I have decided to write out how I deal with various dog behavioural problems. I will describe how I deal with current real life situations and I will also attempt to answer the most common questions that I have received from exasperated dog owners on the best way to start training their new puppy or how to bond with a rescue dog that they had recently taken on.
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I have written below a short explanation on why people often get dog training so wrong and end up with a dog that seems to be a source of frustration rather than the lovely biddable companion they originally thought they would get at the end of their training classes. This is not intended to be a complete “how to solve your dog’s behavioural problems” article. I just wanted to describe what is involved to give you a better understanding on my approach and perhaps give you a few tips. I will cover the following areas:
Basically, I see dog training as the process we use in which we encourage a dog to perform certain actions that he would naturally be inclined to do, to a command and/or a signal.
For example, SIT, DOWN, ROLL OVER, STAY, RECALL etc. These actions can be summarised as WANTED BEHAVIOURS. Most dog owners I meet generally would like their dog to act upon most if not all of these basic commands.
Behaviours that occur that we do not like are UNWANTED BEHAVIOURS. What constitutes an UNWANTED BEHAVIOUR varies between different dog owners. For example some dog owners I meet want or don’t mind if their dog sits on their settee whereas for some others this is strictly forbidden. Some dog owners really do not mind that their dog pulls them along on the lead (normally small dogs) whereas for others this is something that extremely important to get right (especially with large strong dogs!)
Therefore, there are two types of behaviour:
Before I explain the differences between TRAINING versus RECONDITIONING, let’s look at a typical scenario that I encounter when I first enter a new client’s home:
As I go through the front door, their dog will jump up at me and the owner will say “DOWN” but the dog continues to jump up at me. The owner continues to command “DOWN” as their dog continues to jump, the commands seem to become more desperate and the volume of their commands increases with each jump the dog makes. “See what I mean” the owner will often say to me and over the next few minutes their dog does eventually settle down and stops jumping, but not because of the commands the owner had given. So, the question I would pose here is what do you think their dog has been “trained” to do when a stranger comes into the house? What do you think their dog thinks of the command “DOWN”? Hopefully, you will see from this example that by saying or shouting “DOWN” when the dog is jumping, that the dog has associated in his mind, that the command “DOWN” with the action he is performing at the moment he hears the command (jumping) becomes the command to do just that – “DOWN” means “JUMP”! When I have explained this scenario to clients in the past, many can see straight away what I mean and can already understand what I am trying to explain here, but don’t worry if this doesn’t make any sense to you right now! I have spent over half an hour with some clients just to get them to understand this point.
I had one client that insisted “DOWN” meant “DOWN” and couldn’t or wouldn’t understand why her dog kept jumping up every time she yelled “DOWN” at him! She kept saying “Surely, DOWN means DOWN and jump means jump. I tried to explain that it does to her, but her dog understands these words differently.
Another client insisted his dog, a German Shepherd, did in fact completely understand that the command “DOWN” meant “DOWN” and not “JUMP” even though his dog continually jumped up at me every time he shouted “DOWN” as I walked through his front door! When things had settled down and we were seated in his lounge, he wanted to demonstrate to me that his dog understood what the command “DOWN” meant. He called his dog to him and then gave the command “DOWN” and the dog settled down on the carpet immediately. “There” the owner said, “that proves he understands what “DOWN” means, but what I cannot understand is why he ignores me when someone comes through the door and continues to jump.”
This point brings me quite neatly to the next subject I want to cover here:
Something Every Dog Owner Needs To Know: -
Commands and Context
To understand what is going on here, you need to accept that dogs will understand the commands they are given in the context of the situation they are in. So, in the case described above, “DOWN” for this German Shepherd meant “JUMP” when a stranger came into the house but when given the same command when everything was calm and in the comfort of their own lounge, it meant “LIE DOWN”. The same command, but given in two very different situations, can give you two very different and often opposite outcomes. I find some people believe that a dog does not differentiate between different situations and if their dog has been trained to understand a command then that is all there is to it and the dog should do as he trained to do, no matter what the circumstances.
Well, yes, I agree we want our dog to behave and take notice of our commands, but the point I make here is that we have to take into account the different circumstances of the situation and approach the training in a different way to achieve the desired result.
