Tethering: Simon Dos and Don’ts

Simon knows no boundaries, and it’s not for a lack of trying. Really. My family and I tried and try and will try to always give Simon limits, borders, and edges. However, he is a very willful boy. Apparently, that has meant just being calm and assertive when telling him what to do is not only harder than it looks, but needs to last through every minute of every day. Simon needs his people to constantly and consistently be calm and firm. Turns out, Simon is extremely sensitive to everyone’s wayward emotions. When I’m upset, he’s upset. When I’m excited, he’s excited. When I’m tired, he’s not tired (have I mentioned he could play for 23 hours a day before?). Anyway, learning to be Simon’s point persons and taking control of his defiant ways has been a seemingly endless rollercoaster ride, one that probably won’t reach its end until Simon does, but of course I wouldn’t have it any other way. This doesn’t change the fact that Simon needs boundaries.

His love for butter knows no limits.
His love for butter knows no limits.

When Simon was a puppy my mother stumbled across the idea of tethering. Tethering usually consists of setting up a slightly long, slightly short leash somewhere within the house, and when he is attached to that tether Simon would be forced to stay in one spot instead of being allowed the free reign of the house. Ultimately, tethering would provide a way of teaching him boundaries and limits because he would be unable to just do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. Simple idea with a simple action.

So, armed with new knowledge and fledging optimism my mother purchased a rubber-coated leash to attach to the leg of something in our living room that could act as a tether for a puppy Simon.

IMG_1737Now, the tether is useful for many reasons, the main one being it ties Simon down to his bed. When both Simon and Rosee (who received her own tether when she joined the family) are left alone they cannot be left to their own devices. My family tried to leave them outside in the backyard, but unfortunately that caused more problems what with Rosee barking at the fence with the neighbor dogs, so that idea was quickly squashed. Instead, it became much safer and quieter to tether the pups to their beds and leave them waiting comfortably inside the house. And since they each had a tether of their own it worked out perfectly. Scoreboard standing—tether: 1, free reign: 0.

IMG_1738However, as much as tethering was winning the battle, it had (and still has) yet to win the war.

You see, Simon never “got” the tether and whatever it was trying to teach him. This being the same dog that even when buckled up in the car will pull on his seatbelt and collar until he’s practically choking himself, so clearly the tether was yet another object for him to just pull, and pull, and pull. . .

Where Rosee will give up and give in, though not when it comes to giving up her favorite rubber football, Simon’s brain just does not have this function. He would steal food from the kitchen counters while I was making dinner or jump on people walking through the front door, so he would promptly be tethered in order to show him some restraint and his place when certain exciting activities were happening. However, Simon never seemed to understand the connection. Anytime I walked into the kitchen to cook he would be there. No matter how many treats he received for being good while tethered to his bed, the lightbulb never went off signaling the fact that he realized when I go into the kitchen to cook he goes to his bed. Now, my mother might disagree with me, but I believe that tethering Simon wasn’t actually making him learn anything. Tethering just forced him to stay in one place, it did not actually teach him to do so.

IMG_1743After more than a year of fighting with Simon and the tether, and him not actually learning from it, I stopped. My sister Theresa and I decided, a little more implicitly than explicitly, to just stop tethering Simon and at this point Rosee too unless we were leaving and they needed to be left on their beds. No more having to deal with Simon’s whining howl voicing his displeasure with his tether. No more having him endlessly gnaw on the tether as if he could try break through the wire one day. Instead, Theresa and I just told Simon what to do. When I started to cook in the kitchen we would make him sit in “his spot” right off to the side, so he could see what I was doing, but he was far enough away to not be a nuisance. Anytime people come through the front door both Simon and Rosee have to go “park it” on their beds. Sure, their commands didn’t work overnight and once in a while Simon doesn’t want to stay in his kitchen corner, but for the most part it does work. Simon, when he’s feeling cooperative, will put himself in his spot while I cook. The first time he did it I was amazed! I couldn’t believe that this was my dog deciding to actually give himself boundaries!

Of course, I had to be frank with myself. Simon was learning what behaviors were expected of him. He was learning what was considered good and acceptable. Case in point: he was learning!

Simon resigning himself to "his spot."
Simon resigning himself to “his spot.”

Now, I say he because Rosee has never exactly been the chowhound that Simon is. Sure, she loves her food and any treats she can get, but she’s never been as pushy or audacious as Simon. Where he has jumped up on the kitchen counters to steal food since the time his tongue was long enough to reach (his legs hadn’t quite grown tall enough yet), Rosee is content with just sitting and waiting for food scraps to be given to her. Rosee has always had a better sense of boundaries and limits than Simon. She just has a more people-pleasing personality whereas Simon is a little more self-centered. I believe this personality difference is mostly due to Simon being an only child for the first year and a half of his life with four people constantly doting on him (yes, I take one-fourth responsibility for his rascally ways). However, a slightly older dog can certainly learn new tricks and Simon did wonderfully.

Don’t take my split from tethering as any indication that it doesn’t work for other dogs. It just isn’t a useful technique for Simon. Tethering has really only shown itself to be beneficial for both pups when all adults are gone from the house and they cannot be left in the backyard or to wander the house unsupervised. The fact is Rosee steals pretty much anything she can find around the house (socks and tissues being her favorite) so she can chew, and Simon would just break everything left on countertops because he loves to surf on them without any regard. At least when they are tethered to their beds while we are all gone they do have to stay in one place, but they still have enough length to move around and be comfortable. However, for my guy Simon it is more important for him to learn commands by way of his people directly teaching it to him, rather than the more indirect way of tethering forcing him to exist only in one place. So, learning boundaries and limits is certainly still a work-in-progress, but it is actually progressing.

She thinks she's so sneaky.
She thinks she’s so sneaky.

In fact, it seems this whole foray into tethering was a way for me as a human to recognize the ways in which my dogs learn. I had to distinguish between making Simon do something and teaching him good behavior that he will know for the rest of his doggy life. And it seems that Simon’s brain is particular in that forcing him to do certain actions, making him stay in one place for instance, had absolutely no effect on him whatsoever. He needed to go through the process of sit, stay, good boy. It may take longer, it may be more frustrating, but it is also very gratifying.

As for Rosee, well she’s always a good girl compared to her crazy brother Simon!

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