That’s right, I said it. Your dog’s behavior problems are your doing. And that’s ok; I’ve created all my dog’s problems too!
Here’s the thing, dogs communicate differently than humans do. Most of us try to communicate with dogs as if they’re humans, or even worse, as if they’re children. Things like: repeating ourselves when we ask for something, getting in their face to talk to them, or showing affection by giving unearned food and attention.
If you read my last blog post, then you know that dogs don’t really care about spoken language, we have to teach them how to listen. But what do dogs care about?
Sorry, couldn’t help myself.
But for real, dogs are very in tune to our body language, and we often give conflicting messages. We want the dog to listen to use, so we crouch down and speak in to their face when we should stand tall and tell the dog very simply what we want. On the flip side, we stand up straight and chase a dog that is gleefully running away from us, when we should crouch down and move away from the dog to encourage him to come to us.
As you start to learn how to use your body language to encourage behaviors you want and discourage behaviors you don’t want, you’ll start to form crystal clear communication with your dog, this is dog training! When we are inconsistent about things, that’s when communication breaks down and we start to create unwanted behaviors.
Here are the top 3 behavior problems I deal with, how YOU are causing them, and how YOU can fix them.
1. Jumping up on people – This is a big one, and is often encouraged by people who talk to the dog as they try to push the dog off of them. It plays out like “Oh Sparky please don’t do that, I’d rather not have you ruin another work outfit” as they gently place their hands on the dog and massage/push them off.
We’ve all been there, how good does it feel to come home at the end of the day and be greeted with such naïve joy by your four-legged friend? I get it; it feels really good! But it also encourages your dog to jump, something you really don’t want her doing to you or your guests. So let’s fix that. Ideally, the dog is crated when you get home and doesn’t come out of the crate until she is calm and quiet. If you want a calmer state of mind out of the crate, it starts in the crate. A whining, barking dog in the crate will be a jumping, mouthy dog out of the crate. If you just can’t stomach the crate, or you still get jumping behavior when the dog gets out of the crate, you need to do something intolerable when the dog jumps. Something that makes the dog go, “gee, that sucked, maybe I won’t jump up anymore”.
First, keep your hands off your dog and your gaze straight ahead. Eye contact and hands on the dog (petting) are only encouraging the behavior. Then calmly say “no” ONCE and deliver your intolerable thing, this is punishment. I usually try shuffling in to the dog very quickly and quietly. Then, ignore your dog for a few minutes. You get what you pet, so if you reach down to touch your dog and she becomes a wiggling puddle of cuteness, stop touching her.
2. Pulling on leash – Has your dog dragged you down the street or sent you to the chiropractor yet? Let’s change that! Pulling on leash is highly rewarding for dogs if they are allowed to do it. Think about it, what happens when your dog pulls on leash? He gets to move forward! That’s exactly what he wants, so the more he pulls and goes forward, the more he wants to pull in the future. Or, he pulls you over to meet a person or another dog, pulling is SUPER fun!
But you hate it right? You just want to stroll around your neighborhood with your dog walking on a nice loose leash. The very best place to start is to cut out your neighborhood walk and teach your dog how to walk on a loose leash in your house and in your yard. If the dog doesn’t know what you want, how could he possibly be successful? Walking around the neighborhood before teaching the dog how to walk with you is like sending your kid to a soccer tournament without ever sending them to soccer practice, it’s going to be a nightmare.
3. The dog “doesn’t listen” – She won’t come when called, or stay when I tell her, or down without using food, or whatever. Again, I’ll refer to my last blog post. We have to give the dog a reason to want to listen, and then teach them how to listen; then we can hold them accountable for listening to us. So how are we causing this unwanted behavior? By trying to use spoken language as our main form of communication with the dog, instead of using scent and body language. Remember, it is up to YOU to give spoken language value to your dog, they don’t just understand it naturally.
One action you can take immediately is to stop talking to your dog…yeah, zip it! Haha, this is a hard one, I struggle with it myself. I always want to talk in sentences to my dogs, but it just dilutes their understanding of what I want. If you’ve never done any training with your dog, then forget about using words and use food, leash, and body language to talk to your dog instead. If your dog does understand some basic obedience, then say what you want once, don’t repeat yourself.
The other important piece to getting a dog that listens is to follow through after you ask for something. How many times have you asked your dog to sit but they didn’t do it? The more this happens, the less value the word has to the dog. If you’re going to say something to your dog (sit, down, come, off, no, etc.) make it happen after you say it.
One of the huge take-a-ways from hiring a dog trainer should be learning how to communicate with your dog so you can effectively encourage desired behaviors and stop undesired behaviors. If you aren’t learning how to talk to your dog in an effective manner, find a different trainer.
Because you deserve a good dog.
About the author: Jen Banks has been training dogs professionally since 2008. She started her own pet dog training company in 2014. Owner and trainer at Banks K9 Solutions, she provides group classes and in home training for family dogs.