Thursday, March 28, 2013

Teaching Your Dog to Listen

Teaching Your Dog to Listen to Your Command

So your dog is ignoring you and you don't like that. Nobody likes being ignored. It even makes some people very angry. They are the ones that tend to get ignored even more as a result.  

It's quite common for dogs to ignore commands. Often owners give dogs very few reasons to listen and a lot of reasons not to. A typical scenario might go something like this:

An owner is calling to their dog to "come," the dog ignores them; they call louder and with more venom; the dog continues ignoring them; they start marching angrily toward the dog, clenching their teeth with all the determination of someone not willing to tolerate this degree of disrespect (especially in public); the dog begins to crawl reluctantly toward the owner, knowing their number is up; finally, the owner takes the dog forcefully by the collar, maybe even throws in a smack or two for good measure, and issues another reminder of who the boss is around here.  

Words cannot convey how backwards this is! 

This "technique" may eventually get a result, but it obviously goes about doing it in all the wrong way. In the short term, it stresses out your dog (which is to say nothing about the potential harm from physical punishment, which I assume does not need to be said to anyone subscribing to a dog training newsletter series). In the long term, this form of discipline establishes a relationship based on fear and threats, rather than a healthy serving of respect.  

Your dog needs a leader, and needs to be able to recognize and respond to what we call "commands." But that doesn't mean that you should be "ordering" your dog around. We create short, simple, and direct "commands" for dogs because dogs don't speak English, not because they love to be ordered around in this way. Even though you need to be the top dog, you don't have to make everything sound like a threat to establish your position in the hierarchy. If everything sounds like a threat, you'll get nowhere fast.  

We like to say that a dog disobeys commands mostly for one of two reasons:

1) They don't understand you.

Because dogs are responding more to your tone than the actual words you are using, if your tone contradicts your command, you may not be giving your dog a clear idea of what you want him to do.  
For example, let's say you have a dog named Bob that jumps up on you all the time. If you say "Get Down Bob, get down" while at the same giggling and pushing him gently, almost playfully away, you have just communicated to Bob the following: "Get down" equals "this game is fun, let's keep playing."  

I see this mistake ALL of the time with dog owners. 

Another related mistake is the practice of asking a dog to do something rather than telling. So, if you say, "Bob, come here" in way that sounds more like "Could you please maybe come here please??? Then you are effectively giving Bob a choice. So tell Bob to come. You don't have to yell or demand, just make it clear that you mean business.  

Also, make sure your commands are simple enough. If you are blessed with a dog who understands "Bob, bring me a beer from the fridge," then you don't have to worry too much about this one. Most of us, however, do. Keep your commands short and simple. Make sure they don't sound too alike.  

Lastly, it is always much better to pair hand signals with your verbal commands. In the first part of this course on problem jumping, I talked about using a simple extended hand gesture to tell your dog to "stop" before jumping up on you. My adult dogs are all to the point where I mostly use my voice when I want to "talk" to them. But when I want them to DO something, I can make eye contact and use a hand signal to get them to come, sit, lie down, get in the car, go inside or outside, wait at the curb, etc. Ideally, you'll get to this point as well, but you need to establish those hand signals, and use them. 

If you've worked through all of these possibilities and your dog still does not seem to understand you, then you likely need more training. For older dogs, there is the added possibility that the hearing is going, so do consider that if it applies. It's another case where hand signals can go a long way. 

2) They are ignoring you.

When your dog ignores commands, it means they understand what you want them to do but are deciding not to do it. 

But, you ask, how can you tell? How can you tell if your dog is in fact understanding the exchange but has no intention of obeying? 

The answer depends a lot on the body language of your dog. If they are showing signs of fear when you are giving training commands (submissive posturing, avoiding eye contact, ears back, tail tucked), then it is more likely that they don't understand. In these cases, owners can make the situation worse by being more forceful. By contrast, if your dog is posturing confidently, and they do not appear stressed, then it is more likely that they have opted not to listen. They may even be defiant - making direct eye contact, even barking at you, and running away when you approach. 

This suggests a dominance issue. You will have to take active steps to establish yourself as the top dog, in addition to being a fun person to play with. But there are also a few immediate steps you can take to have more success with a stubborn mutt. Let's return to that all too common scenarios of a wayward dog and the heard but unheeded command to "come." 

• use a positive, happy, even excited tone of voice.
• try squatting down when calling. Open your arms as if to suggest an embrace or praise when they arrive.
• If you can, try walking the opposite way. This forces your dog to make a decision: Stay and get left, or go home with you and get dinner.
• Praise your dog whenever they come, no matter how long it takes.
• Praise your dog when they come to you without being asked. Create an environment in which they absolutely love coming over to you. 

• chase after a dog that won't come, unless safety is an issue.
• call your dog to you to reprimand them.
• call your dog over for something they clearly do not enjoy (getting their nails clipped, taking a bath, etc.).

One final word of advice: if you are still struggling with your position as leader of the pack, I highly recommend naming your next dog "Boss"… "Come here Boss!" "Sit down, Boss!" "Go fetch Boss!" It's a most empowering remedy I assure you!

Well, that concludes the second installment of your Secrets to Dog Training 6 Day Course. Join me next time for a comprehensive newsletter on problem barking, where you'll find out how to get the final word with a barking dog that never seems to stop.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Teach Your Dog to Stop Jumping

Dog Training Part 1

Welcome to Day One of the Secrets to Dog Training 6 Day Course

Stopping Your Dog From Jumping Up
(Without Taking The Spring Out of Their Step)

Down Spot! Down Princess! Down Rover! Down Peaches! ... Down Comet! Down Cupid! Down Donder and Blitzen! 

