Day 25: Should Our Dogs Listen To Other People?

Curious blog reader wrote:
If you ever wonder what to write about, I would really appreciate your thoughts on this subject: Should dogs listen to people other than their owner? I have been wondering about this for some time and now that you wrote that Ruby is with your friend while Java’s in heat, I thought I would ask you.

My BC does not listen to other people Here are some possible explanations I have made up for myself:

  1. No reinforcement history with these people. For him, a cue is a sign that a reward has become available, however, I wonder whether he only understands this in regard to me? So if they do not show him a reward, maybe he does not understand it is there?
  2. No matter what he does, IF they have a treat, they will give it to him eventually. So maybe he learned in regards to other people: Whatever they say, just hang around and you will get the reward
  3. Bad criteria. I had a friend who lured him into a sit a couple of times, but would not use a release cue. Eventually he ignored her “sit”

Well, to me it does not matter all that much. I just wondered how you do it if your dogs need to spend time in someone else’s care.

Dear Curious,

thanks for asking 🙂 I would say for most dogs it’s either #1 or #2. When Ruby was a puppy he learned that when I call him by his name I usually have something good for him to eat or a game to play, but when my neighbors called him all he would get is petting. And he hated petting! So very soon he started ignoring them altogether and when they would call he wouldn’t even twitch an ear. It looked as if he didn’t hear them. He sat many times for different friends of mine though so he will usually sit even for a complete stranger if asked nicely. But if they try to use a stern voice with him, he will just ignore them. I think he doesn’t even recognize a cue if it is spoken with a stern voice.

But since we’re talking about a BC, there is a third option. Let me tell you a little story. A while ago my friend was training her young BC in agility. This went on for a few months before her boyfriend joined her on agility field and tried to lead the BC though a short sequence. The dog wouldn’t even come to him. “Nope” she seemed to be saying “I’m here to work and you are not a part of my work life, you’re part of my leisure life”. He called her repeatedly. Nothing. Then he called out a tunnel cue… and as soon as he did it she was with him, looking for that tunnel. She was there to work and he was just a distraction in her eyes until he showed her that he knew the agility game, too.

This is similar to #1, except the reason for not responding might be less in whether he believes a treat will be available but in simple fact that he doesn’t have a working relationship with them.

Should our dogs obey other people? Sometimes it can be handy, but other times not so much as not-so-good responses could get rewarded… either way is fine with me. As for Ruby, he is staying with a person he adores and has no trouble obeying.

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2 thoughts on “Day 25: Should Our Dogs Listen To Other People?

  1. At school, I’ve asked the kids to call Loki “Dart” (cos why not) so that he doesn’t get bombarded with “LOKI LOKI LOKI LOKI LOKI!!!!” – whether or not it would make him tune out to MY calling “Loki!” I don’t know, but I figured it was safer to err on the side of caution.

    • Yeah you can never be sure what conclusion a dog will draw. It could certainly spoil his recall if other people continuously called him without any rewards… I was lucky that Ruby decided to differentiate between me calling and other people calling. Of course now if he gets lost and I go searching for him with friends who knows if he would come to their calls…

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