Rule Structures for Daily Life with Your Dog

September 6, 2011

When we bring a dog into our homes as a family pet, companion or team member if you do some type of sport with your dog, the very first thing that we must recognise, in all fairness to the dog is that his rules are different from ours, and many behaviours that are unacceptable to us are quite normal for the dog.

For example:

  • Dogs that jump up to greet are normal, not bad or naughty;
  • Dogs that chew TV remotes, spectacles, cellphones that are left lying around are normal, not bad or naughty;
  • Dogs that steal food off the kitchen counter are normal, not bad or naughty;
  • Dogs that rush out of the door ahead of you are normal, not bad or naughty;

These are just some dog behaviours that are unacceptable to us.  It is our responsibility, if we are to live in harmony with our dogs to establish boundaries and teach our dogs how to respect them and put into place rule structures that can be incorporated into daily life.  We should also manage the environment in a way that it makes it more difficult for our dog to indulge in inappropriate behaviour.

What we need to do is set a baseline of good behavioural interaction between ourselves and our dogs and to teach them that they must consistently defer to people to receive attention. This is done in a safe, kind, and passive manner. If your dog knows a consistent rule or behaviour will get your attention, it will be receptive to guidance. This is a form of discipline. People often confuse discipline with violence or abuse, but for most dogs withdrawal or withholding of attention is far more profound correction than is physical punishment.  Dogs that are consistently mismanaged with physical punishment either learn to override the punishment or learn to seek it because it may be their most common contact.

The rule is:  the dog must sit and be quiet to earn anything and everything it wants for the rest of its life. This includes sitting for the following:

• Food and feeding
• Treats
• Love
• Grooming
• Being able to go out – and come in
• Having the leash, halter, or harness put on
• Having its feet towelled
• Being invited onto the bed or sofa
• Playing games
• Playing with toys
• Having a tick removed
• Having a wound checked
• Being petted or loved
• Attention
• ANYTHING the dog wants!

All your dog must do is put its bottom on the floor or ground, be quiet, look at you, and await your cue. This takes only seconds, but is invaluable. ALL dogs should learn to do this, and NO dog is too old to learn this.  All puppies should be raised with this simple but powerful deference behaviour. If you put this programme in place you will have a far better relationship with your dog and to able to control him or her without having to restrain him with force.

Start with dinner-time. 

If your dog does not already sit for his dinner, now is the time to start.  Get the dinner bowl and stand facing your dog – who might be bouncing up and down ready to dive into the bowl the minute it hits the ground.  Ignore all this and either ask for a sit, or just wait…  your dog will eventually sit and calm down.  When he does, put the bowl down.  If he leaps up before the bowl is on the floor, simply pick it up again, and wait …  Do not give him his food until he has sat and remained calmly sitting until it is on the floor.  What he learns from this is that the bowl does not get put down until he is sitting, and calm.

You want to take your dog for a walk, but the minute you take his lead out he starts bouncing around and acting crazy.  You simply put the lead away and look disinterested.  As soon as the bouncing around has stopped, you take the lead out again – dog bounces around – lead goes away.  He will soon learn that the only way to stop you putting the lead away is to sit calmly.

These are just two examples of teaching your dog about rules, but there are many more situations that apply.

I was reading an article the other day on the 10 Points of Good Discipline.  It wasn’t an article on dog training, but an article on bringing up children.  The interesting thing was that the comments that were made throughout the article could be applied equally to training your dog to be a good citizen.

Some of the points made were:

  1. Good discipline teaches.   Punishment teaches what is wrong, but does not help a child (dog) learn what is right.  The goal of discipline is to teach.  It teaches self-control and socially acceptable behaviour.
  2. Good discipline is not a power struggle.
  3. Good discipline does not involve anger and over-reactions.  It is a planned out strategy to encourage good behaviour and discourage bad behaviour.  It is consistent and fair.
  4. Good discipline uses clear expectations, clear consequences, and consistent reinforcement.
  5. Good discipline is neither permissive nor punitive.

So let today be the beginning of a great relationship between you and your dog.

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