I was getting the dogs’ dinner ready last night and as I was ready to feed them, Tango shoved his head into his bowl – while it was still in my hand – and almost knocked it onto the floor. Maybe it took me longer than normal to get dinner ready, or maybe he was just really hungry, I don’t know. But I knew this was the perfect opportunity to practice appropriate behavior. And that meant waiting politely until the food bowl is on the floor and I give the release signal.
So I calmly lifted the bowl back up off the floor and asked him to sit. He looked a bit baffled by all of this — "Hey this is dinner time, right?" was the question I saw in his eyes. Oh yes, it’s definitely dinner time, but it’s no excuse to lose mannerly behavior – that’s for sure.
I asked Tango to sit and wait, put the bowl back on the floor and waited for him to look at me (still in his sitting position). When he did, I praised him and gave the oh-so-anticipated release signal. He dove back in – which was fine because the bowl was on the floor, not in my hands.
Just because you’ve taught your dog skills and behaviors doesn’t mean you’re all done with your dog’s education. No, education is a life-long process, and like many skills, if they aren’t routinely practiced, they get rusty. Every now and again, I’ll notice some slippage in my dog’s manners. When I see these things, I don’t wait and say I’ll get to it. No way! That’s asking for trouble – you know you’ll never get to it and the behavior will happen more often. Nope, don’t let it go, start fixing it right then and there.
In this instance all I had to do was (1) interrupt the behavior (pick the food bowl back up) and (2) remind Tango of the appropriate response (wait until he hears the release cue). That’s it, that’s all. It didn’t take any time at all and the issue was taken care of before it ever began to become a habit. There wasn’t any yelling or punishment, just a quick reminder of how to wait for the release. Tango figured it out immediately and he was done with his dinner lickety-split.
So the next time you notice some "sloppiness" in your dog’s behavior, don’t just write it off, promise yourself you’ll teach your dog how to respond appropriately.