It’s not rocket science, our thoughts affect our actions. But do you always pay attention to your thoughts? What about when it comes to your dog’s behaviour – could it be that your thoughts affect that too? Well if thoughts affect decisions and actions, that definitely affects our dogs!
Here’s a common example I see: Karen decides she wants to walk her dog. But milliseconds after she makes this decision, she starts thinking of worst case scenarios.
It’s a busy time of day, what if another dog runs up to us… My dog pulls on the leash and it’s not really enjoyable… maybe I’ll just throw the ball for him in the yard instead… He never listens to me once we get out the front door, what’s the point?
In the above example, Karen isn’t feeling confident in her abilities to control her dog and it’s stopping her from giving the dog what he really needs.
Can you relate?
Training can be fun – it doesn’t have to be a drag.
The great thing about training is that if you were having troubles say, on the walk or in public, you could temporarily replace walk time with training time. This would get you better results when you train away from the home later because it would set up the foundations the dog needs, making the dog more likely to listen to you in any environment.
On top of that, it would build your confidence, leading to more confident thoughts, leading to more confident actions.
AND it would make your dog more tired and satisfied than throwing a ball mindlessly or going on a quick walk.
The first step you have to take with any struggle you are facing and want to change is to believe that you can do it.
Would you describe your dog’s behaviour around the home as calm and controlled, or more chaotic?
Can you trust them around your belongings without them being destroyed?
Does your dog push past you and barge through doorways and gates? Or wait calmly until they’re told?
Having a peaceful household with your dog/s in it is important for many reasons. Obviously, it’s more pleasant for you. But a dog that knows the rules is happier than a dog that has no rules at all.
When it comes to teaching your dog to make the right choices and not just run amok, a big part of this is what’s known as impulse control. This simply means that your dog is able to control their impulses rather than just leaping towards anything they want whenever they want it. It helps them to think before they act.
One brilliant way to teach some impulse control is the leave it command. This command is fun to teach (my favourite actually) and can show you how clever your dog really is.
If you have to shout, “LEAVE IT!!” in a panic or wrestle the object out of your dog’s mouth or physically intervene, your dog either doesn’t truly know what the word means, or is ignoring you.
Watch this video to see how I teach the leave it command and follow along with your dog at home.
Extra points if you post a video of your dog performing this skill in the Dog Matters Community facebook group!
A really common problem I get asked about regularly is, “my dog runs off and won’t come back when called,” or “my dog only comes back when he feels like it.”
My question back to the owner would be, “have you spent time training your dog to come back when called?”
Most the time, the owner has not done any formal training on the recall but will tell me that the dog does know it and is choosing to ignore it. Often the dog comes when called in the house or backyard only and that’s the extent of how they know it.
But the most crucial times you’ll need your dog to listen to a recall is outside of the home around distractions and this needs to be trained.
A dog doesn’t generalize something they know well at home to all other situations and locations. A dog that comes when called at home is most likely doing it because the backyard is familiar and boring and they crave the owner’s attention so it’s easy for them to come running when they hear your voice. That’s why it can seem like the dog knows the recall without much training actually put into it.
But add distractions and new environments to explore? You’re no longer the most exciting thing to your dog and they have no training experience to help them realize that they can’t just run off to do what they want whenever something interesting and new is present.
When it comes to training the recall, there’s a couple of important rules. The first is to always make the recall rewarding and never punish your dog if you just called them and they came to you.
The other very important rule is to never allow a situation where the dog can learn that coming when called is optional. So when someone tells me their dog runs off and won’t come when called, or until he feels like it, I have to ask, why is the dog able to run off and make that choice?
If you haven’t practiced recall training to prepare for these situations, it’s really unfair to expect the dog to just know what to do.
Set your dog up to win – practice recall training in many environments on a long line, so that you can control the outcome.
Remember, practice makes permanent. Make sure that what is being practiced is what you want the end result to look like. Are you practicing a perfect recall because you are the one in charge, or are you allowing your dog to practice ignoring you? What you allow is what you’ll get.
If you need help with recall training, visit dogmatters.com and fill in the contact form to arrange a one on one training session.
Playing with our dogs is fun, or it should be, but it’s hard to keep the game going if the dog won’t give up their prize! Whether you’re playing fetch or tug, your dog should know to drop the item when told.
So if your dog brings the toy back or plays tug happily but won’t give it up? This one is for you.
There are two main techniques I use to teach a dog to drop a toy on cue. I have my favourite but you can try each and see which works best for you and your dog. As we know, every dog and human is different.
Technique #1 – The Trade
This is the option I would choose if the object in question is a ball. This is because a ball is a bit harder to hold if using technique #2.
When the dog brings the ball back close to you (this is a good option to use if the dog won’t bring it all the way back), present a trade. You can trade for a piece of food or an identical ball. Which one you use, again, depends on the dog. Some dogs like balls better than a treat so in that case, trade for another ball.
