Politicians and Dogs

Years ago, when I owned some Golden Retrievers (great dogs, by the way), I read a wonderful and simple book about training dogs. I can’t remember the name, now, but I’d recommend it highly if I could.

Basically, the book said that dogs are merely collections of habits that their owners will tolerate. At bottom, dogs are social animals, and they desperately want to learn the rules, fit in, find their place, and be accepted. They just need to be told the limits of acceptable behavior.

An easy way to set those limits, wrote the author, is to use your keys. Keys are great because you (me, at least, and I dare say most men) always carry them in a handy pocket. What’s more, they have a good weight, and they readily make a loud, jangly noise.

The trick, according to this author, is to throw your keys at the dog.

Don’t worry: It’s not harmful. You don’t even have to hit the dog with the keys.

Just the noise of the keys hitting the wall or floor nearby is enough to startle and alarm your faithful companion. When you couple that key toss, and the resulting jangly noise, with a shouted “No!,” your dog gets a very clear message.

And because you can shout “No!” and throw your keys at the very instant your dog is doing something you don’t want him or her to do, that message is very unambiguously tied to the doggie action you’re trying to prevent.

From the dog’s point of view, you have suddenly gained the power to strike instantly from across the room. That’s far more effective that going to find a newspaper, rolling it up, chasing down your dog, and whacking it on the hindquarters. By the time you get all that done, the poor puppy has no idea of the reason for the punishment.

But throwing your keys and shouting “No!” makes you a pretty powerful pack leader. And because the nearby jangly noise and your shouted “No!” come at the same instant, not only are you telling the dog what it is that you don’t want him or her to do, you’re also strongly associating your shouted “No!” with that jangly noise.

Under the laws of behavioral modification, pretty soon you don’t have to throw those keys any more. Your voice alone is enough to convey your displeasure.

And within a very short time of you starting to throw your keys, your dog memorizes a list of things it shouldn’t do, and stops doing them. Now you rarely have to throw your keys or shout. The dog is well behaved, and everyone — including the dog — is very happy.

That’s all well and good, as far as it goes with dogs. But where these principles will really come in handy is in training our politicians.

Like dogs, most politicians are merely a collection habits that voters will tolerate. Like dogs, most politicians desperately want to learn the rules, fit in, find their place, and be accepted — that is, re-elected. They just need to be told the limits of acceptable behavior.

A lax electorate, like a lax master, makes nobody happy.

To reassert our control over our government, we simply have to get in the habit of making a loud noise and shouting “No!” the instant a politician does something unacceptable. All the remains is for us voters to find the political equivalent of throwing our keys.

I just wish that all politicians were as beautiful and well-bred as Golden Retrievers.


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