Did you bring home a new puppy or dog for Christmas? Lets face it, you wouldn't be reading this if you hadn't. Bringing a dog into your family is a big commitment and a big responsibility. The first step to developing a meaningful relationship with your dog is to understand how he thinks, why he does what he does and how to communicate your desires to him so he can make you happy.
Dogs are social, pack animals. Probably, your family also functions like a dog pack, but you aren't aware of it (although I'm sure your youngest child is very well aware of their place in your family pack). Someone makes all the decisions and the others do as their told. When you bring your new dog home, the first and most important thing you must do is establish his place in your family pack, at the bottom, even below your youngest child. As the dog and your children grow, the pack roles will be consistently challenged and his place at the bottom of your pack must be rigorously enforced. (As a good rule of thumb, never leave your dog and children unattended, even if you think you are certain of your dog's temperament.) In the wild, dogs are constantly trying to better their position in the pack by testing the authority of the higher-ranking dogs. A good pack leader will enforce the pack positions at all costs.
There are many ways to enforce your role as alpha (or the pack leader) and to enforce his role at the bottom. Dogs communicate on many levels, and humans can communicate to them effectively by using a few simple techniques. Body language, scent, and vocal tones are just a few of the things you can use to communicate your role as the alpha. When your dog understands his place in your pack, he will become super eager to please you and learn new tricks with gusto. Be sure everyone in your family is on the same page with your rules and your training techniques. Sending the dog confusing messages (you don't let him on the couch, your child does) can only make training more difficult on all members of your household, including the pup.
Start by developing a routine and stick to it. Dogs are happiest when there is consistency in their routines. Feed, walk, water, and train at the same times everyday. You initiate playtime. Let him know you are in control of his life. You must make the decisions and he must follow you, not the other way around and there is no negotiation here. First and foremost, never give your dog a command that you cannot enforce. If you command your dog to sit, and he doesn't sit and you don't make him sit, he will take away the message that he had the upper hand in the situation. When your dog does something good, reward your dog with lots of praise in a high pitched voice. When your dog does something bad, correct the behavior with a short low no or hey. Never yell at your dog because this signals to them a lack of control on your behalf. A few more quick and easy tips on establishing your role as the alpha are walking through doorways before your dog, eating before your dog, spitting in his food, and practicing long sit-stays. Spitting in his food? Sound disgusting to you? Well, in the wild, the alpha dog will eat first leaving behind their scent (their saliva) on the food. When the subordinate dogs eat, they smell and taste the saliva of the alpha. By spitting in your dog's food, it will send him a message on a very instinctive level that you ate first, therefore you must be the alpha and he must not be the alpha. Never let your dog sleep on the bed with your. In the wild, the alpha gets to sleep in the best place, the warmest, safest and highest place. By letting your dog sleep with you on the bed, you will be undermining all other exercises you have been using to establish your role as the alpha.
When your child becomes a teenager and challenges your authority, you will discipline him in a timely and consistent way, in ways that he will understand, ways that will motivate him to behave. In the first case, if your son or daughter blows curfew on a Friday night, Saturday and Sunday they are grounded, not some weekend in three months from now. When your dog misbehaves, you can only effectively correct the behavior if you catch him in the act or with in 5 seconds after the fact. If you walk into a room where the dog was unattended for a half-hour and find your remote control chewed to pieces, punishing the dog at that point will be meaningless to him because the dog is not intelligent enough to associate the punishment with the crime. If he is laying around when you come to correct him, he will think he is being corrected by laying around. However if you catch your dog chewing the remote control, firmly say no or hey, take away the remote and replace the remote with one of his toys. When he begins chewing his toy, immediately praise him. Your dog will soon learn that he can only play with his toys but will test everything he can to determine if they are his toys or your toys. Some dog owners think their dogs know or understand when they have done something wrong because the dog will display submissive behaviors or have a guilty look on their face when the owner sees the mess. This is simply not true. The dog is simply responding to the owner's angry demeanor. If you don't believe me, try this simple experiment. Bring some dog poo in from outside and put it on the floor. Or rip up a paper and put it all over the floor. Begin to correct your dog as you would if he really had the accident. Watch his body language as you begin to say "bad boy" or "who did this". His ears will drop back, he may cower over or even roll over onto his back. But he has done NOTHING WRONG!! He is simply responding to your body language and vocal intonations. As important as timing is consistency. Your rules and corrections must be consistent. If your child blows curfew one weekend with no punishment, it will be unfair to them to begin punishing them or only punishing them when you feel like it. To stop them from blowing curfew, they must understand if they blow curfew, they will get punished, every single time. Every time your dog does something against your rules like chewing the remote, you must correct him for the behavior.
