You want to discourage your dog from certain behaviors, but you don’t know how to do it.
Yelling at your dog doesn’t feel right.
Squirting water at her will make her hate baths.
Shaking a can of pennies seems barbaric.
You can never accurately predict or understand how your dog will feel a zap, but you know shock collars, even when used “properly” are proven to cause undue stress.
But, realistically, you need to correct unwanted behaviors.
I’m saying unwanted, rather than bad behavior because dogs are never “bad.” Dogs are opportunists. They can have unbridled energy. They can be uneducated. They can be fearful. But they’re never simply “bad.”
Please remember this every time your dog is doing something unwanted, annoying, inconvenient or potentially dangerous. Your dog does not mean to be bad, because she does not know what it is to be bad. She only reacts to her feelings, instincts and environment.
And yet, I don’t blame you if you get angry at your dog. You’re only human. I’ve been there. Training with positivity means taking a deep breath and putting those inevitable angry feelings aside to think clearly and solve problems without the use of force, fear or anger.
Teach Your Dog Impulse Control
Impulse control is a key skill that every dog needs to be taught from day one – or from today, if you haven’t already been working on this. Even if you haven’t heard these words, though, you’ve probably done it in some way.
Impulse control: teaching your dog to be patient, and wait and look at you before giving in to her desires.
Door manners: Every time you open the door to let your dog out, or to go for a walk, train your dog to sit. Never allow her to dash out without sitting and looking at you. She should make eye contact and sit, (butt on the floor) before you say, “Okay!” and release her. Do this every time, and you won’t have to worry about your dog running out into the street if the gate is open, or scaring the mailman as you accept a package.
Dinner manners: After you prepare your dog’s dinner, stand by her eating area and call her. Have her sit and look at you before you set the bowl down. Have her hold the sit (pick up the bowl if she stands prematurely) and only allow her to eat once you say, “eat!”
Everything manners: Your dog should know “leave it.” Set a biscuit on the floor, near her, and do not allow her to go near it. Have her sit or lay. If she tries to get it, pick it up and have her sit again. When she’s successful, give her a tasty piece of meat. She’ll realize that waiting for your cue means she’ll get an even better snack. Practice “leave it” with toys, food, forbidden items, just about everything, and encourage her to “leave it” on walks. At first, she may only be able to “leave it” for just a few moments, gradually work your way up to longer sessions.
A good way to practice “leave it” is the game “It’s Yer Choice” – this Youtube video from trainer Cindy Briggs will show you the timing and technique. As your dog gets better at impulse control, you’ll be able to teach her that cool trick where she balances a treat on her nose – I haven’t gotten that far yet, but I’ll let you know when I do!
Keep Your Expectations Reasonable
Many unwanted behaviors occur when we fail to have reasonable expectations.
As intelligent humans, it is our job to set our dear dogs up for success.
This means keeping her in a safely enclosed area, on a leash or a long line until she has near-perfect recall.
This means not allowing her in the kitchen if she steals food off the counter – even if that means restricting her from that area or using a baby gate, possibly crating her when you’re not home. This also means keeping food, dangerous items, expensive shoes and other forbidden things out of reach at all times.
When you have unreasonable expectations, and your dog (predictably) continues to practice unwanted behaviors, it becomes more and more difficult to correct them. Avoid allowing unwanted behaviors to happen by making them impossible.
Train A Better Behavior
A big mistake many dog owners make is disrupting their dog away from a behavior, but not showing them what to do instead.
For example, your dog might bark and jump up and down every time someone knocks on your door.
If you just tell her to “stop it!” she might think you’re also barking at the door. She might eventually stop barking, but may continue to do so when you’re not home.
Visualize what your dog needs to do when you have a visitor.
A common alternative, wanted behavior is to have your dog go sit on her bed or in her crate when a visitor comes. That way, she’ll be able to assess the visitor from a safe distance while you answer the door.
Another example: your dog jumps on you when you get home.
Do not give her the attention she craves until all four paws are on the floor. Reward her by greeting her when she’s finally sitting calmly.
Tell us in the comments: what unwanted behaviors are you dealing with?