-Foundation Obedience Training
Every single day, my husband and I take phone calls from dog owners who are often at their wit’s end with their dog’s behavior. From pretty common behaviors of jumping on people, bolting out doors, and snatching food off the counter to food guarding, snapping, and even dogs with a history of bites…owners are often at the end of their rope when they finally call us.
The very first step to addressing all of these problems is obedience training. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many people come to us to help their aggressive dog and completely balk when I tell them we’re going to start by teaching them to stop pulling on the leash. There are many reasons for this, but one of the most important aspects is we need to show the dog what we want them to do. Dogs that act out aggressively in inappropriate situations often don’t know any better. You can yell at them all you want, but your dog most likely assumes you’re just joining in the fight. Now once the dog understands the appropriate way to walk on a leash, we have a frame work to build from. The “big word” trainers call this Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behavior.
Simply put, if your dog knows how to walk appropriately on the leash and to sit quietly when you stop, then there is no way they can be going psycho at the dog across the street. When your dog understands their obedience commands, then we simply don’t give them the opportunity to act in a way that is inappropriate. If they are in a sit-stay when you open the door to invite your guests in, they can’t charge them or bolt out the door. At this point, once they understand the command, if the dog was then to break the command, there would be a consequence for disobedience to something they already knew. However, the dog must first have a very clear understanding of what it is we expect before we can expect them to behave.
-Evaluating a Dog’s Temperament HONESTLY
This has always been a huge pet peeve of mine, and I could talk about this for days on end, but I’ll try and just scratch the surface a little bit here. People need to look at the dog they have. Not all dogs want dog friends, and that’s OKAY! Not all dogs want to be friends with your distant relatives that come over once a year, and that’s OKAY! If you bought a large, protective, mastiff breed and never train it, then don’t be surprised when you find out it snapped at the neighbor kid who jumped the fence to get his ball. If you bought a field-bred lab puppy don’t act like you had no idea it might want to chew on things. If you are just wanting a pet, and you decided to go get yourself a malinois, well you made a very big mistake. KNOW YOUR DOG!
I have come to the realization through the years it often requires a professional’s guidance to get an owner to honestly look at their dog. As a little example of this, we have my old rescue Pit Bull Alcatraz. Most of the pitties I have rehabbed through the years for dog aggression eventually really like other dogs and enjoy playing with them. I assumed Alcatraz would be the same way. It didn’t take me long to realize that no matter how much I thought he should want to play with other dogs, he was not a fan. He knew better than to behave in an aggressive manner anymore, and he understood what was appropriate behavior and what was unacceptable. He was perfectly willing to be completely neutral around other dogs, but he didn’t enjoy their company, and he really didn’t appreciate them being in his face pestering him. I quickly changed my tune and became an advocate for my dog. I now politely ask people to keep their overzealous puppies out of his face. While I know he won’t respond inappropriately, I also know he does not enjoy this interaction at all. It’s even possible if I had continued to try and press the issue he could have started to resent it so much he could become frustrated to the point his aggressive tendencies could resurface.
While we all have the idea of the dog we want our dog to be, sometimes we have to take a seat and really evaluate the dog we have.