How many of our dogs originally thought their name was “No, No Bad Dog?” Seriously, so much time and energy during the first year of a puppy’s life (or a new dog coming into your home), is spent on correcting bad behavior that it can be exhausting. And it doesn’t have to be! In fact, if that is what you are doing, I have a super simple secret to share.
I recently overheard Imogen Poropat, one of our part-time employees who is a certified dog trainer (Canny Dog Science-based Dog Training) during her non-shelter time, answering someone’s questions about a dog that has some behavioral issues. The conversation went like this:
Dog Owner: “How do you stop a dog from “blank” (you can fill in the blank with any bad behavior; barking, stealing food, jumping up on people, etc.)
Imogen: “What do you want the dog to be doing instead? Train for that behavior.”
Dog Owner (insisting): “I yell at her, squirt her with a water bottle, punish her and she still does it or some other bad behavior.”
Imogen: “She doesn’t know what you want her to do. Picture the behavior you would prefer and train her to do that.”
Read that again. I don’t know about you, but a huge light bulb went off in my head when I really thought that through. Just picture the behavior you would like (a really important first step – do you really want her to be doing just anything but the behavior she is currently doing. Leave it to her to find something even more annoying!) and train her to do that (this is where your energy should be going.) Duh. The secret to successful dog training in just one sentence!
Of course, some behaviors are easily handled by proper management and prevention, i.e. Don’t leave your favorite pair of shoes on the floor next to her bed if you don’t want a teething puppy to chew on them. So first make sure you are setting your pup up for success and reduce your frustration by restricting the trouble your dog can get into. Then start a positive training program to elicit the behaviors you want your dog to do.
For example, if your dog goes ballistic at the door when friends come over, picture what you’d like instead. Perhaps your dog sitting off to the side until your guests come in and then greeting them politely. Then start training your dog to sit and to sit in a certain spot by the door. Give that behavior a cue and practice it when no one is at the door. Then ask a friend to help you and practice the sit while they are ringing the doorbell (lots of treats and rewards!). Have the dog on a leash so you can control the greeting and so on. If you’re a novice or just want to make sure you are doing things correctly, I strongly recommend a training course with a positive reinforcement trainer. It’s too easy to not see when we slip back into the negative, “no! Stop that!” mode and a trainer can help us see how we may be sabotaging our good intentions.
Positive training should be fun for both you and the dog. You show the dog what you want and reward profusely when she does it – with food, a favorite toy, pets or whatever rocks her boat. Then you repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Until the desired behavior becomes her default and she doesn’t want or need to do other less suitable behaviors. It really is that simple. I think we’ve made dog training into this huge big deal and it’s really not. But where it used to be a half-hour or so of your day it’s now a part of your whole life. It’s integrated into every aspect of living with a dog.
If you find yourself yelling “no” at your dog frequently – take a moment to re-assess what is going on. Why is your dog confused as to what behavior he should be doing? How can you re-focus him and get the behavior that you want. If you still have questions about that you might want to talk to Imogen!
No More Lost Pets – free microchips and pet ID tags for residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati City. Stop by the shelter during our open hours with your pet to get one! The shelter is open Wed 1-6:30 p.m., Thurs.-Fri-Sat 1-5:30 p.m. and Sun 1-4:30 p.m.
Fix-it Clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs.) for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents. Call 588-3531 for an appointment.
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org