Cooperation & Control

Having control of your dog is about safety. Responsible pet owners keep their dogs safe and make sure they are safe for others.

How do I tell my dog "No"?

What is the best way to respond to "misbehavior"? 

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Your dog will not do what you say just to please you 

Your dog will not do what you say out of gratitude for showering them with affection, food, toys, and beds

Your dog will not do what you say because he sees you as "alpha"

THINK INSTRUCTION, NOT PUNISHMENT

Has anyone ever said that you shouldn't let your dog "get away with it" when they do something wrong? The first dog trainer I took my dog to before I became one told me that. He said that she would think she is the boss otherwise. He also said I had to stop letting her sleeping in my bed or else she would start to think she is "alpha". Thankfully, I ignored him on both counts. She was the best and most obedient dog I've ever had, and she "got away with" lots of things.

Thinking that there has to be some sort of penalty for doing something wrong puts us in conflict with our dog. Over time, it eats away at the relationship. Punishing the DOG is retribution, and it is "short-term" focused. It only deals with the current moment. 

 

What we really want is a "long-term" resolution while keeping the "best friend" relationship with our dogs intact. We want the behavior to go away completely and not have to be dealt with again and again. Punishing a BEHAVIOR is "long-term" focused.

 

In Behavioral Science terms, punishment is something that stops or decreases the frequency or intensity of a behavior. It doesn't even have to be unpleasant. For example, giving your dog treats and affection for sitting to greet someone punishes the behavior of jumping on people to greet them because it stops or decreases the jumping behavior. 'Sitting to greet' replaces 'jumping to greet'.

 

In Behavioral Science terms, it is not punishment if the behavior doesn't change, even if it is unpleasant. For example, shocking your dog when they jump on someone isn't punishment if the dog continues to jump on people to greet them, but it is unpleasant.

Something can decrease or stop a behavior without being unpleasant for the dog.

Something can be unpleasant for the dog and not decrease or stop the behavior.

Confusing? To simplify it, think in terms of instruction instead of punishment. The goal changes from letting your dog know their behavior was "wrong" to instructing your dog how you want them to behave in the same situation in the future.  

"NO" GIVES THE DOG NO INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT TO DO

If someone said to you, "Ochi", would you know what they meant? You would only if you speak Greek. "No", "Ochi", "Nyet", "Nej", "Cha"...it's all Greek to dogs since we can't verbally explain the meaning to them. If it's said in an angry tone of voice, they understand that you're mad. Other than that, it gives no information about what you want them to do. Some dogs hear it so much they start to think their name is "No-No-Bad-Dog".  

It is more effective long-term to interrupt the behavior and instruct what you want them to do instead. The point of training your dog obedience cues is so that you can easily tell them what to do in different situations. 

 

Examples:

Barking out the window

Tell your dog "Quiet" or "Enough, Thank you". Check out the window to verify it's not something concerning (sometimes, it is). Then, tell your dog to go lay down on their bed or give them a toy to play with. 

Jumping Up
Tell them "Off" or "Sit" and then praise and pet for all paws on the floor.

Lunging and Barking at dogs on leash

Tell them to "Leave It" and "Let's Go" and move quickly past the other dog, praise your dog when they turn their attention away from the other dog. 

TROUBLESHOOTING

Say you tell your barking dog to "Quiet" and go lay down, and they continue barking out the window. Do not keep repeating yourself. Get up, go to the window, and usher your dog away from it and to something else. Maybe they are too wound up to lay down, so give them a toy instead. There is no Armchair Quarterbacking with dogs. You have to get up and guide them sometimes. 

 

Slow down and take a deep breath. Dogs are less likely to do what we ask when we are annoyed or frustrated. It's weak energy. They recognize that you are not in control of your emotions and therefore not equipped to control their actions. Dogs respond best when you are calm and confident. 

 

If your dog simply cannot calm themselves down, the situation is too overwhelming for them and they need to be removed from it. If they are not able to stop lunging and barking at other dogs nearby, get them farther away from the dogs (or the window or whatever it is that they are hyper-focused on). 

