In my last post, I explained why any "training technique" that scares your dog isn't good. Fear is a terrifying teacher. Poking, hitting, shocking -- these are things bullies do. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: love your dog, don't bully him.
There is a much better way.
1) Remember, Dogs Are People Too.
Or maybe I should rephrase that: Remember, Humans Are Animals Too. Either way, science now tells us that dogs and toddlers have a lot in common. Their brains are nearly identical.
In "Inside a Dog," Alexandra Horowitz, DVM, says that dogs definitely think, feel and reason. This book is a personal favorite. It's science giving anthropomorphism a little thumbs up.
2) Bones versus the Rolled-Up-Newspaper
Rolled-up newspapers were all the rage back when I was a kid. I still cringe when I think of that THWACK. Was it effective? I don't know. I was hiding out behind the couch with my dogs.
Find out what makes your dog happy -- treats, toys or your attention -- then use it to help your dog understand how to behave.
Want a dog who sits for attention? Hold up a favorite goody. If he sits, he gets it. If he jumps, it disappears.
3) Everybody Poops
Dogs and kids -- heck, even grownups -- have the same five needs: to eat, drink, sleep, play and poop.
When kids feel needy they cry, tantrum and/or act out. Dogs nip, bark and/or get wild.
Print out a Needs Chart to keep yourself on track.
4) Sleep Training, for Dogs
Can you guess the Need that keeps me in business? Sleep, or more precisely, not enough of it. Dogs need more than kids. Ever hung around a kid who didn't get enough sleep? Now imagine that kid with teeth.
The Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a not-for-profit group that trains dogs to lead blind people and help autistic children, has a great schedule for their dogs in training. The day starts at 7:30AM and includes time for play, school, and naps, before the dogs are back in their kennel at dusk.
I recommend that my clients give their dogs two naps, isolated in a quiet room or crate. Here is a hypothetical plan. Adjust it to your schedule.
Potty Run 11pm
After a puppy or older dog gets the routine, he'll put himself down when he's tired.
Want to get your dog to behave? Make sure he's getting enough rest.
5) Learn Doglish
People say I can talk to dogs. Some scoff, others smile.
While it's true I can communicate with dogs, most people can if they try. The first step is understanding how dogs communicate with each other; I call it Doglish.
Dogs use postures in place of words. They express different emotions by shifting their tails, ears and facial expressions.
Eye contact is important, too. Your dog will "listen" to you, but here's the trick -- he "listens" with his eyes. He's not focused on your words initially, he's watching your posture.
Listening to commands is a learned skill. You have to teach your dog to do that.
If you want to teach a dog the meaning of a few words, use flashy signals to get started. Keep your words to a minimum.
• Say "Outside" and point to the door as you're going outside. Same goes for "Inside."
• Going to the car? Point and say "Car."
• Want your dog to Come? Stand tall and wave your hands above your head -- I call this the human exclamation point. Kneel down when your dog runs your way. Say "Come" as you reward or praise him. Come should mean you're together, not apart.
Here I am with, my German Shepherd Dog, showing off some routine signals. Use them!
6) Love and Learning
Training a dog is really important. Training gives you and your dog a mutual language. But if you've lost that loving feeling, or if you're resentful and frustrated with your dog, stop.
The first step in training -- in my opinion -- is love. That unconditional feeling of parental adoration.
If you don't feel the magic anymore, get help.
If you feel like your dog doesn't respect you anymore, get help.
Rekindle that initial feeling, and I promise, good behavior will follow.
7) Play Training
Training your dog should make you feel happy. Lessons with your dog should be fun. If they're not you'll need a new approach. Try play training. This is how I introduce commands to my own dogs and my clients' too.
• Fill a plastic cup with treats. Shake the cup and dole them out until your dog perks up to the sound. If your dog doesn't like treats, use a toy or a happy voice to cheer him up.
• Now hold out the treat a foot over his head and wait. If he jumps, lift it up. If he sits, say "Sit," and reward him.
