When A Dog Doesn’t Know What To Do
Honey loves when I bring out the clicker and treats. Lately, I’ve been bringing them along on our walks.
The other day, I saw a utility pole with a white band around it about three feet off the ground. I wondered if I could teach Honey to jump up and touch the white band with her nose.
I started by clicking and treating each time she tapped the pole with her nose. Then, only when she tapped it above the peg where the line worker attaches his step.
We ended on a high note and continued with our walk.
When we passed another utility pole, I wondered how quickly Honey would transfer what she learned at the last utility pole to this one.
What she did surprised me.
I knew Honey wouldn’t immediately associate the two utility poles. I knew we’d have to start again with rewarding her for touching the pole with her nose and working her way up. But I thought the previous experience would make the process go faster.
Instead, Honey looked confused. She didn’t know what I wanted from her.
Then she had an idea. She touched the door handle of the car parked next to the utility pole. No click. She did it again. And again.
Honey kept booping the car door trying to elicit a click and a treat.
Honey knew what business coaches, personal trainers, and therapists have been saying for years: when you don’t know what to do, just do something. Don’t worry about being wrong.
Stop Trying To Figure Out What To Do
I spend a lot of time in my head. You may have noticed that about me.
When I need to do something, I ponder it for a long time. I write about it. I think about all the steps involved.
Sometimes I never get around to doing anything.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m afraid of failure. I might be even more afraid of success.
But I know that all my pondering doesn’t help me get things done.
Maybe it’s better to just do something and stop trying to figure out what to do first.
It works for Honey.
Thought and Action Go Together For Dogs
Those of you who do clicker training with your dogs know just how it causes them to think. They’re motivated for the reward.
But they don’t just sit there trying to “think” of what you want from them. Instead, they start going through behaviors that have gotten clicked before:
- lie down
- roll over
- back up
- lift a paw
Dogs don’t get embarrassed about being wrong. They just keep doing something until it gets a click and a treat. And then they try to figure out what got the last treat so they can get some more.
Here’s the thing. A dog’s actions help them get the reward they’re seeking.
Eventually, Honey will do an action that is close to what I want her to eventually do and I’ll reward her for it. Her action helps her figure out, in combination with my shaping her behavior with the clicker, what to do next.
And that’s what I should be doing too. Take one step, see what it teaches me. Perhaps I will get a reward that will encourage me to move on to another step. And another. Until I actually accomplish what I need to do.
It works for Honey to just do something when she doesn’t know what to do. So maybe it will work for me.
Your Turn: Are you good at taking action when you don’t know what to do? How about your dog? Does she sit and wait for clues or go boldly forward to try new things?
P.S. If you’re curious, the next day, Honey did jump up to touch the white band on the utility pole with her nose. I didn’t go back to the other pole to see if she would still boop the nearest car.