In the second case, you must correct the dog in ways he can understand. When your child does something wrong, you don't yell at them in a different language, you will probably take away the car, computer, cell phone, and video games. When your dog challenges your authority, and he will every chance he gets, you must discipline him in ways he can understand. Dogs don't understand hitting, or time outs. They don't understand going to bed with out dinner. In the wild, the mother dog will correct a pup that is misbehaving by biting them in the neck. By no means try and bite your dog ever! But there are easy ways of mimicking the correction of a mother dog. To learn how to properly correct your dog for misbehaving, enlist the help of a professional trainer. Attempting to correct your dog on your own and making a mistake can lead to aggressive or defensive behaviors. However letting behaviors go uncorrected can also lead to aggression, but a different type of aggression known as dominance aggression. In this case, your dog does not see you as the alpha and will try to correct YOU for taking away his bone, toy, or food, or making him get off your bed or couch. The corrections will be displayed as aggressive behaviors like biting, bearing teeth, or growling at you for making these "mistakes". Even the most easygoing and fun-loving dogs can display dominance aggression and owners who have dogs displaying dominance aggression will swear their dog is schizophrenic! If you think you are experiencing problems with aggression, whether defensive or dominance, again, enlist the help of a professional trainer, preferably one with experience in handling aggression. I will be writing an article in the future about aggression and dealing with aggression.
In the last case, your correction must be motivational. If your child forgets to take out the trash, your response might be to remind him the next day. If your teenager comes home drunk, your response will be much more severe!!! The same rules apply for the dog. If the behavior is absolutely unacceptable, you must be able to motivate the dog not to behave in such a way. If you correct your dog for the mistake and he goes right back to it, your correction was not motivational enough. For example, if you catch your dog chewing the remote control and you give the dog a correction, the correct response from the dog when offered the remote again would be to turn his head away. In addition like children, each dog has a different motivational level. For some children, being grounded for a week will be motivational enough for them not to come home drunk again. For other children, you might have to ground them for a month or two or three. For some dogs, a simple no will prevent the behavior, but for other dogs, a training collar is necessary. To learn how to give your dog a motivational correction, enlist the help of a professional trainer.
In any case, never bribe your dog into behaving with treats and cookies. Bribery will never work and your dog will not grow to look to you for guidance and leadership, only treats. And giving your pup too many treats can easily lead to obesity because the dog will not perform unless given a treat. In addition, bribery is not practical because if you are out in public and don't have a treat, your dog will probably ignore you and that may pose a danger to him or to others. When hiring a professional trainer, be weary of ones whose primary method of training is bribery with treats and food. Trainers employing these methods cannot train dogs to perform in real world situations. With certain dogs, treats can have their place in training, but as a motivator, rather than a bribe but this discussion itself can be the subject of an entire article.
Now I hope after reading this article, you feel better able to have a relationship with your dog. By trying the simple techniques I suggested, you will notice a difference in your dogs behaviors. Next week, I will be writing on crate training and housebreaking. If you have further questions, immediate issues, or would like a free consultation in your home, feel free to email me.
Dog tip of the week: If your neighbors are not as dog crazy as you, you can do a few simple things to ease the tensions between you and your neighbors like keeping your dog on a leash and picking up after your dog. If you are on a tight budget and can't afford a pooper scooper, most supermarkets on Long Island like King Kullen give plastic grocery bags away for free! Simply stock up when you do your weekly shopping.
Puppy tip of the week: When you bring your new puppy home, socialization is very important but be careful not to take the dog to places where other dogs have been until the puppy is up to date on his shots. Expose your puppy to as many new sights, people and sounds as possible in the first few weeks, but avoid these doggie popular areas. Check with your vet for the appropriate places to bring your new puppy. Never let your puppy walk into the vets office before completing all the shots, carry him. Never let the puppy lick or sniff any dog or animal in the vets office. Never let your puppy lick or chew on your shoes. Adult dogs and the feces of adult dogs carry dangerous diseases, namely parvo, and your puppy can become seriously ill if exposed before he is fully vaccinated. However, carefully exposing your puppy to the world around you will help the dog easily adjust to new situations as an adult.