Why Giving The Same Command Gives Different Results
To illustrate what I mean with a simple example on how a dog will react completely differently to the same command, think what your dog would do if you got his lead out right now. Most people would say their dog will get excited and even jump about at thought of going for a walk and would want to be attached to the lead. Now, think what your dog’s reaction will be on seeing the lead again at the end of a walk. Some people say it is difficult to get their dog back to attach the lead again, but no matter what your dog does at the end of a walk, whether they come back willingly or not, I have found that the vast majority of dogs are more excited at having their lead attached to go out for a walk than to have it reattached again at the end of the walk. In other words the same command (put the lead on) has resulted in two very different reactions as the context of the situation has changed completely, consequently causing the dog to feel two very different emotions, excitement vs. disappointment.
If you have a dog that refuses to come back to you willingly at the end of walk, then you obviously need to train or teach your dog in different way to the way you dealt with him at the beginning of the walk.
It is the same with this command “DOWN”. Different contexts require different methods to get your dog to pay attention to you and most importantly to behave in a more acceptable manner.
The Biggest Mistake Dog Owners Make And How To Avoid It.
The biggest mistake dog owners make is trying to train their dog to behave properly whilst the dog is actually misbehaving! Actually, I will rephrase that. The biggest mistake dog owners make is using a dog training method to correct undesired behaviours whilst they are occurring.
We now come back to the point I made originally above where I described the differences between WANTED and UNWANTED behaviours.
Let’s take a couple more examples of UNWANTED behaviours that I often come across.
1) Barking. The most common response I hear from dog owners when their dog is barking away like mad is “SHUT UP!”
2) Aggressive behaviours: Virtually every day I take my dogs out for a walk, I inevitably come across a dog owner that has what I describe as a “reactive dog” at the end of the lead. As I approach with my dogs, I can hear the owner saying to their dog “Be Good, Be Good” and then as soon as my dogs start to go past, the other dog starts growling, barking or lunging towards them.
I always tell my clients that they really shouldn’t say anything here. Now, I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t do anything and contrary to what some advice states, you should not ignore it either.
Take jumping up; many clients I see have previously been told to just ignore their dog when he jumps up and because the dog is not receiving any attention (or reward) for this misbehaviour, the dog will soon learn to stop it, especially if you reward the dog when he keeps all his feet on the ground. However, I find many dog owners are still experiencing problems, so ignoring a dog in these circumstances doesn’t work for them. I am not suggesting that ignoring a dog in these situations and rewarding good appropriate behaviour doesn’t work, but if you have tried this and it is not working for you, you need to change what you are doing.
However you should not use a dog training method to resolve an UNWANTED problem. Therefore, before I continue, I think I need to explain why I say you should not use a dog training method when your dog is actually in the process of misbehaving.
Dog training is the process we use to encourage a dog to perform certain actions (wanted behaviours) that he would naturally be inclined to do, to a command. It is not at all difficult but because of the simplicity of teaching dogs basic commands, dog owners often use these same techniques to deal with a dog that misbehaves and that is where it all goes wrong!
If you think about what happens when you are training a dog a simple task such as SIT, it basically boils down to giving the command, SIT when he puts his bottom on the ground. You keep repeating until you can see your dog has learnt the association between the command SIT and the action of SITTING.
Therefore, if a dog is doing a behaviour that is NOT wanted, such as jumping up, and if you keep saying DOWN every time he jumps, are you not training him to respond to the command DOWN with the action of JUMP UP?
That is what I mean when I say we should not use a dog training method to deal with UNWANTED BEHAVIOURS. For this reason, we need to deal with these unwanted behaviours in a different way and really what is needed here is a way of teaching the dog to act correctly.
The Differences Between “Training” and “Reconditioning”.
I am using these different terms to emphasise that there are different approaches between training a dog to perform tasks as opposed to teaching a dog to behave correctly.
Definition of Dog Training:
Definition of Reconditioning:
I would prefer to use the word TEACHING here as opposed to reconditioning. This should give you a clearer idea of what is involved.
