Sunday, July 25, 2010

"My dog doesn't listen . . ."

This is a common phrase I hear, alongside a few others, however this one plagues many dog owners of all breeds and ages -- "My dog doesn't listen to me."

From my own perspective, isn't that what all of these blog posts are , I have to elaborate on the why and the how of this common "complaint". First, dogs are just that, dogs. They do not know English or Spanish or German or . . . We teach our dogs to understand what we want from them through training with respect and understanding. Without that exact thing -- training with respect and understanding -- our dogs will most likely appear to "not listen".

The main thing would be understanding. When a dog seemingly defies us humans, we say -- "He knows he's just being stubborn . . ." Humans immediately slap the human aspect of it to our dogs, as if he was acting like a rebellious teenager. The truth is that the dog is confused and conflicted in the situation. Perhaps he's unclear what you want. Our body language most likely is the culprit.

We are so, well human, that we have a difficult time using anything but our verbal skills and expect our dogs to understand all of our language and vocabulary as well. Perhaps we haven't taught the "sit" command in enough situations or made it abundantly clear what a sit actually is [in our eyes] and so the dog is not reliably offering a sit when asked to. Perhaps the dog does know sit but in a particular situation when asked to sit he is confused/conflicted and does not respond due to other factors.

We owe it to our dogs to understand them and learn more about their body language and communication. A good example of a dog that would appear to most people to be purposely "not listening" would be in a group class setting. Most dogs who attend group classes are a bit uneasy at first due to the fact that they are in a very different and possibly stressful (to the dog anyway) situation. They come across as not being "good" or "not paying attention". The fact is that the child riding his tricycle across the way or the people tossing a ball back and forth 200 yards to the left are causing the dog some stress and therefore he is not going to "perform" for you in that environment right away. This doesn't make your dog defiant or even flat out dumb (many people will use this adjective as well!), it simply makes your dog a dog. However, commonly the owner is upset I mean how on earth could Fido be ignoring me? He knows this! So poor Fido gets a jerk on the leash or a verbal reprimand. Because, most likely, Fido was already stressed, hence the reason for not responding, we have now added even more stress as well as the notion that Fido's very own person is a ball of emotion and cause for more frustration. What will happen next? Yup. Nothing. Fido will surely shut down now.

So how do we remedy that? Well, once again the magic way -- through training with good communication on both ends of the leash. You must learn to teach your dog that you are there to guide and protect him in all situations. You must learn to read your dog, know when and how to diffuse a possible stressful situation and most importantly you must build a very, very strong relationship with your dog.

You can start this program now, no matter how young or old your dog is. Make a chart, like the sample to the right (click picture to enlarge). Your dog, being a dog, enjoys working for things and getting feedback from you. This builds the dog's confidence and training skills. I recommend (no matter what age your dog, but all puppies should start this way in the home) you tether your dog to you with a leash. You can simply hook the leash around your waist, belt loop or even get one of the handy hands-free leashes that I love! (I love The Alpha Pac leash. I've said so many times on this blog and my Facebook page. But I truly love this item!)

Set your dog up to learn and succeed. Ask for commands everywhere as your dog follows you around. At the sink, at the door, before he eats, before he goes outside, etc. Remember to say, "Okay!" (or whatever your release command is) to free your dog from each command when it's over.

After you do that for 7 days in the house then take your dog to the next level of low distractions, usually your backyard. Still tethered to you, take a few steps and ask your dog to sit and reward. Practice all your commands this way. Increase the value of the rewards as you move to different and more distracting environments. After 7 days in your backyard then move to the front yard, then to the park, etc. Give each environment 7 days of training before moving to the next.

Set yourself up to learn and succeed. Get a book on canine calming signals. Attend a workshop on doggie body language. Get Turid Ruugas's DVD "Calming Signals: What Your Dog Tells You". Read Brenda Aloff's books, "Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide" and "Get Connected with Your Dog". These resources are great for learning what your dog is telling you and how to communicate so you both understand each other.

With all of these things in play and you maintaining clear, consistent rules and expectations you and your dog will go as far as you want to go . . .

(There are many more parts to this program, but this is the beginning and a way to get started. To set up a complete training program or for questions, please contact me!)

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