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How to reprimand without trauma


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Two ‘transgressions’ happened today. Mabel was in a funny mood. We have builders in replacing the terrace in the back garden so the household isn’t in its normal state. George, the cat, was going in and out and yowling. This was the background to today.

I was walking Mabel in the next village where we’ve been countless times before. Having gone into a field I let her off the lead and carried on walking along the hedge. I turned and called Mabel but she just remained still and just stared at me. I resumed my walk to the end of the field, a good 500 yds, to the next gate. No Mabel. (I would hasten to add that this village is very quiet and peaceful and only one lane - you could have a reign of terror with a balloon on a stick). I walked back to where we entered the field to find Mabel wandering around the drive of a neighbouring house. She was looking shamefaced as though she knew that she’d been naughty. She can be stubborn and we were warned when we adopted her that she could be ‘a bit of a madam’. I merely gave her a look and in a low even tone said that “that wasn’t very clever, verdad?” I then put her on the lead and went back to the car without another word. Brought her home. She was still shamefaced and cowed and went back to her armchair in the dining room. After a few minutes I spoke to her in a normal tone and gave her a bonio. She seemed to be back to normal - took the bonio and ate it on her armchair.

Secong faut pas - While we were eating lunch (upmarket fish finger sandwiches - yummy) a neighbour called and while we were chatting to her at the door my wife saw Mabel stealing a sandwich from the table. She, Mabel, legged it as soon as my wife yelled at her. Most of the sandwiches have gone into the bin and George the cat thinks he’s having the mother of all birthdays with what we’ve salvaged. Mabel’s looking shamefaced again and neither of us has spoken to her.

We do find this funny but Mabel doesn’t know that. However there is a serious side to the incidents. From this day on all animals will be banned from the dining room when we’re eating. That’s the easy part. My question is - how do I reprimand Mabel so that she knows that she’s gone too far without traumatising her.

I’d really appreciate advice and I hope I’ve given some amusement.
To be honest, I wouldn't reprimand her for either - apart, maybe, from a firm 'Oi!' if caught in the act of nicking food. She's a sensitive dog, and she already had 'stuff' going on in her brain. Chances are she looked 'shamefaced' later on because Dad was being odd and she didn't understand why.

First incident: there was some reason why she wouldn't recall, and of course she doesn't distinguish 'private property' from any other area. She probably didn't know how to convey to you the importance of staying where she was and exploring the driveway, or maybe she was anxious about going back home with all the upheaval. Here, I would simply work harder on recall so there's more chance that she'll respond in future, and keep her on lead when passing driveways she might want to explore.

Second incident: Dogs evolved as scavengers. A dog who didn't take advantage of opportunities like food lying around didn't get to pass on its genes. Their concept of ownership is 'finders keepers'. Yes, some dogs do realise that they're not meant to take 'human' food and are actually safe left alone in a kitchen with a roast chicken on a low table - but Jasper would have regarded them as complete idiots. So here, prevention is the key.

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