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What’s the Difference Between Intelligent Disobedience and Default Behaviours in Service Dogs?

Many people talk about “Intelligent Disobedience" in a service dog. What is it and how does does it different from a “Default Behavior"?

Intelligent disobedience is when a dog ignores a trained verbal or body cue or hand signal given by the handler and instead does a different behavior that is for the greater good of the handler.  
A commonly cited example is when a blind person gives the “Forward’ cue to her guide dog at a crosswalk but the dog steps in front of the handler and blocks her from moving forward because there is a car still moving towards the team.
Intelligent disobedience is generally wanted at all times since it benefits the handler is some way (otherwise they would not call it “intelligent” LOL!).
A "Default Behaviour” is a trained behaviour that a dog does:
  • when he has not been cued to do a specific behaviour
  • he’s uncertain of what other behaviour might be wanted from him
  • when he wants or needs something  
A default behavior is done when the dog hasn’t been told what to do and uses the environment to try a behavior that has worked in the past to get reinforced. 
One example of a default behavior is the dog making eye contact to check with the handler to see what cue the handler might give the dog. Another example is the dog sitting or laying down when the handler has stopped for a few minutes to talk to neighbour on a walk. Or ignoring a dropped bit of food on the ground.
Default behaviors may be wanted by the handler in some situations and not in others. For example, a handler may want a default sit or settle when they stop and talk to the neighbor but not when they stop before crossing a street. 
Default behaviors can be desirable or undesirable behaviours. Whatever behavior has worked for the dog in the past can become a default behavior. The key is that behavior has been reinforced in some way. Eye contact, sit and down are common desirable default behaviors. Jumping up to greet another person or pulling on leash to get toward a distraction are examples of undesirable default behaviours.
Think of such a default behaviour as a fall back behavior. In any situation when a dog is not cued what to do, a default behavior is what your dog guesses the might be the preferred behavior that is most likely to get reinforced. What behavior does your dog do most often when you are n a situation and you don’t give him a verbal cue, hand signal or other cue? 

Intelligent Disobedience or Default Behavior? 

When an untrained dog ignores the cue to stop jumping all over the handler when the handler’s blood sugar levels drop, which of the two options is he demonstrating? The handler doesn’t understand why the dog is suddenly climbing all over her and wants it to stop. The dog is persistent as long as the blood sugar continues to drop if the handler does nothing to mitigate the sugar drop.
Think about that for a minute before reading below for the answer.
It depends! If the dog has been taught that the dropping blood sugar levels is cause for concern and the dog has been taught to jump on the handler as a way to get her attention and get her to take action to stop the blood usage drop by eating some sugar, and ignores other cues to sit or lay down, then it would be considered “intelligent disobedience”.
If the dog has climbed/jumped on the handler in the past in other situations and (unintentionally) gotten reinforced for it by getting interaction with the handler and the dog senses the blood sugar drop but doesn’t know how else to communicate it to the handler, then I would suggest the jumping is a default behavior.

Default Behaviors Can be Taught 

If you would like to learn how to teach your dog default behaviors rather than having to cue every behavior as you go about your day, please consider joining our program. We teach you to teach your dog default behaviors from the start and how to build them into daily living. Let the dog do some thinking and take the load off you!