When it comes to taking your dog with you in your car, most dog owners just do it - meaning they just put the dog into the backseat or cargo area and go. For most dogs, that is not a problem. In fact the “it's not a big deal” attitude of the owner is the best way to approach any training. If your dog trusts you, and you convey with your relaxed manner that there is nothing to be afraid of, the dog will quickly become accustomed to riding in the car. In fact, most dogs soon learn to love it.
Many of our dog training clients have dogs with behavior problems. The dogs are annoying the neighbors with their excessive barking, chewing up the family's shoes and socks, lunging on the leash or stealing food off the counters, to name just a few. All too often, it is the owner that is reinforcing the unwanted behavior, without realizing it.
Behavior problems often stem from the dog not getting enough exercise or mental stimulation. People often don't realize that their dogs are simply bored and are looking for something to do. When the animal is acting out with unwanted behavior, it is often times the owners that will reinforce the bad behavior by giving it attention. Dogs like attention, especially from their owners! Let me illustrate with a few examples.
If the family pet is stealing shoes and socks, and chewing on them, the owners will often times go after the dog, as she runs around with the shoe in her mouth. The dog loves the chase me game and will not understand the owner is chasing her because they don't want her to destroy the expensive footwear.
Next time, instead of chasing the dog and trying to pry the valuable item out of her mouth, try this approach:
Stand still and find an item that the dog should be chewing on. Without paying any attention to the dog, pick up the item, like the rawhide bone, or even a squeaky toy. Start paying a lot of attention to the item you are holding. You can squat down and squeak the toy, or waive the rawhide. The dog will lose interest in the shoe she is currently holding and will come over to investigate what you have. If she hasn't dropped the valuable item you are after, don't try to take it from her, that will only start the game of tug of war again. Offer the item you have to her. Since she cannot hold two items in her mouth, she will drop what she has and take the toy or treat you are offering. Praise her and remove the item you want.
Here is another example. If the dog is lunging on the leash, jumping and barking at cats, other dogs or other people, owners often try dragging the dog back, holding it very tight and frantically telling the dog to stop. The owners are either embarrassed or frustrated or even afraid. All this is actually increasing the behavior. So if your dog tends to act out while on the walk, next time try this approach instead:
Always make sure that you are calm and relaxed. Do not tense up and hold the leash tightly. You should always have your arms down and relaxed, holding the leash loosely. At the first sign of lunging or jumping, give the dog a correction and tell him “no”. If he is already escalated to were he is fixated on the cat, dog or person, change direction and get him to focus back on you. You can walk a few feet in the other direction, and then get better control of him. Give only short corrections with the leash, but do not let it be tight. As you walk past the distraction, make sure you are not fixated on it. If you pay no attention to the distraction, your dog will be less likely to as well.
This of course only works, if you have control of your dog on a normal walk, with a loose leash. If your dog always pulls you on the leash, you need to work first on having him walk on a loose leash. Being in control of your dog on leash is the most important thing to teach your dog. If this is something you and your dog still need to work on, you may find my upcoming blog on leash training of interest.
Whatever the behavior issue, be aware of your reaction or your actions. Are you giving attention to the very thing you wish the dog to stop doing? To correct behavior issues, you need show the dog what behavior you want. Dogs don't understand “don't do this” they need you to show them what to do.
Communicating without words
Humans primarily communicate through words while dogs primarily communicate through body language. It is due to this difference in communication style that we often see unsatisfactory results while training our dogs.
I like to teach dog owners in my obedience classes to slow down, to say less, and to communicate more through their body language. By using less words and giving the dog more time to actually remain in a certain area, the dog learns not only to follow you, but also to be calm and patient.
In this article, I want to show you one way to teach your dog to become more calm and obedient by using the power of the pause. I will show you how to practice this with a simple but very effective training exercise.
For many of my clients, taking the dog out for a walk is a stressful and hectic task. I see them pick up the leash and usually say something like; ”Fido, do you want to go outside? Let's go for a WALK!” Their dog spins around in circles and excitedly jumps around and crowds toward the front door. The dog is so hyper that it is almost impossible to get the leash clipped to the collar. Next the dog owner will swing the front door open and the dog will rush out, dragging the owner behind him.
If your dog is acting in a similar manner when you try to put on the leash and take him outside, he has learned to be excited every time the leash gets put on, or the door is opened. Most of the time the excitement is increased by the owner talking in an excited voice about how fun it will be to go for a walk.
