Did you know that every minute you interact with your dog, he or she is learning what is acceptable or not? Too often, folks want to react after a dog has been naughty but miss SO many opportunities when their dog is being good. Here’s a few things to get you started or a good refresher if you have slid off the good behavior train.
Everyone wants their dog to listen when they go outside or when guests come over. However, to make your words actually mean something in those distracting environments, your dog needs practice with settling down, waiting and paying attention throughout the day. Use life rewards such as her food, petting, toys and walks as a reward for “sit” and “wait”. REALLY do it. If you try and give up, your dog learns that it’s OK to yank you through the door and you are back to square one.
Begin using a verbal marker such as “yes” to pinpoint the appropriate behavior and create an effective secondary reinforcer with the rewards. Huh, what? If you say “yes” before you give treats (which you will sometimes need) food, attention, etc. the “yes” takes on the power of those rewards so you can start treating randomly. Say “yes” when your dog makes good choices on his or her own. If you are talking with a guest and your dog is normally a little bouncy, “yes, good dog” if she is being patient. Guess what? You just gave attention for GOOD behavior rather than waiting for your dog to be bad. If your dog jumps, you yell “bad dog, bad dog”, you are actually rewarding bad behavior with your attention. Play! If you throw in some “sit”, “down”, “wait” during play or games, both of which are arousing; your dog learns to listen when excited. And, you use play as the rewards, less treats!
It is not all about treats, dogs need help knowing when their behavior is not acceptable to you. When she does something wrong, you say ‘uh uh’ but also stop rewarding the behavior (continued walking, your attention…only a second or two is necessary), make sure you give her feedback when she’s made the right choice. That is how she learns what you expect of her and good behaviors will increase because she knows it’s the only thing that earns her toys, treats and your attention. Your actions mean so much more than your words, dogs do not speak human. If you simply say “uh uh”, it doesn’t mean ANYTHING. If your dog is jumping, “uh uh” should be followed by walking away, turning around, taking your attention away, etc. But, you have to know what your dog wants. It is also unbelievably important to let your know when he or she made the right choice. If he wants attention then stops jumping and you go on about your business he will jump again and you will get frustrated. “Yes” and a pet the INSTANT he stops jumping.
If you have a situation where your dog lunges, growls or vocalizes excessively, DO NOT GET IN HIS FACE OR YELL simply move him away and give nonchalant quiet verbal praise once he recovers. No treat; you are simply giving him feedback for calming himself down. Then, work with your trainer on a management plan to prevent scary behavior.
Practice a few simple commands daily inside so they mean what you intend them to mean; reward your dog for good behavior (even offered good behavior) and really make sure you are not rewarding behaviors in everyday interactions that would be embarrassing if a guest was in your home. It is not mean, it is consistent and you will find your dog smiles a lot more when he or she is not constantly trying to figure out the rules.
This photo is courtesy of a lovely client of ours, Sandy. It’s so great to keep in touch with her and her dog Smokey.