This post is prompted by my observations of dog owners and how they communicate with their dogs. As humans we talk, and we talk a lot. Overtime dogs learn to ignore most of our neverending blah-blah-blah. However if you want your dog to pay attention and do what you ask, make sure you don’t repeat these five common mistakes.
Think about a recent situation which involved you seeing another owner walking towards you and your dog. What was your reaction? Did you hold your breath for a moment? Maybe you tightened your grip on the lead? Probably, you even pulled the lead a bit or started talking to your dog. Chances are, you did all three and something else, if you were walking a dog that is reactive on lead. The behaviours are not themselves a problem. The issues arise, when your dog learns to associate them with other dogs approaching him. After that you are trapped in a vicious cycle:
In addition to your behaviour and body language, there are other possible triggers for your dog. A common trigger is a certain type of dogs. For example, your dog has been attacked by a large white dog and will display aggression towards similar looking dogs. Another possible trigger is a certain place. For example, your dog may only react to other dogs on a narrow pathway or on a certain street corner.
Does your dog walk you? Lead pulling is one of the most frustrating dog behaviours. Unfortunately, our natural response only makes it worse. In fact, there are several mistakes that I often see:
1. Following the dog. Naturally, if the dog gets what he wants (e.g., to sniff that tree) when pulling on the lead, this behaviour is rewarded and the dog is likely to do it again.
2. Pulling the lead in the opposite direction. This may not make things worse, but it is definitely a waste of energy. Dogs are very stubborn and can tolerate quite a lot of pain. The more you pull, the less your dog cares about it. You might be able to overpower the dog, but it won’t teach him anything.
3. Jerking the lead. This can definitely worsen your dog’s lead skills. In order to jerk the lead, you need to loosen it first. Therefore, your dog will receive negative experience right after it felt the lead loosen. This may teach the dog to avoid a loose lead, hence the dog will pull.
4. Choke chains, pinch collars etc. This is the worst of all. I sincerely hope that none of my readers have ever used or considered them. Besides being cruel, these devices are useless to say the least, and often dangerous. These collars are useless for training for the same reason that pulling the lead is: dogs are tolerant to pain. Choke chains and pinch collars can and often do provoke aggression. Dogs often pull the lead when they see other dogs, and they can potentially learn to associate the negative sensation from these collars with other dogs.
The least you can do is to stop making these four mistakes, and your dog’s lead skills may improve or, at least, stop getting worse.
One of the common problems in dog trainings is over-excitement. A dog gets too excited by treats or by desire to please and training becomes impossible. For instance, Milo can get so excited by treats, that he would start randomly offering all his tricks. Milo is extremely food motivated, and an opportunity to earn treats is a big deal for him. Some dogs can get too excited during training, because they are too eager to please their owners. Although I am not a fan of submissive and dominant dogs theory, I admit that some dogs are more submissive than others. Submissiveness is demonstrated by body language (lying down, ears down, hiding tail, rolling over etc.) and behaviour (urinating, licking, whining). I will not get into details about treating submissiveness now: it is a complicated and sensitive issue. If you recognise your dog in this description, please, consult a dog trainer in person.
Regardless of the underlying cause of over-excitement, there is one thing you can do: do not reward it. Attention is a reward, hence it reinforces behaviour. If your dog becomes too excited, do the following: