Choice Decisions & Forecasting the Future

Choice Decisions & Forecasting the Future

Skipper and I were enjoying a woods walk yesterday on the public trails near my home in North Yarmouth. He was off leash, as is permitted, and having a grand time freely exploring the bouquet of springtime forest offerings. Aside from the excited chirps of chippies which would prompt a short chase from Skipper, there wasn’t a lot to see in the way of critters, but this didn’t matter.
Seeing isn’t what a dog’s exploration mainly consists of. It’s the NOSE that drives our dogs to explore, and the instantaneous information they gather is astonishing. I find myself envious of their olfactory superpowers and curious about what top secret intelligence they have access to which I do not. In addition to this incredible ability, it has recently been discovered that a dog’s smell and vision centers are somehow integrated, unlike humans. [, 2022] This is very exciting science about our best friends!
Invisible to me but calling out “loudly” to Skipper from off the trail was a largish section of deer hide with a thick layer of fuzzy coat still attached. Of course he had to investigate it, first with his nose, then… you guessed it… by picking it up and giving it a good taste (I supposed). Yuck.
This was his walk, not mine, and the discovery of this piece of deer was clearly a highlight for him and emotionally nourishing. He was ecstatic, completely entranced by this fascinating artifact. It was probably as captivating to him as watching a viral video can be for us, except it was via scent. Imagine that! Exploration via sniffing is essential nutrition for our dogs.

BUT… back to the (ick) deer hide…
My dog is off-leash in the woods and in possession of part of a dead animal.

What should I do?
We have many choices with respect to how to interact with and train our dogs. The choice we ultimately make, however, will affect our dog’s future behavior and the emotions associated with that behavior. We need to weigh our decisions carefully.

My choices:
1.    Do nothing

2.    Run toward him and try to pull it out of his mouth or ask him to drop it
a. Yell at him while doing the above
b.    Chase and yell while doing the above

3.    Call him to me and ask him to drop it
a.    Yell while doing the above

4.    Physically restrain him while I    forcefully remove said item from his mouth.
I chose #1. “Do nothing.” It was a no-brainer. He’s a dog, and the likelihood of that piece of deer hide causing any negative repercussions was extremely low. I let him enjoy his find and I kept walking. When he’d hit the limit of how much information he could glean from it, he caught up to me. Thankfully, he decided not to consume much of it. If it had looked like he wanted to make a meal out of it or if it were truly something that was dangerous, I would have chosen 3 (not 3a). Thanks to lots of work positively teaching recall, drop it, and fetch, I am certain he would have gladly obliged. Without such training, it probably wouldn’t be the case.
By choosing #1, the future will invariably feature more encounters with interesting/disgusting dead animal parts, and Skipper will feel free to investigate them without being harassed. Choices #2-4 may succeed in the short term in that the object will be retrieved, but my dog will learn to avoid me when he has something, whatever it might be. He may see me as a threat, especially if and/or b are included.
Any choice that elicits resistance from the dog will result in future resistance. He will be less likely to come when called, less likely to learn to relinquish items, including while playing retrieve, and less trusting of his humans.
The bottom line is that we have choices in how we address any behavior we either want to strengthen or diminish, and those choices affect not only the immediate situation, but future interactions as well.
Choose wisely, and Happy Training!

Diana Logan, CPDT-KA Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge-Assessed  
Pet Connection Dog Training, North Yarmouth, Maine | 207-252-9352
Back to blog