Dog training and raising kids have very similar requirements. Both dogs and kids require you to teach them life lessons so they are able to go through life with as few bumps and bruises (stress) as possible.
Social etiquette for dogs is critical to their success in life. Developing good behavior is important in allowing them to make correct choices that will help them, not hurt them.
I’m sure you would agree that making good choices like sitting and not jumping, not running out the front door and more, keeps your dog safe.
Using good dog training creates a better dog and begins to open more doors for your dog. The better his manners the more places he gets to go. Everyone loves a well-mannered dog.
Now you may be thinking you already know this. If so, then the real question becomes, “What are you doing about it? Are you training your dog? “
I recently came across a story about a surfing instructor (on one of the Hawaiian Islands) giving surfing lessons to a young kid who wasn’t really listening to any instructions – at all. Teenagers tend to know more about everything (including surfing) than us adults, right?
The instructor kept telling him over and over again to keep his butt down and his knees bent or he’d wind up with his face in the coral reef. You and I both know that a teenager’s natural instinct is to try it out on his own, a kind of trial and error approach to learning. At the end of the lesson the instructor told the kid’s mom, “I had to, above all things, keep him safe, even though he might not like me as he learned.”
In our world with dogs, our dogs, above all things, need to be kept safe. Somewhere along the way in training and trying to keep them safe, some adolescent dogs, like some teenagers, begin “testing the system.”
Those dogs that fight or test the system the most tend to need structure the most. The sooner you start, the easier the process because looking down the road of life, spoiling the dog (like the child) makes it more difficult to get compliance later on.
Whether safe is defined as a well-mannered sit before going out the front door on leash or being called inside after just running out the front door into the street, dogs need obedience commands that will keep them safe whether or not they understand the logic in the moment. You may be asking yourself, “But how do dogs learn and how can I take advantage of how my dog learns?” Let’s take a look.
All dogs learn by: Instinct, trial and error and training.
Instincts: Dogs have natural hard-wired instincts to run, chase, bite, chew, pee/poop, jump, dig and bark. If you think about it, these natural instincts don’t necessarily live up to our social standards. As an example, you would not want your dog to chase your running child in the back yard even though his natural predatory instincts to chase might guide him differently. Chasing a cat across the street could be dangerous and could hurt. And sometimes that can be a “lesson learned too late in life.”
Trial and error: Your dog will simply do what works for him. Through trial and error your dog will try a myriad of things to get what he wants like food or your attention. He will discard behaviors that don’t work and add to the list the behaviors that do work.
Here’s a good example: If staring at the refrigerator dog doesn’t earn access to all that good food, he will stop staring at the refrigerator door. He discards that useless behavior. However, if begging at the table gets him a tidbit, he adds that one to the list of things that work for him to get him what he wants. Trial and error works for your dog.
If you think about it, you use your own instincts and trial and error every day. When is the last time you burned your hand on the heating element of your cook top? Never, or a long, long time ago?
Either your instincts told you it’s dangerously hot and will hurt OR you’ve tried trial and error once before in your life and found out first hand (no pun intended) that it is dangerously hot and will hurt. In this case, trial and error taught you what’s safe and what’s not safe.
Training: Obedience training is what you use to keep your dog safe. It is the one thing that will allow you to influence him so that he doesn’t use his natural instincts or trial and error techniques to find out on his own.
Training worked for your parents in the example above. They taught or trained you to stay away from the heating element on the stove. Training influenced your natural inquisitive nature to find out for yourself and prevented you from touching the heating element. It kept you safe and taught you to use your instincts wisely.
Training is how you can influence your dog’s natural instinct to do things that are not safe. Train your dog to do things that are socially acceptable to you like sit instead of jump.
If sitting (instead of jumping) begins to work for your dog because he gets rewarded with a high value food treat (at least in the beginning) then his instincts begin to say to him, “This works!” Even though his instinct might be to jump to greet, you’ve taught him an acceptable alternative for him and for you. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Your approach to training
I am always asked how to fix a particular dog behavior problem and my answer has been consistent with everyone, “Ask yourself what you would prefer your dog to do, then train it to do what you want.”
The Bad behavior · The cause · What you prefer your dog do
In fact you should make a list of all the inappropriate behaviors. Next to each inappropriate behavior identify the trigger or cause and then put down what you want your dog to do instead of the unwanted behavior.
Daily practice will be required to teach the preferred behavior and you should be prepared to work on it daily for 4-6 weeks depending on your individual dog’s temperament and history of learned behavior already developed by him having used his instincts and trial and error.
Finding the time to get in the work with your dog is probably the most difficult part for most dog owners. This confirms one point I made in an article entitled “5 Reasons Why Dog Training Fails.” In the article, one of the main reasons was: “The dog’s behavior has not produced enough pain, embarrassment, frustration or stress to motivate the owner to do the work.”
Once the dog behavior problem becomes bothersome, painful or finally embarrassing enough, you will find the time, but usually not until it reaches that point. Some even have me out and still cannot find the time to do the work. Of course, you could have trained your dog to begin with. That’s why hindsight has 20/20 vision.
If you let a dog age with no purpose – no structure – no reason for being except for your own personal needs, dog behavior problems will develop that you won’t like.
Fixing the problem is like asking your dog to come off welfare and go to work. He will resent being asked to go to work and have a purpose. Now you must do what’s best for your dog, not for you.
It can be done and will change your dog and your life for the better forever. He will begin to look at you with a renewed sense of relief viewing you as his new “strong role model.”
Thanks for letting me share my dog training knowledge with you. Don’t be a stranger. I’d love to hear what you think.
Remember: “Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog”
Jim Burwell, Houston dog trainer for 25+ years, serving over 9000 clients, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad. Jim has the ability to not only steer dogs and puppies down the right path but to also train the owners to understand their part in having a great dog.
His Ground Rules for Great Dogs is your must have, easy step-by-step process to helping your dog. Be the dog owner your dog needs to be a great dog. Ground Rules gets you there. Grab them now.