As with children, dogs need to learn that there are certain behaviors that are unacceptable and some things that are expected of them. But as with raising and disciplining a child, there are ways to go about doing this that will be effective and some things you may want to avoid in order to protect the dog from long-term harm.
It’s an unfortunate trend that developed in past years for owners to use choke chains and collars and other harsh methods of dog training in order to “teach” or “discipline” the dog.
To really drive home the point of how important it is to train your dog properly, ask yourself how you would feel if you were taught how to do a new job by having a choke chain around your neck and your boss yanking on it when you did something wrong or he or she wanted to get your attention. While it’s true that a dog’s neck is stronger than a human’s, it’s still very inappropriate, hurtful, and downright abusive.
So if you’re worried about how to train your dog properly without being abusive, there are some things you can remember and keep in mind.
When you understand what is going through a dog’s head you get a better understanding of why they act the way they do. Once you understand why they behave a certain way and why they react to certain input from you, then it’s much easier to “speak the dog’s language” and train her in a way that’s encouraging and beneficial as well.
Pack animals and the alpha dog mentality.
It cannot be emphasized enough how dogs are pack animals and that this pack mentality affects almost all of their behavior when around others. To domesticated dogs, the humans around them become their pack.
A dog’s owner becomes the leader of the pack or the alpha dog, and other dogs are going to follow that alpha dog.
As the dog’s owner you are its leader and the dog is going to want to make you happy. This is something to remember when training or teaching – there should be less of a need to discipline that dog when it does something you don’t like and more emphasis on rewarding it when it does things that make you happy. That positive reinforcement from the alpha dog is going to have a stronger impact on the dog’s behavior than the punishment will.
Praising and reinforcing behavior.
Never underestimate the impact it has on your dog’s behavior when you praise it and reward its behavior through rewards, petting, and so on. Your dog will crave this type of attention from you, the alpha dog, and will do whatever it can do to get that attention.
Here are some common ways that you should consider praising and reinforcing your dog’s behavior when she does what you ask of her:
- Petting. As with humans, physical contact goes a long way toward making a dog feel content, appreciated, and loved. Petting a dog has a very reassuring and calming effect on her. It also creates a bond between the owner and dog itself and this helps to reinforce their loyalty.
- Playing. If your dog has a favorite toy such as a ball or a Frisbee, tossing this around for them is a great way to reward their behavior. Unlike some humans, dogs actually like to be active and playing with them is a reward that they appreciate.
- Tone of voice. Believe it or not, dogs don’t understand English! For that matter they don’t understand any language that an owner may be speaking. They have no idea what you’re saying when you talk to them, although they can associate certain words with certain concepts or items – they recognize the words “sit” or “go for a walk” but obviously can’t comprehend many words past the basics. However, they do respond to a tone of voice. They understand when you are scolding them, when you’re angry, and when you’re praising them. Saying the phrase “good dog” in a very reassuring voice is a reward for them; again, they want your approval and can sense when they have it by your tone.
- Edible treats. When used properly, dogs can associate their favorite edible treats with a job well done. This too is another reason why treats should be given sparingly – if they are handed out regularly then the dog will no longer be motivated to behave properly in order to earn one.
TIP FROM THE EXPERTS: Positive reinforcement is just as important as punishment or scolding. When you get your dog off the furniture, once he’s down then you can give her a small bit of praise or a pet her for a moment. This way they learn that obedience to your commands is also a good thing.
Imagine having a job where your starting time is 9:00 a.m. One day you arrive at work right on time only to be told by your boss that you’re late and your pay is going to be docked. You’re confused and state that plainly; your starting time is nine o’clock and it’s even a few before that, so how can you be late? Your boss tells you plainly that he or she decided just now that your starting time is 8:30, so you’re late and you’re punished.
How would you feel? Angry, frustrated, confused, fearful of what will happen tomorrow and what time you should show up?
Consistency in training your dog is just as important. Allowing them to indulge in or get away with certain behavior for a long period of time and then one day punishing them for it is going to be terribly confusing for them, just like a boss that docks your pay when you arrive for work at the same time you’ve been arriving for years.
It’s difficult for owners to keep up with consistent training as they are often tired and allow their own energy levels to dictate when and how they train a dog, but this is going to be detrimental to her health overall. If you don’t allow the dog on the furniture, she needs to be told “no” and guided off of it every single time. If you do this and then one day beckon her to join you on the couch, she’ll be confused and probably afraid of you as well.
Dog care experts agree that dogs are not spiteful. They don’t chew up your shoes because they’re angry you went away; they do this for entertainment. They don’t urinate on the furniture because they’re trying to make you angry; they do this to mark their territory, because they haven’t been let out in time to go outdoors, or because they haven’t been housebroken properly.
This too is where your consistency comes into play. If your dog does something such as jump on the furniture or grabs your dinner off the counter, it probably thinks this is appropriate behavior. These behaviors are just instinct and unless you’ve corrected and taught the dog properly it will continue to do these things.
TIP FROM THE EXPERTS: Remember that dogs can rarely connect something they did hours ago or even minutes ago with a punishment or correction. You need to catch them in the act when correcting them. If you show them a shoe they’ve chewed up while scolding them, they may get the message but most likely will not understand what you’re angry about.