We have heard about virtually every type of dog training method out there. Many of these methods can do more harm to your dog in the long term than good. So let’s look at some of the things you should avoid when addressing your dog’s unwanted behavior.
- Never Use Pain. Dogs, like humans, will make mistakes, and don’t deserve to suffer pain or experience physical corrections as a consequence. Shock collars, prong collars, or any other device cause your dog pain or discomfort. In regards to physical corrections, even if you don’t actually hit your dog, techniques like “alpha rolling”, or pin downs, etc. teaches your dog bad habits which they may try to replicate with other dogs and/or even children. Using a physical means to control/correct your dog may cause them to loose trust in hands and, therefore, become defensive. Remember that dogs are not born aggressive – it is a learned behavior that can result from improper socialization, poor training methods, history and more. “Scruffing”, holding your dog’s mouth closed, pushing and even collar grabs, while not malicious, can also cause problems.
- Never Yell Or Use Your Dog’s Name as Punishment. Do not scream at your dog as much as this flies in the face of what you feel like doing. Yelling at your dog does not work because it will just get him more stressed or it will only increase his energy level and how excited he is about the situation. Instead, use a calm yet firm voice to refocus your dog and to teach the desired behavior.
If you have children, you are probably used to yelling at them – “Jimmy, stop that right now!” In the case of a child, Jimmy knows you are angry with him, as he has been identified by his name; however, with a dog, using his name has the opposite effect, as it actually adrenalizes the dog. So when Rover’s owner yells, “Rover, be quiet!”-guess what, Rover keeps on barking…longer and louder. Ironically, he is doing so in a misguided effort to try and please his owner! And, you don’t want your dog’s name to carry a negative association, so that he won’t avoid responding when he hears it. Only use your dog’s name for positive situations.
- Never correct them long after a bad incident has happened. Many of us have walked into our home only to find that the dog has torn apart your sofa cushions or had a toileting accident. Your first thought is to yell and correct the bad dog. Remember that dogs don’t necessarily have long term memories. Their behavior is all about cause and effect. If you correct them after the fact, they will not associate your correction with the bad act. Refocusing your dog must be immediate, when your dog is thinking about making a mistake, or when he is in the act of unwanted behavior. If they do a good thing (like sitting on command) and you immediately praise them, they will associate the sitting with the positive kudos and be more inclined to do it the next time around.
- Avoid direct eye contact/stare. The final technique governs the use of direct eye contact, and if you study groups of dogs, you will see repeated instances of when eye contact is either withdrawn or avoided. Again, the rule here is the antithesis of human behavior. Just imagine your son “borrowed” your car one day. When making your point to the teenager that this must never, ever, happen again, and explaining the consequences of his misbehavior, the natural tendency would be for you to be making full-on eye contact just to emphasize how deadly serious you were about the whole episode. However, that direct eye contact is seen by your dog as a threatening gesture which can make your dog question your intentions. Fear can set in leading to an instinctual fight or flight response from your dog. While you may want to look assertive at times, appearing threatening to your dog will not help you achieve the balance of love, trust and bond that you want with your pet.
Finally, a word or two of advice about praising your dog which is highly encouraged when refocusing your dog results in a change to good behavior. Here, by all means, DO involve both their name and soft eye-contact, and if you have lowered your body posture to deliver this praise and draw the dog toward you for a pet, then he is absolutely sure he is being congratulated, rather than corrected. Praise delivered in this fashion is far more appreciated by your dog, than any treat on the planet.
Vicki and Richard Horowitz, of Woodbridge, are dog behavioral therapists and trainers with Bark Busters, the world’s largest dog training company. For more information, call 1-877-500-BARK (2275) or visit www.dog-training-new-haven-ct.com.