He Knows Better Than That!

I hear youOr does he?

This is another one of my pet peeves.

I find that people say this when they are embarrassed or haven’t done their homework.

For those of you who are thinking your dog trainer can’t tell if you don’t do your homework at home… you are wrong… we can.

But most of us won’t call you out on it, unless it is detrimental to your dog.

And, “He knows better than that” almost always is harmful to your dog.

Yes, I will acquiesce early in this article and say it IS possible for your dog to do something that he knows better than doing.

After all, dogs are animals and all animals make poor choices and decisions.

Occasionally they do things that they know they are not supposed to do, because they try and weigh the benefits.  And, if they think they can chase the cat and get away with it… they are probably going to try!

But the truth is, most of the time, he sincerely doesn’t know better in the terms that you are speaking.  Because he is a dog, and he thinks differently than you do! 

Peeing puppyDogs Think Differently Than We Do

Dogs don’t come hard wired knowing not to eat cow poop (which by the way they think is scrumptious).

They don’t know that licking their privates in public is a faux pas.

Dogs don’t realize that peeing on your friend’s floor is just as bad as peeing on your floor.

Because Dogs Don’t Always Generalize

Dogs don’t always generalize situations like we do.

We know that “potty trained” means in all places public or private.  It doesn’t matter where you are you think your dog shouldn’t have an accident or defile that area.

Your dog thinks each place is different.

Just because he knows where to go potty at your house, doesn’t mean he knows which door to use or where to go potty somewhere else.  He must be put back on leash and taught in many instances.

Just because your dog knows not to chase your cats; doesn’t mean he won’t chase your friend’s cat or a neighborhood cat.

I have seen dogs that live happily with cats in their home, but kill neighborhood or other cats.  You don’t want your dog to kill any cat or other animal, but to your dog they are not the same.

Conditional Training

Many dogs learn a certain behavior in a certain place.

For instance, I train my dogs in my home at first.

They learn to “sit” and “down” in my living room amongst few distractions, but that doesn’t mean they will “sit” or “down” with 20 other dogs around them in a strange location.

That is why so many people say “Well, he does it at home”.

Or “He doesn’t do THAT at home”.

So does that mean he “Knows Better”?


The truth is a dog’s obedience needs to be magnified and “proofed” in many different places before he learns that the command is the same no matter where he is.

A Dog’s Learning

A dog must learn the behavior in a fairly distraction and stress free environment.

Then he must be re-taught and worked with in more distracting environments so that he understands that sit means sit no matter where he is or what is going on around him.

Then and only then can you say he knows better than that.

Let’s Take a First Grader

Gorgeous roaring lion and lioness on circus arenaSo I’m going to take a first grader and teach her a new math concept.   How about multiplication.

I am going to teach her some basic multiplication at her home.

Now a few short days later I am going to pick her up and take her to the circus.

I am going to pull out a math test as the circus begins and expect her to take a test on the multiplication that I taught her just a few days ago.

Think she could do it?

Unless she is a child genius, probably not.

What if I tell her that if she passes the test we will go down and she can meet all the people and animals?

Giving her a reward that is greater than the distraction might work, if she became proficient at multiplication in just a few days or just a few sessions.  For more on rewards being greater than the distraction for your dog click here.

Change the Context

Now I am going to take a 4th grader to the circus and give them the same multiplication test I gave my first grader.

Do you think this child would test better?

Probably, yes.  But the fact is, it would depend on the child, the child’s learning, their ability to control themselves under such great distractions, and their ability to concentrate.

Not all 4th graders or even 6th graders would be proficient.

So if he or she fails would you say “He knows better than that”.

Chances are NO, you would mention how hard it would be for someone so young to be expected to listen in such a highly exciting environment or make other valid excuses.

So Why Then...


So why then does your dog not get cut the same break?

Experts say a dog has the mentality of a toddler or very young child.  They don’t really have the ability for complex thinking or reasoning.  And, this is why they are so darn happy and cute all the time.

We expect our dogs to come to us knowing “human” right from “human” wrong.

We expect to teach them a concept once, in a highly distracting environment (like a dog or puppy training class) and then we expect that they should know it everywhere.

“My dog won’t listen at the dog park” I hear all of the time or insert another exciting location.

Because asking your dog to listen in the dog park is like asking that child to take a test during the circus… chances are it is not a valid or fair request because you haven’t put in the time training and teaching.

I do work up to training in the dog park… but I am one of a very few who adds those kinds of distractions to my training regimen.

And, before you think it is unfair of me to ask my dogs to do that (remember just a moment ago you were complaining he should know better) I have built excitement into my dog’s toys and nothing is more rewarding than playing with me, to them.

Remember it would be more fair to train the children well in multiplication until I knew that they would succeed and then reward them with a trip down to meet the circus animals and people.  That seems fair, and fun right?


Understand that your dog is like a child or a toddler and he gets excited.

You might have to back up in his training a bit and re-teach him some things as you add more excitement and distractions to his training.

Be patient.  None of us learned everything we know quickly with no effort.

We learn, we make mistakes, we back slide, we forget, we need to re-teach our selves our children’s math so we can help them with their homework.

Be Kind

Be kind to your dog.   Just like you would be kind to your first grader trying to learn at the circus.

The more kindness and understanding you show him the more likely you are to both be successful!

He is a DOG after all and he is going to do some things that surprise you, but it is how you handle it that is important!

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One Comment

  1. Nora says:

    We have 2&half Jack, 5year old toy poodle,and 8 year old toy poodle. We find it difficult to potty train them. We can not which one is doing the wetting in corners. I usually find it after.


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