The Ten Commandments Of Dog Training And Ownership
As a dog trainer who travels the country training dogs and working with 20-30 families a week in their homes it is so important for folks to understand how a dog thinks. And when there is no authority figure present, the kind of chaos and bad behavior that can happen. Remember the bad behavior of your dog is not the problem it is just the outcome of a breakdown of leadership in your home. My friend, co-host of the Train The Trainers Seminar Series, and LA dog training colleague Sean O’Shea from The Good Dog Training and Rehabilitation puts out such a great blog that I feature it here on my blog. Since the message is so powerful and important it needs to be shared by all. Enjoy the read and feel free to also join his Facebook Fan Page.
The Ten Commandments Of Dog Training And Ownership
By Sean O'Shea
1) Thou shalt not pet, soothe, or share soft energy with a nervous, fearful, anxious, or aggressive dog. I unfortunately still see this one all the time, even with really smart owners (and I totally understand why). While this behavior can be useful when applied to humans who are distressed, when it comes to our dogs, they read these interactions as reinforcement and agreement of their distressed state of mind – which means you’re very likely see more of the behavior, both frequency-wise and intensity-wise. It’s also a reminder of the lack of confident, strong, dependable leadership energy you represent, which causes more stress and anxiety and creates more emotional fallout – nothing is more terrifying for a nervous, insecure, fearful dog than to feel that he/she is the strongest, most powerful presence in his/her world.
2) Thou shalt not let your on-leash dog meet/interact with other dogs on-leash. Dogs on leash are almost always compromised behaviorally. They are either overly excited to meet the other dog, but are restrained by the leash and so then become highly frustrated and stressed, OR they’re nervous, anxious, and unsure about the other dog, but are restrained by the leash and feel trapped, frightened, and stressed. Either response puts the dog into a stressed/anxious state where the dog is likely not to give his best behavior, and even two very social dogs could have a potentially very negative interaction/fight. Also, many owners think their dogs are safe and well behaved, but are either unaware of the dynamic of the Second Commandment, are unaware of their dog’s true behavior, or are in denial about a Fluffy being sweet as pie, when Fluffy is really a nasty little so and so. :)
3) Thou shalt not let your dog pull you through thresholds, or pull you on leash (This includes pulling towards trees/bushes, potty spots, other dogs, or just the garden variety pulling straight ahead!) When we allow our dogs to pull us in any of the aforementioned capacities, we’re creating several things that work against us. We teach our dogs to ignore us as a leader; we teach our dogs that pushy behavior does in fact get them what they want; we create a stressed/agitated/adrenalyzed state of mind that is not able to make good choices (think of how you feel when your late for an appointment and driving in a rushed, edgy fashion through traffic – your attitude/state of mind is absolutely not your best, highest functioning you, and you’re likely to make choices and engage in behavior that you’re not entirely proud of once you calm down and relax once at your destination); and, in the end, we create little (or big!) snotty, bratty tyrants that are reactive and often not so pleasant for us to walk, or our neighbors to endure.
4) Thou shalt not let two dogs that are new to each other “work out” their relationship issues on their own. This one seems to come from the dark ages of dog training/ownership. The best way to ensure that two dogs get off on the wrong foot while being introduced to each other in a new home environment, is to let them engage without the benefit of human guidance – to let the dogs sort it out themselves. This is especially true if there has been, or is currently, tension between the dogs. Oftentimes dogs that are new to each other will be uncomfortable, on edge, overly-excited, stressed and anxious about each other’s presence, and these states of mind are a perfect set up for one dog or both to make less than fantastic choices around each other, and possibly even fight. And the unfortunate reality is that, like humans, once a grudge or bad blood is created it is very hard, and sometimes impossible to remove. By taking our time, removing excitement, stress and anxiety from the interaction, and giving some human guidance, we give our dogs the opportunity to assess the situation free of negative mental states that set them up for failure.
5) Thou shalt utilize the dog park at your (and your dog’s) own risk. Dog parks are an awesome concept, in theory. I love the idea of them! Dogs roaming freely, un-encumbered by the oppression of leashes and restraint, just being dogs! Beautiful. Except when it’s not. The dog park in reality is often a place where overly-adrenalyzed/highly stressed, negative, anti-social, and out-and-out dangerous behavior is allowed to unfold on a regular basis, unaddressed and unattended to. I’ve had many, many clients show up after their social and friendly dog has has been bullied or attacked at the dog park and has now become anti-social, untrusting of other dogs, highly dog-reactive on walks, or possibly even out-and-out dog aggressive. You wouldn’t allow your kids to play with just any other kids – especially unsupervised – so be very careful about the situations your dog is subjected to as well.
6) Thou shalt not use verbal or emotional intensity to control or correct your dog’s unwanted behavior. This is a very easy one to fall into. When we don’t have effective tools or strategies to train, communicate, and cultivate positive interactions with our dogs, we tend to become frustrated, annoyed, and angry. As humans, when we find that we’re not getting where we want with our dogs behavior wise, it tends to lead us to raised voices, posturing, and emotional intensity – all of which tend to undermine our communication, our relationship, and our status as leaders worth following in our dog’s eyes. It also adds stress, anxiety, and fear to the equation, which only makes everything worse. It’s much better to simply put a training collar and leash on your dog and quietly, and calmly create the desired behavior/effect.
