Thursday, January 08, 2009

Dogs and The Cookie Jar - A Cautionary Tale

Thursday, January 08, 2009
As anyone who has viewed this post can attest to, Cathryn enjoys adorning our home for the holidays with decorations. Among the many ornaments we have obtained over the years are a pair of snowman cookie-jars. In previous year, these were used for decorative purposes only as we tend not to eat cookies. Because we wanted to get functionality out of the cookie-jars this year, we filled them with doggy-treats. We placed the cookie-jar upon the kitchen counter, which is located near the door that exits to the backyard.

Whenever the dogs came inside, we handed them a treat from the jar. The dogs quickly got wise to the fact that their treats were being stored near the door and that they were being rewarded with one whenever they came inside. Using the knowledge, they started whining near the back-door. Previously whining in that location was an indication that they wanted to go outside, but now meant they wanted a treat.

Whenever we heard a whine in the kitchen, we got up, walked to the door and let the dogs out...even though what they really wanted was a treat. After inadvertently training them that coming inside was cause for reward, they would take two or three steps out of the house, immediately turn around and come back inside - all within a duration of 5 seconds. They then stood near the cookie jar and proceeded to insistently whine for the cookie for which they now felt entitled to. They had come to expect a doggy-treat for meeting the requirement that we had set up that coming inside after being outside was rewarded with a cookie out of the snowman jar. They had found a loop-hole in the cookie reward system.

We recognized this problem but decided not to take action. We assumed that once the cookie-jar was put away with the rest of the holiday decorations, the dogs would stop whining near the door because it would no longer be in sight. This proved not to be the case as now, a week after we returned the house to normal, the dogs are still going out and coming back in quickly expecting a treat for this minimal effort.

Let this be a lesson for all you dog-owners out mindful of where you put your doggy-treats and what behaviors you reward. It would have been smarter on our part to have left the treats out of sight. In addition, giving the dogs a reward for entering the house also gave them an incentive for exiting as well. While this behavior is not harmful, it just is really annoying.


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