Teaching a dog good behaviours is really about getting a dog to understand what is and what is not socially acceptable to you, the owner. Dogs that have learnt what is and what is not socially acceptable, rarely need any commands on how to behave. They will automatically choose to behave correctly* or a respond very quickly to a warning command, such as "AH AH" to remind the dog of what is expected.
Please note, that you can use a dog training method to help solve a dog behavioural problem if you can simulate the circumstances when a dog misbehaves, but for now I just wanted to point out there are major differences in the approach that should be taken when a dog is misbehaving.
*For example, I took on a rescue dog four years ago. I would take him for a walk by a lake and I could see that given a chance, he would love to chase and run amok amongst the ducks and geese standing by the side of the lake awaiting titbits from the children. I couldn’t allow this behaviour so I used a dog behavioural instruction technique and after a couple of days, I could let him off the lead and he would calmly walk along the lakeside without disturbing any ducks or geese and leaving the children to feed them in peace. I never shout any commands to him to leave the ducks alone as he learnt how to behave all by himself.
The Fastest Way to Change an Unwanted Behaviour!
Change what you are doing.
So, to start to answer the question posed; how would I go about training or more accurately, teach a dog to stop an undesired behaviour? Well, basically the answer is really simple. I advise that you need to stop what you are currently doing and do something completely different if you wish to achieve a different result. Otherwise, if you continue in the same way, you will always achieve the same and unwanted result. It might be an obvious statement to make, but why then do so many dog owners keep shouting at their dog to stop an unwanted behaviour only to see the dog continue misbehaving? The answer to this question is I suspect because of any of the following: many people don’t know or cannot think of another way of dealing with the problem. I also think that when I see another dog owner whose dog is misbehaving such as showing an aggressive behaviour towards one of my own dogs, that when I hear them saying something like, “BE NICE” or “GENTLY” or even “NO!” (and no matter what they say, the request or order is frequently repeated with an increasing tone of desperation in their voice as their dog continues to get worse!) it seems the reason is, that they are trying to demonstrate to any passers-by, that they are capable of controlling their own dog (or not, as so often is the case in reality!) They may have learnt a technique at puppy or dog training classes or read up on it from a dog training book or watched how a famous trainer deals with similar problems on TV. The advice given could actually be correct and for a lot dogs this technique will work, but if it the technique has not been carried correctly or it is not working for you, then you need to approach the problem in a completely different way if you wish to change things.
Some owners report the technique did work for them at first, but their dog seemed to figure out another way to get the situation back to the way the dog preferred it! When this happens dog owners do seem to get stuck in a rut and keep on trying the same technique over and over, getting more and more frustrated, shouting more and more at their dog, whilst the dog seems to continually get worse. The fastest way of dealing with unwanted behaviours is to take a step back and think about what you are saying or doing and do the opposite. So if you find yourself shouting at your dog, and your dog is just ignoring you and carries on misbehaving, then don’t say anything! As soon as you do something different, you are on the right road to changing an undesired behaviour.
The simplest way to start changing unwanted dog behaviours:
When starting off trying to get a dog to behave in a more acceptable way, I suggest you shouldn’t say anything at all. Be quiet and use your body language to indicate what you want your dog to do. This isn’t difficult to achieve if you think about this for a second. All dog owners know when their dog is happy or sad, excited or indifferent, jealous or accepting, nervous or calm, angry or tolerant etc. Your dog also knows when you are feeling these same emotions. Therefore, everyone is capable in being able to communicate how we feel to a dog. Think about what would happen if you got up from your chair quickly and starting shouting at something from a completely relaxed position and your dog was asleep at your feet. I would bet you that your dog would also immediately get up and maybe jump around and even start barking. You have just communicated to your dog to copy your body language and follow along with what you are doing. Use this example as a guide and also think how you would communicate with your dog as if you cannot speak at all.
If you have any questions about what I have described above or if you would like to book a consultation then either ring me on 0118 969 74960118 969 7496 or 07877 662 51307877 662 513 or complete the enquiry form found on the Contact Me page. © Copyright Jeremy Tanner May 2016
© Copyright Jeremy Tanner. Heeling Ways. May 2016. All rights reserved.