As a dog walker, trainer and pet sitter, I see a lot of owners having issues with their beloved canine companions. I will first state that I have never met a “bad dog”, only misinformed owners who usually have the best of intentions and a dog that has taken full advantage of humans who have not implemented necessary rules and boundaries. Dogs do get wild hairs and can be naughty, but never innately bad. The problem lies in communication- like many problems in our human world.
People expect a dog to know what they want it to do by communicating as a human would. Therein lies part of the problem. Dogs are not humans, they do not think or socialize in the exact ways that we do, although there are some cross species commonalities. Like humans, they have their own personalities with likes and dislikes that should be taken into account when working with them.
It is crucial to communicate as a pack leader and establish your role as an Alpha from the start. This does not require any force or violence towards the dog. The use of choke collars, pinch collars, or shock collars is unnecessary in my opinion. The training that I put forth does not involve fear, domination, or cruelty of any sort but helps to foster a relationship of mutual respect. It does however require patience, dedication, consistency and time. The benefits far outweigh the initial work!
No two dogs are alike, so training them is often a matter of figuring out what works best with that particular dog. Dogs, like humans, have good and bad days; they may not be feeling well or haven’t had enough exercise that day making it difficult for them to focus on training. All of these things should be taken into account when working with your dog. When working with a rescue dog, it is extremely helpful to know as much of their history as possible. Some dogs have been mistreated by humans so it is necessary to learn what they are and are not comfortable with, and always keep calm and patient.
We all have moments of frustration, but this should not be taken out on the dog. We have all seen the dog owner yelling at and berating their dog. This does nothing productive whatsoever. Dogs have a psyche just like us – constantly berating a dog can damage them as well as your relationship with them. A firm and meaningful “NO” or “AhAh” is often very useful. When a dog gets loose or runs off, why would it want to return to an angry owner who is shouting at them? It is so important to take into consideration tone of voice and body language while working with a dog. Talk nicely to them, but be firm when needed. Praise and affection go much further with a dog than anger and negativity.
Use treats and toys to your advantage. With clear communication, dogs learn what is expected of them and what will not be tolerated. Dogs know when we mean what we say and when we don’t because they have learned to gauge our tone of voice and body language. Hand signals are just as important as tone of voice and body language. If commands a clear and consistent, dogs can pick up on what it is we want from them rather quickly. Be sure you are giving them incentive to learn to learn and behave as well.
Having a well behaved dog is a lifetime of work, but it is absolutely worthwhile. We are responsible for their health and overall well-being. Learn your dog’s limits and do not put them in situations where they are at risk or set to fail. Patience, consistency, boundaries, exercise and incentives are you best allies in training. Training should not be dreaded by the human or the dog, it should be a fun and positive experience. If you or your dog are having an off day, postpone training until moods have improved. The goal is to enjoy having a dog in your life and a dog that enjoys life with you as well!
Article as seen in July 2015 Issue of the Ponte Vedra Recorder