 I've heard that command many times, from many desperate dog owners, directed at many determined dogs. The jumping dog is a universal problem, but a better understanding of what's motivating the behavior can go a long way toward addressing it.

The Two Reasons Why Dogs Jump Up On People

First, and probably most common, is the jumping dog who greets this way. This can simply be from over-excitement - they "jump for joy." Dog behaviorists also point out that jumping behavior is partly instinctive. Dogs lick each others faces when they want to give a super nice greeting, a likely reflection of lower ranking members of a wolf pack licked the faces of the higher ranking wolves returning from the hunt. In addition, puppies in a den jump over one another for their mother's attention. More specifically, puppies target their mother's face, as a she typically regurgitates food for her litter, another reflection of the wolf pack.

Also, this behavior can be positively reinforced during greeting times, when a jumping dog is met by an excited owner who immediately praises, feeds, walks and/or plays with their pet after getting "jumped," so to speak. Jumping becomes part of this routine. It is rewarded and reinforced.

A second reason for jumping, which is less commonly the case, is that they may be trying to establish dominance.
Dogs jump up on each other through what's known as "teeing off." In particular, they rest their head or paw (or both paws) on the shoulder of a dog they want to dominate and exert a bit of downward pressure. Because we walk on two legs, we're more difficult to tee off on, but the motivation is the same. The dog may be trying to express dominant status. In these cases, they often jump up once and more or less lean on you.

Identifying Dominant Behavior 

It's important to identify this behavior by seeing it in the broader context of your relationship. First, realize that a disobedient dog isn't necessarily a dumb one. If they don't listen to you and push and pull you around, they may have decided not to recognize you as their superior in the pack hierarchy (while still thinking the world of you as a companion!). Whether it's male or female, a dog that consistently jumps on you may be exhibiting one of many behaviors of the signs of Alpha dog.

If you suspect that the jumping is in fact an expression of dominance, then it is likely that your training will need to involve heavier corrections.
This just means you might need to do more than simply ignore the dog while jumping and train them to Sit and Settle before getting your attention. For instance, water squirting, sharp "growling," or even forcing the dog down and holding those down until they are still are all corrections that will short circuit this behavior.

Some dog owners don't mind when their dog jumps up to greet them - it is a most a dramatic and flattering hello to say the least. And the last thing we want to do is convince our pets that they have no reason to be excited to see us. We don't want to take the spring out of their step, so to speak.

But when the same dog jumps up on others, such as other family members or friends, it can be awkward and even dangerous. A dog jumping up on strangers is always a bad look. The good news is a well-trained dog can learn to jump up only when "invited" to do so by its owner. This is fine for playtime for instance. But let's learn the rules before we break them. 

Laying Down The Rules 

During greetings, always try to prevent your dog from jumping up in the first place. Put your hand (or both hands) out in front of you and hold still. A trained dog will be able to respond to this gesture reasonably quickly with repetitions. As with any training technique, do not introduce any verbal commands UNTIL the correct behavior has been demonstrated. Only when your dog gets down on his own accord should you start using the "down" command to accompany the behavior. This is how they learn the command, by having the right action to associate it with.  

For most, this type of prevention does not work right away, especially for puppies that lack enough formal training. You'll have to know how to react when your dog starts jumping up. Mostly, this involves knowing what NOT to do. For example, when you have a problem jumper, don't be over-enthusiastic during your greetings. This obviously reinforces the behavior. And do not forcefully push the dog away from you. They interpret this as a form of playful engagement. The result: dogs always push back. It's instinctive. The same principle is the reason for the majority of cases where dogs pull on leashes: they are encouraged by the force exerted on them.  

Turn your back and ignore the dog. And calmly ask him to sit. When he has calmed down, and ideally responded to the sit command, then you can turn and greet the dog. If he starts jumping again, repeat the process. Be patient, this is where you get to send a message mainly through your body language, and the dog will surely take several trials to receive it. Often it is recommended that you stick your knee up and put the dog off balance, which is almost a reflex reaction. Turning your back and stonewalling is better if you can manage.  

One of the absolute best suggestions I give is to always greet a calm dog "at its level." Squat or kneel down, and open your palms open toward the dog. This is a non-threatening posture that dogs very quickly associate will impending praise. We all like when others try to meet us on our level. Dogs are no different in this respect. But make sure they earn it first!  

Avoidance is your best bet when introducing new people into your house. If you have established your position as the dominant member of your pack, then your dog should never be allowed to position himself in front of you when the front door opens. It's time for you to become the Alpha Dog if that's the case, which also means more training for you. It is good practice to give a calm and firm "stay Down" warning in advance just before you open the door for a visitor or let them into the house. Your dog will be responding to your sense of composure and assertiveness, and start to truly believe that there is no real reason to freak out every time the door opens.

If you have tried everything to get your dog to stop jumping up on everyone, short of removing its legs, I only have one more word for you. Exercise. I've said it before and I'll say it again, dogs need more exercise than we think they do, and if they have no other outlet for their energy, they will find one, and that may include jumping up and down on people uncontrollably. So keep those legs and lungs pumping. If you can't be bothered going for those walks, you better have a good arm for fetch.

That concludes the first installment of your Secrets to Dog Training 6 Day Course. Join me next time when I answer a question that has plagued dog owners since the beginning of time:

"Why is My Dog Ignoring My Commands?"