Dogs Aren’t Machines. Apart From Missing Mechanical Components, Here’s Why.

Comparing the Two

Let’s start by considering a car. A finely tuned machine made up of hundreds of parts. Each part, and the final whole, needing to pass rigorous inspections. When I shift into reverse, I expect my car to start rolling backward as I hit the gas. Even as I was learning how to drive, I still expected my car to act as instructed – because it was built that way, and it cannot make conscious choices, and it doesn’t have emotions (unless it is Kit from Knight Rider). I didn’t have to do anything special other than keeping up with regular maintenance and inspections.

Now, to your dog. Whether intentionally bred or not, each dog has a unique personality, genetic material and can make choices. You have to keep up with regular veterinary appointments and care. Unlike the car, your dog is not pre-programmed to perform specific tasks or functions. He needs to learn how to walk next to you, come when you call him, and even understand that he shouldn’t be afraid of the mailman and attempt to bite him.

Using Down Stay As An Example

Many variables have to be accounted for to have a reliably consistent companion, many more than you might think. Let’s take a look at some as we use a trained down stay as an example.

Say you have trained your dog to go into the down position and hold it while you back away 10 feet over 8 seconds. He is doing great in your living room, and now you want him to do it in the park. You ask for a down, and he gets into position a bit more slowly than usual. His eyes dart from you to the person walking across the park and to you again. When you turn to take a step away, your dog immediately gets up.

You think to yourself, “I know that you understand what I want you to do, Fido.” Frustrated, you try again with similar results.

Here’s why.

You have not prepared for the variety of changes you’ve added to the park situation:

  • Smells in the grass where other animals have been
  • Sounds of people talking
  • Seeing people walking and cars pulling into the parking lot
  • You turning your back to him instead of backing away
  • The excitement of being in a different place
  • Knowing to only “work” inside your house
  • His anxiety of men wearing hats
  • The rabbit poop next to him in the grass

The list goes on.

You can drive your car anywhere in the spur of the moment and have the reasonable expectation that it will perform exactly as expected, but you cannot expect your dog to do the same without a considerable amount of consistent training over an extended period – broken down into tiny steps. Anything less sets your dog up to fail.

Your car cannot make choices, but your dog can. Those choices may also be impacted by how your dog is feeling emotionally and physically. In other words, your dog is not a machine.

From Robot Dog to Real Dog

Growing up, I had a robot dog that would walk when you pushed one button and bark when you pushed another. Fun at first, it ended up being very dull due to his lack of personality. I can say that my robot dog never tried to eat from the litter box of the live cat.

Today, my real live dog, Jeter, and I were in the yard -finally enjoying the first nice day of warmer weather. Being a grass eater, I thought nothing on his nose to the ground and the occasional munching. It turns out my not-so-machine-like dog was snacking on rabbit poop. I never worked on training him to leave rabbit poop alone in our yard (but certainly will now), and even if I did, I don’t expect Jeter to perform exactly as trained 100% of the time.

By the way, even owners that train their dogs for competition work do not expect a score of 100.

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Joanne Holliday
Joanne Holliday
2 years ago

I always thoroughly enjoy reading Tori’s articles, and come away having something new to think about. This is a good reminder to have realistic expectations where our dog is concerned and realize that they will let us know where they need help learning the correct behavior. It’s true our dogs aren’t robots and will never behave that way, after all they’re only human!

2 years ago

Such a valid point. Tori! They are NOT machines and we should respect that! But… rabbit poop is a delicacy in the dog world and you should leave Jeter to it! 😆

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