 

Some behaviors are "self-rewarding". Doing it makes the dog feel good, like jumping or counter-surfing. To stop those behaviors, the replacement behavior has to be equally or MORE rewarding. Be generous with treats, petting, and praise for the replacement behavior, or it will not be enough to override the unwanted behavior. 

 

If you didn't see it happen, it is too late. Since we can't verbally explain to a dog that we are mad that they chewed a couch cushion, all they see is an angry person shaking a chew toy at them. We can't verbally explain that it's because they peed on the rug that we're upset, all they see is a person who gets angry about urine. This is why management of the environment is so important so the dog can't do these things when you're not there to interrupt it. If it happened when you weren't looking, it means they aren't ready for that much freedom yet. 


Note: Grabbing a dog by the collar to lead them is not recommended unless you have conditioned the dog to accept collar grabs. Up to 20% of dog bites from a family pet happen when a person tries to grab the dog by the collar. Dogs see it as threatening. 

Dogs do not trust bullies

Alpha Rolling

An outdated technique based on a misunderstanding of wolf behavior in the 1960s. All this does is scare your dog. https://www.dogstardaily.com/blogs/alpha-roll-or-alpha-role 

Hitting with a rolled-up Magazine or Newspaper

There is never a valid reason to do this. We have seen dogs terrified of a piece of paper, and it teaches them nothing except that humans are aggressive.

Hitting with your hand

Hands are for petting!

Kneeing your dog in the chest

This one supposedly stops the dog from jumping on people. It can also have the side effect of making them wary of people and therefore aggressive with them. 

Putting their face in potty accidents

Many dogs learn to stop using the bathroom in front of you which makes it even harder to housetrain them. If you didn't see it happen, it's too late to instruct them. All they know is that you get angry when you see pee or poop. They don't know it's because of WHERE it is.

When strong-arm techniques are used to "control" or "discipline" dogs, many dogs become aggressive in response. They defend themselves in the moment and also begin to behave aggressively in other situations. They learn that humans aren't safe and are not to be trusted, so the best defense is a good offense. It becomes a vicious circle of human and dog being increasingly aggressive with each other until often the dog is euthanized for being "too dangerous". 

 

A common example is with Resource Guarding - growling or biting to protect a resource the dog has such as food, treats, toys, beds, and even certain people. It starts with the dog growling when someone gets near their food bowl. The owner scolds them, pops them on the nose, and takes the food away. The next time a person approaches their bowl, the dog expects the same thing will happen. They will be hit and have their food taken away. So, they guard it more intensely, even before the person gets close to the bowl. "Oh no", thinks the owner. My dog is being aggressive. I have to stop this before it gets worse. They become more firm with the dog and take the food away again. Dog remembers this and guards even MORE intensely next time. Their warnings were ignored, so they bite.
 

Other dogs become fearful. They cower when their owner reaches for them because they expect something bad instead of wagging their tails expecting to be petted. They don't follow cues (aka commands) from people because they fear the consequences if they get it wrong. It's better to do nothing than to mess it up and be punished. 

Most of the time, people don't intend to be aggressive with their dogs. They are following outdated advice that, sadly, is still being given by "dog trainers" and other dog owners. 

Outdated advice to avoid includes but is not limited to:

Dogs do not respect pushovers

Then, there is the idea that if we shower our dog with attention, affection, toys, treats, and fluffy beds, she will be so appreciative that she'll do anything we ask. That all they need is love!

 

If only that were true, there would be no more need for animal shelters and rescues. I can't count how many "loved" dogs I fostered with severe behavior problems. Their owners were genuinely heart-broken to give up their dog, but their behaviors were too hard to live with, and they could see the dog wasn't happy either. It's hard to find new homes for these dogs because they have terrible manners. They pull like a freight train on leash, run off instead of coming when called, use the bathroom in the house, chew shoes and furniture, steal food off the counter, and knock little kids off their feet. Some are so resistant to being told what to do that they growl and bite to get their way. Dogs who bite have little chance of finding adoptive homes. Euthanasia for behavior problems is the #1 cause of death for dogs in the US and the UK. :( https://phys.org/news/2018-07-bad-dogs-die-young-euthanasia.html

 

Even if they keep their homes, life is limited for dogs with no training or manners. They can't go places with their owners because they are hard to handle and disruptive in public. Their owners are frequently frustrated with them. They can become extremely anxious to the point of needing medication. Many are obese because their owners shower them with food and treats, using food for love. Obese dogs can’t run and play normally, and they are susceptible to deadly diseases such as heart failure, diabetes, pancreatitis, and more.

