One of my favorite things to do is observe Lilu, my youngest dog. I am always amazed by her intelligence and clever ways of thinking. While I believe many dogs are equally intelligent and clever, I know the most about Lilu because I observe her at home and in various settings outside the home every day.
Over the weekend, I caught her doing something very impressive; the best part is that I caught it on video. It was a nice, normal Saturday afternoon. Adam, my boyfriend, was brushing our 14-year-old dog, Puffy (pause for an awwww). As a typical dog, Lilu sometimes seeks our attention when we’re paying attention to Puffy. Today was one of those days. She started to experiment with how to get our attention by applying behaviors that have previously worked for this purpose. She has learned through experience that is a bad idea to get near Puffy when we’re around, but it’s safe to go get a ball. Generally when I am home Lilu is either sleeping, looking out the window, or seeking a ball to fetch (playing with the ball is the biggest behavioral reward for Lilu). She either initiates the game by staring at a ball that’s stuck under a piece of furniture (in which case, I get up and get it for her), or she drops the ball onto the couch or chair. In the video, you can see how Lilu tries to get our attention, and when one thing doesn’t work she “sets up” a different opportunity. Best of all, you can actually see her thinking and looking at me to see if I am going to respond.
Take a few days to observe your dog and see what reinforced behaviors are being given in other contexts–especially at times when the dog is trying to solve a problem. In training, I like to teach positive skills so the dog will offer those when problem solving, versus undesirable ones such as barking, whining, jumping, or biting. If you see your dog performing any alarming behaviors, it’s best to seek professional training help right away.