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Inquisitive Canine: Living Down and Dirty on the Farm

Certain doggy behaviors aren't worth making a stink about, but there are ways to encourage better manners

Dear Poncho:

My name is Kia, and I live on a Kona coffee farm in Hawaii. In addition to lots of Kona coffee, there are some avocado trees on the farm. I love to find rotting avocados. I eat half of them, and then bring the other half into the house to share.

My guardians don’t seem to like the rotten avocados as much as I do. They think the avocados might make me sick or fat. What do you think? Should I avoid the avocados, or is it OK to occasionally have a little snack?

Also, there are lots of wild pigs in the area, and I love to roll in pig poop whenever I find it. It’s really stinky, and I’m trying to rub my scent on it so the pigs know I live here. Still, my guardians want to know if there is any way to make me stop.

There are no rabies in Hawaii, so all dogs have to be quarantined before they can come to the island. Otherwise, I’d invite you to visit the farm sometime. Aloha!

— Kia

Aloha, Kia: Wow! Getting to live on a Hawaiian coffee farm —  that might be where the term “lucky dog” originated.

Your workdays on the coffee farm sound quite appealing — or as my certified professional dog trainer mom would call it, the perfect setup for an enriching environment. This means that for an inquisitive canine such as yourself, it’s like having your own amusement park.

Your two “issues” seem to be environmentally inviting: yummy (and plentiful) avocados, and fun, stinky stuff to roll in. Both rolling and scavenging are considered normal dog behaviors, so your guardians might want to look at your environment and your species’ typical behaviors, then think about how they can help set you up for success.

To answer your questions specifically, I’d say have your guardians check with your veterinarian regarding the ingestion of avocados. Neither my mom nor I is a veterinarian, and neither of us specializes in canine nutrition, so it would be outside our scope of practice to address this specific concern. We do know that some foods are toxic to canines, but again, it’s best to check with a veterinarian.

As for the “rolling in stinky stuff” activity, yes, there is a way to make you stop: Don’t let you out of the house. But that’s not realistic! You’re a dog, and us dogs like to roll in stinky stuff — just like humans enjoy rubbing and spraying cologne and perfume all over themselves. What are they trying to hide?

Anyway, I realize the simplest solution would be not to allow you anywhere near the farm, or to remove the avocado trees and get rid of the pigs. But these aren’t the most ideal solutions. First of all, it doesn’t teach you what your guardians want. Secondly, it’s not much fun for you or for them if you aren’t allowed to venture out on the farm.

So what can your guardians do to make life less frustrating down on the farm? The following simple, yet effective dog training tips are sure to get you all on the road to success:

» Reward what they want.

» Teach you what they want — to ignore the avocados and piles of piggy poop when asked.

» Teach you in a way you understand without intimidating you so you’ll learn the better choices.

» Be consistent in the message. Reward for the right behavior, and prevent you from practicing behaviors your guardians don’t want.

» Set you up for success. Manage your environment so you don’t have access to these things without their knowledge.

» Use the avocado hunting and pig-poop rolling as “rewards.” Why not? You’re a dog! You like both of these things, and you’re washable. (My mom said to have your guardians check with your vet on this one, too, since there might be substances that can cause irritation to your eyes, ears or skin). All in all, if you like it and it’s not dangerous, your guardians can use these activities as motivation and rewards.

For additional dog training tips, including specific training steps that your guardians can use in both the avocados and pig-poop situation, click here to visit my mom’s dog training site.

Frolicking about, searching for yummy avocado snacks and rolling in excrement are just a couple of completely normal behaviors that dogs exhibit. But if your guardians start simply, from the ground up (no pun intended) using clear training steps, consistency and good timing, they should be able to teach you how to mind your manners — and control some canine urges — on the farm.

— Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho. Joan is a certified pet dog trainer and dog behavior counselor. Her column is known for its simple common-sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog. Joan is also the founder of The Inquisitive Canine, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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