A dog who is left to his own devices due to the lack of his owner’s direction will become an opportunist making up his own rules. Leaving a steak marinating on the kitchen counter the wafting aromas entice even the smallest of dogs – the opportunist waits quietly in the anticipation of a chance to grab and run. The moment a tasty morsel falls onto the floor it’s devoured before you can even think to react. Dogs that engage in opportunistic conduct may be characterized as negative behavior as it can be bad for the dog and equally bad for their owner. So whose fault is it?
The other week after everyone had left after our Sunday practice I decided to run my three dogs through the course one more time. I had run Elfie and Eggnog and I was running Nutt-Meg and approaching the A-frame the 2nd to last obstacle - when it happened. Dogs are smart and Nutt-Meg is smarter than most and she knew we would be leaving – it was now or never. I saw her look at me through the corner of her eye and I knew before I could react exactly what she was about to do.
All summer we have been practicing outdoors in a paddock at the equestrian center. On this particular Sunday there were two horses enjoying the summer grasses in the paddock next to us. Nutt-Meg had been eyeing them up all morning. She was under the fence barking and snapping at the horse’s hind legs before I could blink.
Of course Eggnog not wanting to be out done decided to take off and join his fun sister. Now it was hot and having a Neanderthal moment I obviously was not thinking with my cerebral cortex when I had tied Eggnog to a leg of the shade tent that now was buckling while being dragged behind him as he ran towards the fence.
I was on my own and now had two separate situations that required my immediate attention. Knowing Elfie was also tied to the shade tent and was somewhere in the crumbling mess I deemed this required my attention first. I went to rescue Eggnog from his dragging appendage and in doing so he took the opportunity to slip out of his agility collar and now he too was under the fence barking and chasing the horses.
The horses worked in tandem kicking at the little terrors and it didn’t take long before Eggnog was clipped across his backside tossing him a few feet in the air causing him to come back running with his tail between his legs and slipping back under the fence towards me. With him now securely tied to the fence I was able to focus on Nutt-Meg who came back under the fence smiling like the Cheshire cat quite happy with the morning’s adventure. I was somewhat happy that I had at least one dog not running amuck and giving my dog training a bad name.
With the dogs tied to the fence I sorted out the now demolished shade tent with three broken legs and collected up my belongings. I grabbed the treat container with at least 3 days of tasty dog treats in it. That is when I realized that through-out the mayhem my well behaved dog, Elfie, took the opportunity to woof down all the treats.
So was it all my dogs’ fault? Or was it mine? As their leader I allowed the conditions for the negative behavior to occur. I knew Nutt-Meg was eying up the horses but overrid any thought of her bolting over my desire to practice. Tying dogs prone to hunt to unstable tent legs was a stupid thing to do. As for Elfie woofing down the food – when the opportunity arose I hadn’t give her direction not to so she made up her own rules. When in doubt eat especially when there are tasty treats involved. I acknowledge the fault was all mine.
Curbing the opportunist behavior while they are puppies gives your dogs the best chance or avoiding the negative behavior. Keep in mind that rescue dogs or rehomed dogs will often carry baggage of unwanted behaviors making the rehabilitation more challenging. Avoid setting your dog up for failure; so, if their behavior cannot be modified then you need to be aware of your dog’s opportunistic tendencies and it is up to you as a handler to create an environment that will lead them away from temptation. And remember we are not perfect and neither are our dogs. We make mistakes in our training and even the best trained dogs at times can become opportunists!
Salty Dogs Agility Club