Economics….. And Dogs?

First…. Just in case you don’t know…. Economics isn’t just the study of money, and it’s effect.

A great book called Freakonomics


convinced me to stop being nauseous at the though of economics.

Anyway… What the hell does this have to do with dogs?

Well, there’s a rule in Econ called the Rule Of Unintended Consequences. Yes, it’s pretty self explanatory. Although, the story people in Econ always go to is called The Cobra Effect. As the story goes……. In Delhi India, there was an epidemic in the overpopulation of Cobras. The government tried to solve the problem by paying citizens for any dead Cobra they turned in. Of course, this lead to people breeding them to turn them in for profit. And when the government found out, they canned the program. As soon as there was no reason to keep the snakes…… They were abandoned. Which of course caused the population of loose Cobras go UP.  So, the solution for getting rid of Cobras, increased them.

And so it goes with dogs. The things we do to train them, sometimes don’t do what we intended. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes, it’s horrible.

The reason this is on my mind, is because of my little Mabel. In our constant search for developmental things to do with our dogs, we’ve found a pretty cool “benchmark” challenge for her.

She’s getting ready to take her Canine Good Citizens test.

Now, for a lot of dogs this is kind of a joke. Like, her brother Milo is doing it too. And, for him, it’s just a formality. But, for Mabel….

For Mabel it’s REALLY HARD.

One of the first parts of the test, is to be greeted, and GROOMED by a stranger. Oh. My. God. It has taken a TON of work for me to convince her that everyone out of her pack deserves to live. But to let them touch her feet….. Are you kidding?

Well, seems like an easy fix. Have some “strangers” approach, and offer her a treat and leave. Classic “Counter Conditioning“. Her current conditioned emotional response is “go die”. But, after a few reps of this drill, her response to a stranger is “cool, what have you got for me?” Which is great.

(Now, don’t get me started on whether or not this is the best long term solution. As, currently, people only have about 20 seconds of not producing the treat before she realizes she’s been duped. And, for it to “work” in the first place, it has to happen more often than not. Which means, you have to have endless amounts of “decoys” to keep it going for life. I’m still undecided on the subject. I’m sure I’ll write more about it as I learn more about it.).

But, I digress….

Now, for the unintended consequence. Mabel now associates strangers, or at least strangers in that setting (still figuring that out) with getting treats. Cool, but now she is getting TOO EXCITED when she greets strangers. Great.

Who would’ve thought that Mabel’s problem would be being TOO friendly.

Yeah…. Cobra effect, in full effect.

Oh, well. New thing to work on. Working with your dogs is supposed to be a lifelong process!

So, look at your own relationship/training and make sure that you aren’t throwing your own unintended consequences around!


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