I wonder if I have a problem in the making. It’s a problem I never thought I’d have.
My dog can’t be bad.
Now how did that happen?
Learning How To Be A Good Dog
My first two dogs, Agatha and Christie, lived more than a dozen years each and at least one of them was never fully toilet trained.
My next dog, Shadow, was eight years old when we adopted her. We tried to teach her not to jump up on the bed at four a.m. but after a few months of failure, we gave up and bought a queen sized mattress.
But Honey. Sweet Honey. Training her was so easy.
If my little fuzzy butt went to chew on a chair leg, I’d gently say, “eh” and hand her a Nylabone. As a result, I blame any damaged furniture in my house on foster puppies.
Honey never tried to counter surf—even if the counter was right at nose level.
And bite inhibition? Honey is its poster child.
Okay, she did bite like a little golden vampire for the first weeks (it felt like years) she lived with us. But today, Honey has rock-solid bite inhibition.
Well, if my husband’s finger ends up in Honey’s mouth during an excited game of tug, she recognizes it instantly and won’t bear down. No matter how aroused she is by the game.
So why is this a problem?
Sometimes It’s Good To Be Bad
You’re probably familiar with the most famous example of dogs being “bad” because it’s good—intelligent disobedience in service dogs.
An example of intelligent disobedience is when a guide dog refuses to allow a blind person to step into the path of an oncoming car even when their person gives the cue to go forward.
I don’t rely on Honey to protect my life. But in our future life together aboard a sailboat, I can see some situations where Honey might need to disobey her training.
The one thing I’ve been threatening to teach Honey but have not yet begun (maybe if I go public with my shame I’ll be embarrassed enough to start this training task) is how to toilet on the deck of a boat.
Unfortunately, Honey is perfectly house trained (I never thought I’d hear those words coming out of my mouth).
She was sleeping through the night at nine weeks old. Even when she was sick from a bowel obstruction, I only remember cleaning up one accident in the house. When she “goes” in the yard, she finds the farthest spot from the house.
I can only imagine how hard it will be to teach Honey to use a toilet spot only feet away from where we sleep. Now you see why I’ve been putting it off.
Breaking Through Obedience
Honey recently showed me how hard it is for her to disobey her earliest training.
We were out in the yard playing in the snow and I realized I had dropped my glove.
Honey is a retriever. If I ask her to go find her ball, toy, or bone and bring it to me, she will. She’ll even use her nose to sniff it out if she doesn’t know where it is.
So I asked her to bring me my glove and pointed to it so she knew what I was asking for.
We taught Honey to never pick up our clothing from the time she was a devilish, chewing puppy. She learned her lesson well. And I don’t know what it would take to make her unlearn it.
I’m starting to realize how difficult it will be to teach Honey to disregard her deeply ingrained toileting instincts.
Bad Can Be Good
I love Honey so much it hurts. Just like I loved Shadow. And Agatha. And Christie.
She’s a good dog. But that’s not why I love her.
Besides “bad” dogs are lovable too. And sometimes being bad is the better choice.
You’ve heard stories about children who wandered away and got lost. They only survived because the family dog was “bad” enough to leave the yard and keep the child safe until they could be found.
Isn’t it amazing that a dog can understand the difference between doing the right thing and doing the good thing?
I look back on my life and see too many times when I did the good thing instead of the right thing. And understanding how hard it is to override Honey’s deeply learned obedience is making me think.
Maybe if I can figure out how to teach Honey to ignore her training for a good reason, there’s hope for me too.
Your Turn: Have you ever had to teach a dog how to ignore their training to do something? How did you manage it? Or do you have an independent dog who is smart enough to know when to be “bad?”