I often get phone calls from dog owners who are at their wit’s end because of their dog’s unruly behaviour. This unruly behaviour is very often normal behaviour in doggy terms, but unacceptable in human society. Dogs jump up to greet; dogs are opportunists and will steal food whenever they can; will dig in the flower beds on a hot day; will escape if gates and doors are left open.
So when I ask these distraught owners how they’d like their dogs to behave these are the answers I often get.
“I want my dog to stop jumping on me when I arrive home”.
“I want my dog to stop digging in my flower beds”.
“I want my dog to stop running out of the gate when it’s open”.
With these replies, I now know what the owner doesn’t want the dog to do. However, what the owner has not told me is what she’d like the dog to do instead. This is the information that enables us to deal with the unruly behaviour – not by punishment or giving up and putting the dog up for adoption, but by working out some sort of training programme to address the issues. Once we know what we want the dog to do instead of the unruly and undisciplined behaviour we can start to counter condition an alternative behaviour that is incompatible with the behaviour that we don’t like.
These are some examples of a discussion I had with one of my clients recently.
What the dog does: She is disobedient and does not listen to instruction
What you’d like the dog to do: Respond to my cues to “Sit” “Down” and “Stay”, etc. etc. by doing what I ask.
Possible Solution: Decide what exactly you’d like her to do and then teach her the required behaviours with positive reinforcement.
What the dog does: She jumps at meal times and sometimes knocks the bowl out of my hand.
What you’d like the dog to do: Sit and wait until I put the bowl down and tell her she can eat.
Possible Solution: Teach her to practice self control around her food bowl by not letting her have it until she sits and waits. She needs to learn that you will only put the bowl down for her to eat when she is calm. Start by teaching her this game. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipT5k1gaXhc
What the dog does: She runs out of the gate when we arrive home and sometimes takes off to attack the next door pup! She follows the male Jack Russell Terrier, Alfie, so that if Alfie runs out of the driveway gate when we arrive home to bark at the neighbour’s dog, she follows.
What you’d like the dog to do: Stay inside the gate when it opens and not run after Alfie.
Possible Solution: Teach her to go to a specific place inside your property and near the gate and stay there while the gate opens and closes. Teach Alfie to do the same. Contrary to popular opinion, Jack Russells can be trained! You might also like to take the time to teach her that it’s more fun being with you than being with Alfie!
With some thought, planning and patience any bad behaviour can be turned around. Everyone can have a dog that is well-behaved if you think and act positively.