Like all relationships, that between owner and dog is based on good communication. Dogs communicate among themselves using body signals, naturally they will employ the same method to communicate with us. As a pet owner it's our responsibility to learn and interpret those signals, in doing this you will be able to teach your dog the appropriate way of telling you what they need or would like. From wanting food, to going outside you will be able to read your pooch!
Positive reinforcement is important, praising your dog when they do the right thing and not just reprimanding them for incorrect behaviour. It's common to forget about and ignore your dog when they are well behaved or quiet and only pay them attention when they behave inappropriately. The opposite of this best, praise and reward a desired behaviour and ignore the unwanted. Positive reinforcement is the basis for many methods of training, including “Clicker Training”, it not only develops a loving bond between yourself and your dog, but is known to be a speedier and easier process.
A LESSON IN ETIQUETTE
Dogs are very social and excitable creatures, so new friends can make your dog very enthusiastic when greeting them. While this may not be a problem when meeting fellow dogs, human visitors may not appreciate the same welcome. Teaching your dog that they must sit before interacting with you or any other human benefits not only visitors to your house, but also strangers on the street, remember that not everyone is as comfortable with dogs as yourself, so a nice calm dog is important. Teaching your dog to sit is relatively easy, so can be done at any age, from puppies to mature dogs. So long as lessons are repeated often enough and remain short and fun, your dog will be sitting pretty in no time!
- Begin by taking a special food treat and hold it between your fingers. Place this hand close to the front of your dogs nose.
- Raise the hand above their nose and then backwards over their head, your dogs head will instinctively follow the treat. Eventually your dog will sit because it will be more comfortable.
- As soon as they sit, say “sit” you can couple this with a hand gesture, then immediately give them the treat. Your dog will associate their action with the word “sit” and consequently with the reward. Eventually the reward can become praise as opposed to food.
IGNORE UNWANTED BEHAVIOUR
Given that dogs are very social creatures, withholding your attention when they are behaving badly can be a very effective passive punishment. For example if your dog jumps up on you, crossing your arms, turning your head and remaining absolutely silent will eventually result in your dog stopping. Any involvement on your part, such as pushing them away or looking at or talking to them can be misconstrued by your dog as attention or even play! When your pet is calm, if they haven't sat down of their own accord, request that they sit and then reward them with your undivided attention, to start with you can also incorporate a treat.
You may already have fallen into the trap of reacting when your dog barks or jumps up, you can still employ this method, but as with any learned behaviour or habit it can be harder to break. Perseverance is needed, your dog thinks that if they persist they will get a response, the battler is on, you must ignore and outlast all their efforts!
IT'S ALL IN A NAME
Dogs do react to eye contact so holding your dogs attention can be a very effective way of interrupting unwanted behaviour, which over time can lead to total elimination! Start by calling your dogs name, as soon as they look at you reward them with a special treat. Repetition of this simple exercise will teach your dog that it is worth their while to pay attention to you. You can also use an unusual sound like a whistle or a clicker instead of their name , once they are paying attention to you, you can ask them to come or sit.
It is fair to say that for the most part dogs are very playful, social creatures, they need their exercise and interactions. Playing is an enjoyable past time for pooch and person alike, but sometimes our dogs can get a little carried away, and play can become a little too rough. Teaching your dog to only play with toys, and that hands, feet and other human body parts are NOT toys. While you as their owner may not be fussed by the occasionally roughness, your guests, children, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, may not feel the same way. It is important to remain consistent with your dog, so if toys are toys, everyone can enjoy playtime with your dog, not just you! So if your dog grabs a hand or foot, either intentionally or by accident, ignore or interrupt the behaviour, a high pitched “ouch” sound can work wonders. As soon as they let go, offer up a toy (larger toy if a small one is the culprit of the misplaced teeth) and resume playing.
Remember you know your dog best so any changes in behaviour should be reported to your veterinarian. Your vet will be able to offer advice for any unwanted, stubborn behaviour as well.