Hold the trade item up close enough for the dog to know what you’ve got. Never chase the dog if they are possessing an item they don’t want to give up. Stay still and stand your ground. The first few times you may need to give them the second item before they’ve dropped the first one. But as long as you have something they want, they HAVE to let go of the first item to take it.
After a couple of trades, start adding in your desired cue word right as the dog switches items. While they’re off fetching the second ball, or chewing the treat, pick up the first ball and repeat.
Keep trading until your dog is coming right up to you and dropping the ball on cue.
If it’s a tug toy, food may be easier to use. Hold the treat right on the dog’s nose and say your command to let go, reward with the food and repeat.
Technique #2 – The Hold, aka the death of the tug
This option is my preferred option for teaching a dog to let go on command during a game of tug.
By the way, tug is a healthy game to play, as long as your dog lets go when told.
Dogs like to tug on a toy that is moving – it has life to it.
This technique works when you remove all movement and life from said tug toy. The toy is dead and boring.
Take both ends of the tug toy and hold it firmly against your leg, planting your feet in a firm position with your knees bent and legs slightly apart. This will help you stay firm even if the dog is stronger than you.
Once you’ve planted the toy against your leg stay still and don’t allow the toy to move no matter how hard the dog tries. Say your command once and wait it out.
The idea is that the toy is no longer so exciting because it won’t move. The second the dog gives up on trying to get it and lets go, say, “YES!” and throw the toy again as the dog’s reward. Repeat. Each time, your dog will get quicker at letting go until you get to the point you can say the command without bracing the toy against your leg.
If your dog doesn’t return the tug willingly you need to practice with the dog on a lead or the tug on a line that you can reel in like a fishing line. Remember, what you allow is what you get so adding a leash or line removes the ability of the dog to practice parading around with their prize and playing keep away.
Solving unwanted behaviours in dogs is a complex job involving problem solving for each individual case, careful timing and consistency.
There’s science behind what I do but there’s also an art to it.
Yet in every case when you strip away all the layers, there is a simple concept to keep in mind that can help you problem solve any issue that might come up. I like to teach dog owner’s how to apply this because even when the problem they hire me for is solved, I want them to be equipped to deal with and understand anything else that might come up in the future.
Here’s the formula to remember:
Behaviour = consequence.
If the dog performs a behaviour and it results in a pleasant or desired consequence, the dog is more likely to repeat that behaviour again.
If the dog performs a behaviour and it results in an unpleasant or undesired consequence, the dog is less likely to perform that behaviour again.
Whenever your dog is behaving in a way you don’t like and would like to change, ask yourself: what is the dog getting out of this?
Dogs won’t just do things when there’s nothing in it for them. Just like us. It might not always be obvious, but if a dog is behaving a certain way, they feel they are getting something out of it.
Sometimes it’s just the dog’s perception rather than reality that they are getting something good out of a certain behaviour. For example, the postman comes by on a motorbike and delivers a letter into your mailbox and your dog madly barks at him the entire time. The postman then continues on to the next house as per usual. The postman was going to do this anyway, but in the dog’s mind the barking caused the intruder to leave. The dog feels good about this; she scared him off! The barking is reinforced and continues to be reinforced each day this happens.
Even though you and I know that the postman didn’t leave because the dog scared him off, what matters is the dog’s perception of the situation. Always keep this in mind when you’re trying to figure out why your dog is doing something.
Once you know what your dog is getting out of a certain behaviour, you can see if you can remove this reward from the situation. This is the first step to stopping the issue from continuing. Then replace the unwanted behaviour with something you prefer the dog to do and reward that instead.
Of course it’s not always that simple. Sometimes the unwanted behaviour is so rewarding to the dog and that reward is difficult to remove, or the dog’s been practicing the behaviour so long it is strongly ingrained. In these cases not only do you need to remove the ability for the dog to practice the behaviour and gain reward and reward an alternative, but you need to punish the unwanted behaviour as well.
A lot of people freak out over the idea of punishing a dog, but it doesn’t have to be harsh – it just has to be something that makes that behaviour no longer desirable or pleasant to the dog, and the other options more pleasant.
I can’t tell you how to punish a behaviour, or even how to reward one, because it depends on the individual dog and what they find to be valuable both to receive and to avoid. Every dog is different.
For example, a lot of people recommend using a water spray bottle to stop a dog from doing a myriad of typical naughty dog habits. This might work for some dogs and do nothing for others. Some dogs could even enjoy it and feel rewarded.
These are the nuances that make training both an art and a science.
The next time your dog does something you don’t like, have a think about what they’re getting out of it and how you can prevent that and teach them to do something you DO like instead.
If your dog’s behaviour is causing you stress, it’s probably stressing them out too. Visit dogmatters.com to arrange an in home visit to work on solving the problem one on one.
Looking for information online can be so confusing as there is so much conflicting advice. In Training Matters, we explain not just the how of dog training, but the why, so that you know what to do and why to do it this way.