• Next, run a few steps. Call his name. Turn around and repeat above. Make a game of it!
• For more games, try this: make two treat cups and recruit a friend. Stand apart and send your dog back and forth. Use Come when the dog is running to you. Have your friend do the same.
• Here's a clever way to introduce the Down command: sit on the floor with a treat or place one under a chair. As your dog crouches down to get it, say "Down."
For these and other fun games, watch this or check out my book "Teach Yourself Visually Dog Training," Wiley and Sons publishing.
8) Exercise is Over-rated
You don't need to buy a treadmill or take up long distance running to have a happy dog.
I know the mantra: a tired dog makes a happy family. But I don't agree. A tired dog makes for, well, a tired dog.
I prefer my dogs lively and engaging.
Of course, if you are a long distant runner, that's great. Keep it up. But if not, that's okay too.
Here's my formula:
• Set aside 10 to 20 minutes, two to three times a day, to play with your dog.
• Find an activity your dog loves: fetch, soccer, Frisbee, etc. If you have a high energy dog, a long romp will make him happy.
• If you have time for a walk too, great, but if not, remember that dogs like to play. Leash walks can be frustrating for a dog. Sometimes leash walks result in more spunk, not less.
• If your dog needs to romp -- really run free -- and you don't have a contained yard, find one or use a really long leash to give him freedom.
Most dogs love playing with other dogs. If your dog gets too overwhelmed at the dog park, try to find him a friend or two nearby. Ask your veterinarian for suggestions or post a wanted ad.
Young Labrador Retriever looking for playmate with similar interests. Love balls, swimming and rolling in grass. Hate leashes. Nothing too kinky though; I'm spayed.
A friend runs a dog camp in Connecticut. He pairs similar dogs with one another and posts videos of the dogs during the day. Doggie daycare facilities exist in many areas across the country. Ask around.
10) Choose Your Words Carefully
If you call your dog a brat there is nowhere to go but down. Dogs -- like kids -- can sense how we feel about them. While "dominant," "assertive," "willful" and "obstinate" are trendy, you'd do better to put a positive spin on your dog's behavior.
Think your hyper-persistent dog is a brat?
Most hyper-persistents are devoted, if not somewhat needy dogs. They need a steady supply of love and attention. And if you don't give it, they'll drive you nuts to get it. Reward calm behavior, and find games or chew toys to refocus him when he acts out. I love stuffed Kong toys. I freeze them by the dozen and dole them out on when I'm busy.
"My dog is so dominant!"
Don't draw the battle lines just yet. Sure the pup that grabs at your pant leg or blocks you on the stairs might seem bossy, but he could also just be trying to get your attention. Dogs who appear dominant are super bright -- way above the curve of normal intelligence. Look at their passion and ingenuity with new eyes. Teach Bozo to carry, then let him help you with your groceries. Reward Fifi for retrieving a stuffed animal, and encourage her to help you clean up the kids' playroom!
Convinced your dog has ADHD?
Hold off on the drugs! Canine hyperactivity is rare. Most overactive dogs don't get enough exercise or sleep. All dogs need the right balance, sleep-to-exercise. Too much of one or the other is a toxic brew.
11) Enjoy Your Life
I wish I had a nickel for all the new dog owners who feel confused, stressed out and resentful of their new addition.
Somewhere, people get the funny notion that dogs need 24/7 supervision. It's not true. Dogs sleep more than people. They enjoy resting.
Make time for yourself. Promise me.
Give your dog a bone, turn on some calming music, dim the lights and leave. Go to the gym, out to dinner, meet some friends. Have some You Time. Your dog will be there when you get back.
Dogs are happiest when you're happy. Guaranteed!
While "training techniques" that scare your dog won't make anyone happy, give positive training a try." Dogs love learning almost as much as they love being rewarded for learning. My passion as a dog trainer is seeing tails wag and people smile. Love your dog, don't bully him. You'll be doing your dog right, every time.