Dog Training

Let’s imagine for a moment that you are a dog. Don’t feel weird about it, I try to take this perspective almost daily! And while that might not reassure you much, it is actually very helpful to think of training and behavior from a dog’s world. So, there is this same darn truck that drives up to your house (or person that walks up) almost every single day. The logical thought is that they are coming to break in and kill you (logical to a dog.) You bark and bark and bark at them, and thankfully every day this makes them leave. Whew! Safe for another day. Barking is one of the issues that gets dogs rehomed most often and creates the most home issues.

While your dog barking at the mail person, joggers, UPS driver, etc. may seem crazy to you, it makes perfect sense to them. They bark, the stranger leaves. Every time. It is a self-fulfilling exercise, and your dog is sure that they have won. In the next scenario, the doorbell rings and they start barking. Likely they are yelling “get out/ this is my house/ hi, this is so fun!” In return, you then yell “quiet!” What a fun game! Mom supports my yelling and is even joining in! It can be so hard not to yell when your dog barks, but it truly is the opposite of what you want to do. We all swear now and then, but do you know people who yell and swear all the time? You start to take these people less seriously. Their yelling and swearing don’t hold gravitas, it is just the way they talk, and you begin to discount them for not being able to express themselves in a realistic way. The same holds true for your dog. Sure, they probably don’t take you less seriously (they LOVE you!) but your yelling probably doesn’t mean much to them. If your dog doesn’t know what to do when you yell “quiet” at them, what is the point?

The first thing to know is that training only works when it happens. If you live on a busy street, you need to start by covering your windows or locking your dog out of the room with a view. They will continue to bark at passersby in your absence and those people will continue to leave, reinforcing this behavior. Next, you need to teach them alternate behavior. Can they bark once, or for one minute? Do they alert you and then sit for a treat? Do they ignore it and run to a specific place for a treat? It is up to you to decide what the wanted behavior is and then start teaching it to your dog.

I worked hard on this, and though I sometimes slip up, get frustrated and yell (honestly, that baby JUST fell asleep and the mailman comes every day, what is wrong with you?!) my dogs mainly know that they can bark and when I say “Enough” that means it is time to stop. I essentially mean “thank you for telling me there is an intruder, now I will deal with it and you be quiet.” I started this by asking them to come, sit and get treats. They knew what to do, they were distracted by food and so were quiet. Soon they associated this with just being quiet.

I also taught my dogs what time out is. In our case, it means they have to go to the back bathroom and get closed in alone. This lasts only 1-2 minutes and includes no hitting/shocking/yelling, but effectively removes them from the fun, and therefore they hate it.

When they continue the behavior that I have already taught them and asked them not to do, they get threatened with time out. It is extremely important that they know 100% of what you are asking.

If you get upset and ask me to do advanced physics, it doesn’t matter what you threaten me with, I will still have no idea what to do. All behaviors must be taught until they are automatic before you can expect them.

In general, think of training from their point of view. Why are they doing the behavior you don’t like? You always want a command that asks them to do something else, then a reward for doing it. You don’t want to punish them, but you can take away the fun in doing something. This is similar to stopping when they pull or removing them into a time out when they do something they know (i.e., you have actually taught them until they understand) is incorrect. The reward also has to be good, better than continuing whatever they were doing before. For some dogs this is a treat, for some, it is a simple “good dog,” and for some, it is a toy. Figure out what drives your dog and use that as a reward.

And most importantly, if something isn’t working, stop doing it and ask for help. There are some things that require a professional (like advanced physics) and it is OK to defer to them.

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