Imagine waking up one morning and suddenly finding that you had been transported to some other part of the world and plunked down into a new family with whom you will be expected to spend the rest of your days. They seem nice enough and they are eager to befriend you, but you don’t understand a single word of their language and they don’t understand a word of yours. Their culture is a little different from what you are used to, but for the most part you can figure out how to get along with everyone without too much difficulty. Unfortunately nobody told you that in this culture it is considered horrifyingly insulting if foreigners do not turn in a counterclockwise circle at least once before sitting down to eat with the family.
At the first dinner everyone takes their place at the table after the food is brought out. When you go to take your place all conversation ceases. Everyone stares at you in horror and then starts yammering and gesticulating wildly. The patriarch comes over to you with anger burning in his eyes, loudly upbraiding you. He is probably outlining your transgressions very specifically, but his words are just meaningless sounds to you. The only information you can gather is that you have clearly done something wrong, but you have no idea what it is. When you put your head down and try to sit in your chair again he smacks you across the face. You think hard about what the problem could be. Are you not allowed to sit down? is this not the right place for you to sit? Were you supposed to say or do something first? You have absolutely no clue what the problem is, it is just clear that you are in trouble. You would gladly do whatever it is they want you to do, if only you knew what that was. You end up just slinking away from the table and not getting anything to eat that night.
The next evening you are pretty hungry, having not had dinner the night before. As you approach the table again one of the family members gently stops you. As you turn glumly to the left to leave the area her face brightens and whatever she says to you is in a pleased tone of voice. You turn back to the right and she furrows her brow and looks displeased, so you turn to the left to make her look happy again. It seems that the more you turn to the left the happier everyone seems to be, so you keep turning to the left until you have spun around in a circle. Now everyone lets out a big cheer and you are allowed to sit down at the table and join the meal. You are not entirely sure why everyone seems satisfied with you now, but you aren’t going to complain.
The next night as you approach the table you notice that everyone tenses up as you come near. You stop and turn to the left until you have completed your circle and everyone relaxes and you are allowed to sit at the table again. Now that you know the secret you never fail to do your counterclockwise turn before joining everyone for dinner. Even though this arbitrary rule makes absolutely no sense to you it seems important to everyone else, so you play along for the sake of harmony and keep everyone happy.
This is probably what your new puppy experiences while learning the ropes with house training. To a dog, the rule that you only go to the bathroom outside the house is not only arbitrary, but to a large degree nonsensical. After all, why traipse around in 15 degree weather and snow to relieve yourself when there is a nice soft carpet in a warm room that will make the experience much more pleasant. Yet in spite of more logical and comfortable options, our dogs still manage to learn and obey our rules in order to please us. In the next article we will look at some ways to quickly, effectively, and humanely communicate housetraining rules to a new dog so that everyone can be happy.