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Pug Training versus Pug Learning

Just about every day, the PugVillage receives a question about housetraining. This is totally understandable because housetraining a Pug isn’t an easy task. It’s almost inevitable that somewhere within our reply, we make a statement that suggests dogs are trained to make outside, nothing more and nothing less. We thought based on the sheer number of housetraining questions we receive, that it was time to explain the "dogs are trained to make outside" statement in the hopes that it will provide a greater understanding as to what housetraining a dog is really about.

Pugs Ain’t People:There is a human tendency to treat our dogs more like people than they really are. There is nothing wrong with that, and as any Pug owner will tell us, Pugs demonstrate a remarkable sensitivity to their pet humans’ feelings, moods and emotions. For example, how many Pug owners have said that when they have the flu or a cold, that their Pugs seem to spend more time with them as if to comfort us in our time of feeling badly? How many Pug owners suffer the passing of a family member, and then tell us how their Pug sensed that we were down and saddened, and then cuddled up with us at times they normally wouldn’t? Most of us can relate to these kinds of situations because they happen to be true…Our Pugs really can sense changes in our mood, emotions or feelings. However, our Pugs still aren’t people. When situations like these arise, our Pugs sense a change in us…They see the change in our actions, they hear the change in our voices and they duly note the change in our overall behavior. Most dog experts actually believe that when our dog reacts this way, they do so out of a slight sense of insecurity themselves. The differences in our actions and behavior they suggest, makes our dogs uneasy and thus, they approach us for comfort, not really to comfort us, but rather themselves.

Do we know all of this to be true? No, we really don’t, however what we do know for a fact is that Pugs are not people, and that thinking of our Pugs as people is a bonafide obstacle toward successfully housetraining them. We can see this when we hear people say "my dog doesn’t get it", "my dog knows it’s wrong to make inside because it looks guilty when he does it" or "my dog is just lazy and won’t go outside and make". The fact of the matter is that dogs don’t "get it" until we train them to "get it". They don’t "know" making inside is wrong and outside is right, they’re just trained to make wherever they are because they’re not trained at all, unless they are trained to make outside. And finally, they’re not really lazy…they’ll get up and make outside, if we train them to do it.

Saying that our dogs are "lazy", "don’t get it" when it comes to housetraining or that they are truly capable of knowing right from wrong is attaching human traits to dogs. Our 13-year-old daughter who would rather play a video game than walk a block to the store is "lazy". Our 15-year-old nephew who is failing Algebra doesn’t "get it". Our neighbor’s son knows the difference between right and wrong…Dogs don’t own these traits, people do.

Learning:People learn. Quite a few years ago I sat down and taught my then 4-year-old daughter how to color in the pictures of her coloring book so she stayed within the lines. I explained to her that staying within the lines was part of the goal, along with making a very pretty picture by giving it all sorts of great colors. Slowly but surely she learned that the picture would look prettier if she stayed between the lines, and we successfully taught her that coloring between the lines was the right way to color, while coloring outside the lines was the wrong way. I taught her these things because she understood the words I used to explain it, saw the difference herself between a neat picture and a sloppy one, and because she saw by example how to color.

Training:Dogs are trained. A long, long time ago I got my very first Pug and was faced with the daunting task of housetraining him. When he dropped a poop in the bedroom, I told him that was wrong. The next day, he pooped in the house again and I told him it was wrong again. Each new day, he dropped another load on the linoleum. I kept telling him he did wrong. I scolded him, yelled at him, gave him an up close look at his poop to show him what he did. He sure did look like he understood me, but he just wouldn’t stop pooping in the house…He was lazy! He knew it was wrong! He just didn’t "get it"!! Well, that’s what I said at the time anyway.

Then someone explained to me that we don’t teach dogs, we train them, and this made sense to me. Why did it make sense? Because dogs don’t speak English, that’s why. When my Pug would poop in the hallway, I’d make good and sure he saw his poop there…Yep, I showed him and I said in a mean loud voice "you see what you did! That’s wrong! Bad dog, bad dog!"

Suddenly I realized however that to my Pug, I might as well have been saying ";lkad; lkieoir lija’oiqpe cjl;aiuqpi cmzvlajei"!!!! Because that’s probably what it sounded like to him.

Why else did it make sense? Because I realized that when I said the word "treat" he’d come flying into the kitchen to get a Milk Bone. Wow I said, "he understands the word "treat"…Nope, he doesn’t. I can say "feet", "meat", "beet, or "tree" and he’ll still come running into the kitchen full speed looking for his Milk Bone.

Suddenly I realized that to my Pug, any word that sounded like "treat" or that rhymed with "treat" would result in him racing in for a treat…Because all these words sound like "treat" to him.

Why else did it make sense? Because I kept saying that I knew that he knew that he was wrong when he pooped in the den, and that I knew that he knew that I knew he was feeling guilty about doing it.

Suddenly however, I realized one very simple thing…He was still dropping poops in every room of the house so there was no way he actually knew doing that was wrong. Why would he do it if he knew it was wrong?

Really, Dogs are Trained not Taught: When we housetrain a dog, what we are doing is training the dog to make outside. Period. Nothing more, nothing less. Nada, zip, zippo. We’re not training the dog not to make inside, nor are we training the dog that making inside is wrong, and outside is right. There is no such thing to a dog as right and wrong…People understand the difference between right and wrong, and even for many people the concept is a tough one…Dogs do not.

A dog arrives in your home with nearly no training whatsoever. This dog will make inside because you have not trained him to make outside. He will continue making inside until he is trained to make outside. Your dog does not make inside because he thinks that inside is the right place to make, nor does he make inside because he has failed to understand that it is the wrong place to make. Your dog will make inside until he is trained to make outside, and once that has been accomplished, your dog will make outside because that’s what it is trained to do…Not because you’ve taught him that making outside is the right thing to do.

Photo of Nuno submitted by pug forum member almissani.