Continuing my ten rules for dog training:
Rule Number 6: For every “No,” there must be a “Yes.”
This concept often confuses my clients, but is one I believe in. When we are trying to teach a dog NOT to do something, and especially when we are teaching a dog not to do something which is a normal, natural behavior, we can’t deny that behavior without providing an acceptable outlet. If the puppy can’t chew on your hands or your shoes, he can chew on a safe chew toy. If he can’t sleep on the couch, give him his own soft bed. If you don’t want him digging up your garden, offer him an alternative digging spot, filled with soft soil, sand or loose mulch where he can dig to his heart’s content.
Rule Number 7: Praise more than you correct.
Give more positive reinforcement than negative. Set the dog up to succeed and be there to praise her, rather than waiting for a mistake then punishing her after the fact. If she is too noisy, be sure to praise her when she is quiet, rather than yelling when she barks. Dogs (and people) learn much more quickly with rewards than they do with punishment.
Rule Number 8: Corrections should be fair and appropriate.
In general, corrections should be verbal, not physical. Beating, kicking, choking, or hanging a puppy is cruel, and doesn’t teach him anything. The level of correction should be tempered for each dog. Not all dogs require the same degree of firmness – a “soft” puppy might be crushed by a harsh tone of voice, a “pushy” puppy can take a sterner level of correction.
In my book, every “crime” a puppy commits is a misdemeanor except for biting people. Biting people, even in play or by accident, is a felony, and is the only crime I correct with physical punishment. Puppies who aren’t taught not to use their teeth can grow up to become biting dogs, and dogs who bite eventually get euthanized. By being strict now, I can save his life later.
Rule Number 9: Timing is everything.
Dogs live in the moment, in the “now.” The 1950’s model of parenting, “Wait until your father gets home,” won’t play with dogs. It doesn’t help to come home to a chewed up pillow or step in a puppy accident, and then yell or hit the puppy when you find the evidence. He won’t know why. “But,” you say, “He looks guilty. He knows what he did wrong.” No, he doesn’t. Dogs read our body language. They can tell by our posture, by our tone of voice, by our facial expression, and probably by chemical odors we release that we are mad. They don’t know why, they just know we are upset. They offer the only kind of apology they know how to give. They grovel, they slink on their bellies, they lick their lips, they roll over on their backs, or they try to get as small as possible. They may even urinate in front of us (which makes us more angry.) In dog language, these are all submissive behaviors. We interpret them as guilt, and assumed the dog knows it did wrong. The dog just knows we are mad, not why. “The Boss is ticked off,” they think. “I’d better show him that I know my place and not give him reason to be mad at me, too."
Whether giving a correction or praising a good behavior, we need to be in the "now" with the dog. If you praise or correct too late after the action, the dog won't make an association between his behavior and your response. A classic example is house training. Owner lets puppy outside into fenced yard and later, calls puppy back inside, rewarding him with a treat. In the owner's mind, the treat is for going potty outside. But - how do you know he went? Did you see him eliminate? Was it Number 1 or Number 2? In the puppy's mind, he got the treat for the last action he performed - coming indoors. So, Puppy asks to go in and out all day long and still eliminates inside, sometimes immediately after coming indoors, and Owner is frustrated. "I let this dog out every 30 minutes all day long, and still she goes potty indoors, sometimes right in front of me. Either she is the stupidest puppy alive or she is getting revenge on me for leaving her for 3 hours last Tuesday." Well, Mr. or Ms. Owner, sorry, but no. There is no puppy too stupid to be house trained, and there is no dog who can grasp the concept of revenge for something that happened so long ago (Remember, dogs live in the Present, not the Past or the Future.)
Rule Number 10: Consistency is key.
Dogs don’t understand shades of gray, they need their rules to be black and white. So, be consistent in the rules of your house. If you can’t jump on me while I am wearing a skirt and stockings, then you can’t jump on me when I am wearing blue jeans. If you are allowed on the couch on weekends, you should be allowed on the couch Monday through Friday, too. Later on, when your dog understands the rules, you may decide to break them, but it is YOUR decision, not the dog’s, and you must carefully choose the time to break the rules. In my house, big dogs are not allowed on furniture. But, some nights, I need a cuddle with my dog, so I allow one on the bed. It is at my invitation, and when I say “Off,” I expect to be obeyed. A dog who jumps onto the bed without being invited is told strictly to get down, and is not rewarded for breaking the rules.
Finally: Don’t blame the dog for being what he is.
Your terrier keeps killing squirrels and bunnies in your yard. You can't keep your Lab out of the pool. Your Husky frequently runs away. Your Border Collie rounds up the kids and pins them in the corner of the yard. Your Beagle trails a deer and winds up 5 miles from your house. Don’t be mad – the dog is doing what is instinctive for him. Huskies run, Beagles are focused on scents, herding dogs gather up collections of animals (sheep, ducks, kids) and contain them, Labs are water dogs, terriers kill vermin. It is what we bred them to do for generations, so don’t get mad when they act as we made them. Don’t use it as an excuse for his behavior – “Well, he is terrier, we can’t stop him from barking.” Do use his breed (or type) as a basis for understanding your dog, and to help you form a plan to shape his behavior.