Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Action VS Reaction

It is easy to spend your time reacting to your dog's unwanted behavior. For Example...

•Yelling "No!" after he has tipped over the trash
•Calling "Come here, boy" after he sprints out the door
•Commanding "Off, off, off" after the dog's paws are up around your shoulders After is too late.
You need to anticipate your dog's behavior and take action accordingly. Your puppy is predictable. You know that he will jump on guests, pull you out the door and try to steal the cat food. This is not news. That being the case, why not make a plan for success?

Set up the situation, leave the lead on the dog, and teach him. Use body blocking to prevent jumping or racing out the door. Work on sit as the answer for almost everything! As your guest enters, command "Sit." As you reach for the doorknob, tell them "Wait." As he turns his head toward the cat food, issue a no-nonsense "Leave it" then back away, help him get it right then throw a puppy praise party! Always praise/reward lavishly when he complies.

Are you part of the problem?

Before you blame your dog for his behavior, take a close look at your own. What he learns is up to you. How he behaves is up to you. If you want him to change his behavior, you will have to change yours first. Over the years, I have noticed a few common mistakes people make with their dogs. These mistakes often lead to problem behavior. Let's look at some of these before we start trying to work with the dog. Have you:

Been over emotional?

I remind clients all the time to relax. Housebreaking mistakes or jumping up may be annoying but they aren't felonies. Take a breath. To teach you need to be calm, relaxed, enthused and clear. If you're not, don't expect the dog to respond the way you want. Yelling, screaming, and hitting are not helpful. They invariably make matters worse, adding new problems to the list you already have. Dogs may respond temporarily out of surprise, intimidation or fear, but they have not been taught exactly what you want so they will make the mistake again.

Been inconsistent?

How can you expect consistency from your dog, if you can't get it from yourself? Are you consistent about your word usage or are you a bit casual? Maybe giving the command "sit" one time, "sit down" the next? How about your expectations? You say sit and he lies down but you let it slide? How about your praise? When he grabs his leash and tugs on Saturday morning you laugh but when he does it on Monday morning you get annoyed? Do you praise your dog when he does listen? Your dog will never know what you want without praise. Decide which behaviors you want and which you don't want and then stick to that decision. If you do your part, he'll do his.

Been exercising him enough?

If your dog is behaving poorly, up his exercise. This is especially true for Sporting, Terrier and Nordic breeds and mixes (Nordic includes the sled dogs: Huskies, Malamutes, Samoyeds). Many dogs need an hour or more of hard running a day to behave like civilized pets.

Been complaining more than practicing?

It's easy to complain about your dog. It is much harder to take action. Training is not magic. It takes work. Dog training is wonderful. Work effectively with the dog and he'll improve. If you're working frequently but not seeing the desired results, question your methods, not your dogs abilities.

Misinterpretting his actions?

Be absolutely sure you understand why he is doing something before you try to change his behavior. Once I walked into a home and the unneutered male Yorkie immediately clamped onto my leg, humping madly. The owner cooed "Oh, isn't that sweet? He's hugging you." This is not an affectionate gesture. It is an extremely assertive act, especially to a stranger, and points to serious aggression present or brewing.

Here are some behaviors that are commonly misinterpretted.

•Submissive wetting
Dog means: So sorry. Owner thinks: "Spiteful!"

•Growling
Dog means: Back off. Owner thinks: "He's talking" or "He doesn't really mean it."

•Pulling on lead
Dog means: Let me get away from this choking feeling. Owner thinks: "He must be stupid if he's choking himself like that."

•Chewing you favorite pair of shoes
Dog means: I'm frightened. This smells good, like my owner. Owner thinks: "He's getting me back for leaving him "alone."

Repeating Yourself?

If you repeat commands, you are begging to be ignored. Obedience on the first command is not optional. It may save his life and it will certainly simplify yours. Give the command once. Enforce it immediately. Praise him right away.

Boring?

If you are bored, surely your dog will be. You set the tone for your dog. Having fun is not just a nice idea, it's necessary. Praise him, surprise him, enjoy yourself! Both dogs and people learn quickly when the teaching is fun!

Have Patience

“Patience” is really the difference between our expectations and the dog’s current understanding. When those two things are aligned, there is no “patience” involved. It’s just learning and having the pleasure of helping another being figure something out. It feels alive and connected, not “patient” at all.

Not that patience is a bad thing, certainly not, we all need it at times. But when you are in the moment with an animal you’re working with, “patience” isn’t even present, you’re someplace beyond it.

It is the same whenever we are involved with what we love. If you’re a musician, artist, writer or athlete lost in the love of your craft or sport, you aren’t “patient,” you are simply doing and being at the same moment. Being lost in the process feels so profoundly good, so deeply nourishing that you are not outside of it, judging it or tapping your toes for it to hurry up. You’re just in it and happy to be there.

1. Accept that your dog is doing exactly what he understands to do. Which means, if he’s doing something different than you expect, try thinking, “He is confused”.

2. Accept that your dog is trying his hardest, and if he isn’t doing things the way you’d like them done, think “I need to help him,” not that he is stubborn or defiant.

3. Ask yourself, “How can I help him understand what I want?” And then make things easier until you find out where he is confused. Reward his best choices and you will get better ones in the future.

Do those three things and I bet you’ll be “beyond patience” in no time!