So today we are going to get personal and talk about your behavior. Just kidding, I mean your dogs’! Though one is often directly related to the other. Recently it was brought to my attention that dogs often get pushed aside when life gets rough, and many new moms don’t like their dogs as much. I get it, I do. But that doesn’t have to be the way.
We all know those people who jog pushing a stroller with one hand and their dogs in the other.
In my mind I am absolutely that person. In reality, not so much. I am that person huffing and puffing while I walk struggling to push a stroller while my dogs run wild. The other day this exact scenario was occurring. As I struggled up a hill while telling myself it was good exercise for everyone (except the freeloader baby), a hiker approached. I asked my dogs to get to the side of the trail, sit and stay. I collected the stroller and stood several yards behind them (yes, they’re always ahead) right as this innocent hiker went by. My dogs stayed where they were until I told them they could go. Phew. In that moment I thanked my lucky stars that I had trained them previous to having a baby, because I could picture the chaos that would have ensued otherwise.
I’m not telling this story to brag. I am an average trainer with semi-feral dogs. Anyone can do it if I can. However, there have been several instances in my life when our relationship was preserved because my dogs learned to behave before the going got tough. We all think it won’t matter that much, but then it does. What is a little jumping from a small dog? Maybe not much until you have a surgery or grandma comes to visit. Who cares if your dog loves to steal food?
No one until that includes a cookie attached to your toddler nephew’s hand. Who cares if your dog barks at visitors? No one until you finally get your baby to sleep and someone jogs by your house (that’s me, it has happened, and I regretted not working harder on “quiet”.)
The bottom line is that life is easier when your dogs learn to listen. Many re-homing situations occur because dogs don’t fit into a new lifestyle. It isn’t that hard, it just takes some patience and consistency. You know when you don’t have either? When you are forced into a stressful situation and your dogs make it worse. This is one instance where it is better to do it right now.
I will preface this by saying that often the help of a trainer is invaluable. They do this all day every day. They are the professionals. I always recommend a trainer who uses reward-based learning versus fear-based. You need to find someone or a training theory that fits your lifestyle and your dog’s personality. Sometimes a veterinary behaviorist is even warranted. I’ll give you some basic guidelines for common issues and easier dogs, but know that if you are out of your depth it is time to call the pros.
Jumping is one of my least favorite bad habits. I have had plenty of orthopedic surgeries and seen plenty of scrapes down legs (of adults, or full bodies of kids.) It is dangerous with bigger dogs and uncomfortable with little dogs. The thing about jumping is that it is not malicious.
These guys are just SO excited to see you and want to share their joy. Instead of meeting their joy with anger (because come ON), we need to meet it with redirection. You can show your dog that you are just as happy to see them as they are to see you while working on appropriate greetings.
While I like this the least, it is actually the easiest to fix! The first step is making sure that your dog has a consistent and automatic “sit.” Next, arm yourself with treats. When you enter the house (or room or wherever it is that incites jumping) ask your dog to sit before they begin to jump. When they do, reward them with a treat. If they ignore you and jump, turn your back to them (or leave again) and repeat the process immediately until you get the response you want.
This is a common theory that applies to all training. Listening gets you treats, ignoring commands gets you the opposite of what you want. Dogs don’t want to be ignored, and most of their “bad” behavior stems from wanting attention.
Pulling on the leash
This isn’t hard to fix, but takes the most patience. I first recommend getting an anti-pulling chest or head harness. This makes pulling harder for your dog and makes it easier for you to control them. As my horses have taught me, even if you aren’t stronger, it helps for your pet to think you are.
Now, prepare yourself. Every time your dog pulls you need to gently tell them “no pulling” and (prepare yourself for this) stop walking. Once they stop or sit or the leash goes slack, start walking again. This isn’t the time to plan your exercise. It can take your entire walk time to go several yards. Your dog is pulling because they want to GO. You are teaching them that pulling will in fact get them the opposite result, and the way to GO is to walk nicely.
Next week I will go over a couple more common issues and how to work on them.