would need to arrest the entire sequence of choice-making which led up to the event, rather than only attack the end result itself.
Today it is common for us to focus only the end result of a dog's actions. It's an easy trap to fall into because the end result can be easily seen. But dogs, like people, think and behave in sequences as their brains process the world around them and continuously work to deduct order from chaos. Like us, sequential thought construction serves to aid survival through adaptation to ever-changing conditions of life.
Instead of focusing on the end result, we should ask ourselves, what happened minutes, hours, or even days and months before the event itself? This is where the solution lies. If we disrupt the entire sequence of thoughts, decisions, and behaviors which preceded counter-surfing, we halt the end result.
A simple "place" command would have done that. Place is a boundary concept whereby a dog must stay on a bed, or place, assigned by a caregiver. If this dog had stayed in place, then the counter-surfing event would never have transpired. For this reason, Place tends to be one of the most profoundly important concepts a dog parent could ever enforce within their home, as it can be used to address hundreds of unwanted behaviors.
To improve your own dog's behavior, start by putting him/her on-leash within your home, and use the leash to enforce the Place concept. Over time, integrate this expectation into various facets of your everyday life. When unable to enforce Place, fall back on confinement such as a kennel or spare room.
This approach will effectively reduce the number of available choices for your dog and help them to more easily find the correct choice, which leads to clarity and praise.
Aaron McDonald is a canine cognitive behaviorist, theorist, and author. He can be reached at www.ThreeDimensionalDog.com.
To learn more about how dogs think and solve problems, order a copy of Three Dimensional Dog, A Unified Theory of Canine Behavior.