What a tangled web we weave ourselves sometimes … becoming the best partnership possible involves a whole lot of flexibility, thinking, learning and planning … as well as the recognition that things aren’t always going to go perfectly. Sigh.
|photo credit Len Sylvester|
Do dogs lie?
Dogs may ignore what we KNOW they know … (“I can’t hear you” at the dog park comes to mind) but they don’t , maliciously or hatefully set out to lie to humans. That said, there is some pretty good evidence dogs can be deceptive. On purpose. This flies in the face of my beliefs generally and strikes me as pretty anthropomorphic but some evidence suggests I am wrong about canine honesty. There was a study that determined that dogs could protect their own interest by choice (they got to choose which food to take a human partner to – that partner then (predictably to the dog) either kept the food, shared the food or with their own companion gave the dog all the food). The dogs choose which box to take which partner to carefully, suggesting they can be deceptive to protect their own interests.. Anecdotally I know am not the only person to live in a multi dog house where one dog is very good at distracting another away from a chew or bone. ” Woof Woof – who is at the door??” and then a sucker grab of a coveted item. Many of us may realize that our dogs will only take “forbidden” objects when we can’t see them do so. There was another study about this which further illustrated that dogs understand humans can’t see well in the dark.
The very definition of “lie” in the context we are discussing is to purposefully deceive. So if one is to believe the studies, and come on, SCIENCE … why yes, in certain circumstances and for specific reasons (to get that awesome primary reinforcement of FOOD) it appears dogs can, and do choose to deceive us.
BUT …. when you *think* your dog has lied to you about a training or trialing (or filming as illustrated here!) problem evaluate your position on this thought. The word lie has negative associations for humans and connotes a deliberation in intention that may not be true to training or competing. The pejorative feelings the term evokes may also be unhelpful for problem solving. Anger is
rarely never a constructive solution (and to know me is to know how rarely I am that absolute) What other words might fit the situation you are characterizing as deliberate obfuscation (fancy word eh?)?
This is an instance that applying some, or all, of the W’s of journalism to process events will keep your thinking moving forward instead of spinning down a rabbit hole. Applying this framework and working through these reflective questions will help you decide why your canine made the choices they did and determine what your part in the issue was as well as give yourself some answers to apply to a plan to move forward in the future.
Obviously we aren’t story telling to ourselves , or anyone else applying this technique but it can be a helpful (and easy to remember way) to hunt for information. Often to reduce our stress and anxiety when things go wrong it can be helpful to have an easy framework to process the events. This framework is useful for instances of communication breakdown between dog and human – including “lies”.
Let’s look at each of the Ws and that final H to determine how to best use them in this context.
Who matters in this situation? (free pass to working on this answer – you, your dog – you as a team – those are the answers to this one!). It’s important to start here though as that reflection will ground you and remind you why you are taking the time to do this even if all you want to do is cry in your car.
What happened? (Who misread who? What factors influenced the events of the “lie”?) If you have video watch it carefully. If you have a friend or coach who saw it ask them what they saw. Brody once ran under an aframe instead of doing a tunnel. I was shocked, and pretty confused. I left the ring and thought hard about what part of the course he did that on and exactly what had happened. I walked back onto the course and felt the sand with my hand. It was burning hot. I had asked him to run on boiling sand surface and not realized. By looking hard at what happened I was able to understand why is happened. (not to get ahead of our list here)
|Brody literally made so few mistakes on course I remember them to this day.|
Where did you first get confused? By delving into this W some unexpected answers about what caused the miscommunication to occur.may become apparent.
When did you believe the ‘lie”? This matters more than you may think. I was watching a friends Nosework trial video and with hindsight being 20/20 her dog stopped and really was interested in the hide but then moved on and spent much the same amount of time with a similar indication on a drooly spot on a different car. Sigh. The handler believed the misinformation over the right answer perhaps because time was ticking? They’d moved around the whole site? The dog’s style was similar to the alert? She felt badly and was wondering if she’d already missed it? I haven’t asked how committed to believing the last indication she was … but it might make a big difference to choices she’ll make going forward.
Why did it happen? What has happened in the past? Does false information end the potentially stressful search? Were you stressed and anxious? Was your dog hot and unable to perform normally? Were environmental conditions confusing in some way? Spend awhile working on this question because it’s where a plan for addressing moments like this will come from in the future.
which segues very nicely into
How are you going to use this information to become a better team? The learning in a “lie” matters. Your canine partner is not doing anything other than sharing information. Stress (for either or both or you) , a gap in training, an off day or a simple error can all create results we don’t want. This framework will assist you in your quest to be the best team you can be – even in the face of adversity.
Use the framework to decide what to test to reduce the “lies”. A plan for stress reduction? More training in a skill? More generalizing and proofing? Application of these questions and reflection on the answers will help you decide what to test and change first. This technique is easy to test, and can lead to greater clarity (and therefore results!)