To curb the hyper excitement, first you must hold back with the verbal narration. Say nothing at all. Simply pick up the leash. If Fido gets super excited just by you holding the leash, walk around the house and put the leash down in a few different places. Say nothing, ignore Fido. Simply pick up the leash, then walk a few feet and put it down someplace. Repeat several times until Fido looses interest and stops running around. This first part is conditioning the dog to not associate excitement with you holding the leash. You can work on this for several days. Picking up the leash and putting it back down without saying anything, and without actually putting it on the dog.
Once Fido is calmed down, pick up the leash and squat down without saying anything. If he comes over quietly, put on the leash. If he acts excited and jumps around, do not put on the leash, simply get back up and hold the leash. Wait for him to calm down first. Once he is calmly waiting, put on the leash. Stand up straight and don't move, just stand there with Fido on the leash and wait. He should be calmly standing or sitting. If he is jumping around, trying to drag you toward the door, don't do anything. Simply stand still. The idea is to get him to calm down and not feed him more excitement by adding movement or words. Do the entire exercise without a spoken word.
Continue with the exercise when he is calm. Walk toward the front door. If he gets excited and starts to pull, walk away from the door, stop and just stand. Do not talk. You don't even need to look at Fido. When he is calm again, turn and walk toward the door. Expect him to remain calm. If he isn't, just turn and walk away from the door again. Repeat this until he is calmly walking toward the door.
You can now open the door. However, do not allow Fido to walk through it. Just open the door. If he wants to drag you through the door, walk the other direction, back into the house. Stop, wait and make him calm down. With the door now open, approach the door, but don't walk through it. Expect Fido to quietly walk back and forth with you. Finally walk through the door when he is calm and quiet.
Practice this exercise often. In the beginning, do not do this when you are taking the dog for his regular walk, but rather when you have time to spend 15 to 20 minutes just to do the leash or door exercise. After he has learned to be calm, you need to expect him to calmly walk through the door every time, even when you are in a hurry!
Most importantly, do not use words, just use your quiet calm demeanor to communicate with your dog. Your body language and your own quite behavior will communicate to him how you want him to behave in this situation. By using less words, you are controlling the situation with just your quiet presence, you are communicating in a new and better way. You will see your dog become more attentive. Remember to use the power of the pause. Simply stand still and expect your dog to be calm.
Many of our clients call us to help them with behavior issues such as counter surfing, jumping or excessive barking. Behavior issues are challenging, because they are not the root cause, they are simply the symptom of other underlining issues. In most cases, daily exercise and consistency in applying direction towards wanted behavior can alleviate behavior issues within a few weeks.
To address the unwanted behavior, we talk to our clients about creating "teachable moments". You cannot correct unless you are right there when the dog is doing the unwanted behavior; however, most issues occur when the owners are not there. Therefore, it is important to set up situations, in which the dog is first allowed to depict the undesired activity. In these situations, you, as the owner, can teach the dog by correcting and then showing the proper behavior. Over time, with consistency, the dog will be conditioned to act in the new, wanted manner.
Let me illustrate by giving an example. Your dog is chewing up things around the house while you are out at work, how do you correct and redirect him? You need to create a teachable moment to get him to chew on something he isn't suppose to, so you can catch him doing it. You can leave things, he usually likes to play with and chew on, laying around your living room floor, when you have time to teach. Shoes, socks, the TV-remote, or your children's toys for example. Stay close by and watch him, as he explores the wonderful stuff that is laying around. When he picks up one of the items he is not suppose to have, clap your hands loudly and say the word “no”. Now offer him something that he can chew on, like a nice soup bone you got from the butcher at the grocery store. In this way, you have disciplined him with the “no” and then redirected him to the right item- the bone- he should chew on.
Training should always occur in a controlled environment. Make sure you have set aside a short amount of time that you can devote to teaching your dog. Put yourself in the mindset of teaching with patience and equanimity. If you are already late for work, don't try to train your dog not to bark excessive when the door bell rings. Rather take 15 minutes in the evening, when you are relaxed and create a teaching moment by having your spouse ring the door bell, while you are inside, ready to discipline your dog's compulsive barking. When you teach a new behavior, it is important to be patient with your dog, if you are rushed and frustrated, you should not train your dog. When you are calm and have time, go through some exercises to show him what you expect.
Conditioning occurs over time. With repeated short training sessions, and eventually with consistent repeated times of doing the right activity, the dog will form a new behavior. Once you know the dog has learned the manner in which you want him to behave, you should expect it every time. That is consistency. If you have taught your dog to be quiet and calm when you put on his leash, don't allow him to jump around excitedly when you are rushing to go to an appointment.
Life is hectic and demanding. It's impossible to squeeze in dog training while rushing through your day. Consciously create teaching moments, when you can be in control of your environment and your personal state of mind. Make the training sessions short, but repeat them often. Be consistent in how you expect your dog to behave and most of all, always end on a good note!