7) Thou shalt not pick a dog who’s physical energy is higher and who’s state of mind is stronger than yours. When we pick a dog with either significantly higher energy levels than us, or a state of mind/demeanor/attitude that is much firmer/stronger (or both!), we begin a relationship that can be very challenging (and sad and frustrating) for both owner and dog, or in it’s extreme instances, doomed to failure. High energy dogs living with lower energy humans can create dynamics of constant tension for both species. The dog will often be unsatisfied and subsequently on edge, and the human will also often be on edge and annoyed/frustrated. This can create a sad loop of both species being unfulfilled and not enjoying the relationship. With strong-minded dogs and softer humans, we often see a dynamic of the dog taking advantage, pushing boundaries, disrespecting, and, in extreme cases, setting rules and limits for the human (i.e. growling and biting). This can lead to dire outcomes such as surrendering, rehoming, and even euthanasia. Of course, there are some great things to be done training and lifestyle-wise for both of these situations, so if you’re in one or both of them, don’t lose hope!
8) Thou shalt not let your off-leash dog run up on a dog walking on-leash. This one gets played out in cities and neighborhoods across the country (and world) daily, and is likely the cause for much of the human race’s frustration, and inability to peacefully co-exist with each other! I get it, you have (what you think) is a nice, friendly, social dog, and you love having your dog off-leash, and what could be wrong with him running up to say hi to another dog? Unfortunately there’s plenty that could be wrong with this one. Like we mentioned in the Second Commandment, dogs on-leash rarely act as they would off-leash, so the dog that is being run up on by your friendly dog is likely going to be frightened, stressed, worried, and feeling trapped, or excited and frustrated and feeling stressed – either one is very likely to create a negative reaction for that owner and his/her dog. (Remove both leashes and you would likely have a totally different reaction.) And here’s a few other things to consider when the person with the dog on-leash starts to freak out: One, their dog may actually be very dog-aggressive and highly unsafe, and may actually try to attack/kill your dog – seriously. Or two, your dog (and others like yours who have run up on this dog in the past) are causing this dog and his owner to become dog-reactive – meaning dog and owner start to become conditioned to feel unsafe and untrusting around other dogs, and it may actually create serious dog reactivity behavior problems for this dog and owner. Or thirdly, the owner and dog may be in training and attempting to work through dog-reactivity and dog-trust issues, and these kinds of interactions are usually the best way to undo whatever progress they’ve made. To be honest, and sorry if this sounds a bit harsh, letting this dynamic occur (allowing your dog to run up on another on-leash dog) is highly selfish, and highly irresponsible. Sorry, it has to be said. :)
9) Thou shalt not (overly) baby, spoil, or humanize your dog. Did I really make this big kahuna of dog issues only number nine?!?! This one is usually the most common cause of behavior problems in dogs, and relationship problems between dogs and their humans. When we overly (meaning excessively and without corresponding balance) baby, spoil, and humanize our dogs, it feels emotionally awesome for us, but unfortunately is a first-class ticket to bratty, snotty, stressed, anxious, overly-dependent, separation-anxiety-filled, unhappy dogs. Love is great. Affection is great. Enjoying and even celebrating our dogs is great! But sharing all of these in the absence of the balance of strong leadership, guidance, rules, structure, and consequences for unwanted behavior is, well, I have to be straight with you here, the great undoing of the dogs we love. True love, healthy love, is imbued with the awareness of, and commitment to doing, what’s right for those who are left in our charge – those who are in many ways completely helpless and at our mercy, those who look to us for the information and tools to move through our world comfortably and in an emotionally healthy and balanced fashion. It may not be as easy, as fun, and as self-fulfilling to actually have to balance love with discipline and rules – and sometimes being the heavy – but it’s what great dog ownership, and happy, healthy dogs (and kids!) are all about.
10) Thou shalt not mistake anxiety/excitement for happiness, and calm/relaxation for sadness. This one gets by lots of owners (and trainers!). Oftentimes we see dogs in an overly-excited state (which is often actually stress/anxiety/adrenaline) and think they are experiencing joy and happiness. The problem with misreading this is that we can miss the signs that our dogs are practicing and building negative emotional and behavior habits, and that while in this state (at say, a dog park?) they may engage in negative or even dangerous behavior (because stress/anxiety/over-excitement can cognitively impair dogs and often causes them to make poor choices), and are likely not truly happy dogs at all. On the flip side of this is the dog who is being asked to be in a command (place or down) or is simply chilling out in his own, and is looking, well, chilled and relaxed. For many owners (and, once again, some trainers), the lack of bouncing off the ceiling energy is a sign of a sad, unhappy, and unfulfilled dog, when in reality this calm and relaxed dog is the one who is likely more comfortable emotionally and physically in his own skin, and is likely making great choices because of his state of mind. Dogs who live in a constantly agitated and overly-excited state are the dogs that usually come to stay with us for two weeks of expensive training and rehab work because they’re usually engaging in negative, neurotic behavior! And, strangely enough, our job then is to teach them how to be calm, relaxed, and chilled out – which interestingly causes all of their behavioral issues disappear! Just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with dogs having a great time, having fun, and being a little crazy now and then, but when owners see this as the preferred state, and when dogs live there consistently, it makes for unhappy, unbalanced dogs.
Sean’s website www.thegooddog.net
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The Good Dog Training and Rehabilitation 4867 Bellflower Ave. North Hollywood, CA 91601 (818) 441-1837
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