 

If giving your dog rules makes you feel uncomfortable, think of it this way. It's not about Power but about Safety and your dog's peace of mind. We don’t let dogs or children play in a busy street because they want to so that we don’t hurt their feelings! Rules keep them safe and also make them feel safe. Dogs are hard-wired for survival, and they will be stressed out if nobody is Captaining the ship because they instinctively know that a ship with no Captain is not safe!

WHEN TO GET PROFESSIONAL HELP

Not coming when called is one thing, but what if your dog does something really bad? If you ever find yourself in a place where you feel like being rough with your dog is the only answer, please reach out to us. There is never a situation that requires hitting, pinning, or otherwise causing your dog fear or pain. We work with dogs with serious aggression issues without using violence of our own.

 

What if your dog growls at you or someone else? Growling is a normal part of canine communication. When I was a kid, if I told my parents that the dog growled at me, they would ask, “what did you do”? They understood that if a dog growled, she had a reason. It is an important warning from the dog. At some point, people got the idea that dogs should never growl and if they did, something was wrong with them. They must be AGGRESSIVE (clutching pearls!), and the growling must be stopped NOW before it escalates! This damaging belief has led to serious dog behavior problems, including a dog who “bites without warning”. Punishing a dog for growling is like taking the batteries out of a smoke alarm. It does nothing to stop the fire!

Growls shouldn't be ignored, but not all growls are created equal. Dogs will growl in play, either by themselves, with other dogs, and even with people. Some dogs will growl and get “bitey” when they get “the zoomies”. Technically called Frenetic Random Activity Periods (FRAP), dogs will get a sudden burst of energy and start zooming around wildly. It's normal behavior and not a cause for concern. The only interference needed for the zoomies is keeping them from breaking things and from overly excited biting. To do that, matter-of-factly tell them that’s enough as you get up and calmly redirect them to something else. If you have a fenced yard, let them out to play. If not, give them a toy to shake vigorously to let that energy out!

 

It’s normal for dogs to growl when they have a resource they don’t want to be taken. If animals didn't protect their resources, they wouldn't live long! It's not a cause for concern at a low level. It can, however, be a major cause for concern if they are an extreme resource guarder. If your dog has bitten anyone over a resource and you can't get something away that could harm him without fear of being bitten, reach out to us. Some of the worst bites come from resource guarding dogs, and children are often the recipients.

 

Normal, healthy dogs growl because normal, healthy dogs try to avoid conflict, and growling is a way to do that. Most of the time, it is not a cause for concern, and it’s important not to overreact. Overreacting can confuse a dog and make a problem when there wasn’t one.

If we overreact in an aggressive way, we risk escalating the situation.

If we overreact in a fearful way, we risk teaching our dog that she can control us with growling.

A real-life example with a happy ending...

I fostered a sweetheart Doberman who we called "Skinny Little Doberman" because she was underweight and small for the breed. She was also meek, so it was a surprise when her adopters called to say that she was being aggressive toward the man. She would growl at him, and he would stiffen up and slowly back away from her. I suggested that the next time she growled at him, laugh and ask her why she’s so grumpy. He did, and she never growled at him again. She was growling at him because she was intimidated by him. It worked! He backed off! So, she used it to her advantage. When he softened up toward her, she realized he wasn't a threat. Soon, she became a Daddy's Girl and the two are inseparable!

Some growls are serious and should be taken as such, especially if it's a dog you don't know. You know that deep growl that sounds like it's coming from the pits of hell? That dog means business! Take steps to keep yourself safe.