Downeast Dog News

Your Dog is a Garden

Nourish those good behaviors!
By | May 01, 2018
Photo by: Astro is a lovely garden.

In celebration of this season of planting and growing, I share with you a Doggie Haiku I composed:

"Your Dog is a Garden"

Nurturing good plants

Carefully preventing weeds

Leaves only the best

I came up with this as I was out working in my garden many moons ago. Always thinking "dog" and how so many things in life are connected, I got carried away in thought. "Behaviors," I mused, "are like plants." If we want them to thrive, to be strong and resilient, we have to tend to them, and ensure they have what they need. The stronger these behaviors are and the more we have of them, the less opportunity and space there is for weeds (the undesirable behaviors) to take hold.

Our plants need nurturing

In behavioral terms, this means rewards.. and in sufficient quantities to make them thrive! Insufficient care of a valued plant will result in its decline. The same holds true of desirable behaviors.

What about using chemicals to get rid of the bad stuff?

Sure, we can also use pesticides ("punishment") to rid our proverbial behavioral gardens of weeds. The problem with toxic chemicals, however, is that we end up tainting the soil in which all the plants grow.

If we do choose to use punishment, we have to proceed with great caution because the risk of side effects is great, and it can be difficult to predict their reach.

Many summers ago, a lawn-obsessed neighbor was fed up with fighting the crabgrass in his lawn and resorted to using Round-Up. He enthusiastically applied it to an area of about 30 square feet.

Everything died. Everything in that small area, and then some. He ended up having to remove the soil and replace it with new, then replant. Years later, you can still discern the area in question. Those, of course, were just the visual reminders; there are many unseen negative consequences to using such a harsh approach – effects that may not be seen for years or may never be connected to the poison.

What about our dogs? How do we keep the weeds from growing, and how do we fertilize those good behaviors?

First of all, nip the behavioral weeds in the bud! Once they take hold, they can be as difficult to remove as the garden loosestrife a friend generously (or so I thought) shared with me. To her, it was a fine, upstanding plant. In my garden, it became an aggressively invasive weed, taking over everything. In the end, I, too, had to remove the soil from my garden and replace it - the loosestrife roots had consumed and reached far into the ground like an invisible evil monster.

If we can see, early on, that there's an undesirable behavior starting to grow, we have to do something about it as soon as possible. Jumping, for instance, is so very easy to weed out if we do so early on. All we have to do is cut off its supply of nutrients (typically any form of attention). For the good stuff, for those perennial behaviors we want to keep around for a long, long time, we have to be sure they get what they need to thrive. Behavioral fertilizers will vary from dog to dog, but whatever it is, the behaviors will only last for so long without them.

One person's weed is another person's rosebush.

We are boarding a small dog right now who is a real lap dog. She will leap up onto anyone's lap at will. This is something that her humans like, but I do not. While I certainly enjoy a lap dog as much as the next person, I do not like the "at will" part. She is just as likely to land on a plate of food or my keyboard as she is to land on my lap. That behavior is her family's rosebush, but to me, it's a weed.

Observe your dog. Nurture your dog. Pay it for the good stuff so it will keep flourishing, day after day, year after year. Keep on weeding, too!

Happy behavioral gardening!