There are many well-intentioned dog owners who find themselves coping with dog behaviors that they don’t know how to change.
Most people truly love their dogs and want the best for them, but only a percentage of dog owners seek help with training. Without the needed skills to help their dogs learn, these dog owners are left to feel their way in the dark.
However, good intentions alone will not save a dog from being confined to the backyard or surrendered to the local shelter. Here are some of the more common ways that even well-intentioned dog owners create their own problems:
Scolding your dog for failing to obey the “come” command – This reaction is very common and very harmful. The come command is unlike any other command you teach your dog. Most commands tell your dog to do something, for instance sit or stay. The come command actually asks that your dog not do something: Don’t follow that scent, or don’t chase that leaf. This is why it’s more difficult to teach the come command. You must find a way to highly motivate your dog to return on command. By yelling at him when you finally do catch up to him or when he finally does return, you are motivating him to stay away from you when he hears the come command. Coming to you should always be a positive event that encourages your dog to come back the next time.
Trying to bribe your dog to obey by waving a treat in front of him – This teaches your dog to hold out until you “show him the money.” If your dog will work only for treats, what does that say about your relationship? Also, studies have shown that a dog will work harder for intermittent rewards than for constant rewards.
Repeating your commands over and over again – Doing this teaches your dog to ignore you until he hears that certain angry tone in your voice. Giving a second command to a dog who is just learning the meaning of a command is fine, but repeating commands excessively with a novice or trained dog is a mistake. Give the command once, enforce it if necessary and reward immediately.
Anthropomorphizing (attributing human characteristics to an animal) – Dogs are pretty pure of spirit. They don’t lie, plot, make arbitrary judgments or seek revenge. Those are human downfalls. So if you return from work and your dog has chewed up your $100 Nikes, remember that your dog hasn’t done this because he’s getting back at you for leaving him alone for so long. He probably chewed your shoes because he was bored to death. If you absolutely need to yell, go right ahead, yell at yourself for leaving your Nikes out and for not providing your dog with an outlet for his boredom. Have you ever called your dog stubborn or hardheaded? Oops! There you go again, labeling your dog with not-so-pleasant human characteristics.
Getting overemotional – By scolding your dog long after he has stopped a bad behavior, you are confusing the heck out of him, and probably scaring him a bit, too. Be timely with your input. Reward within two seconds of obedience, and stop your reprimands as soon as the bad behavior stops.
Being aware of these common pitfalls can help you turn your good intentions into good training methods.
Julie Winkelman is a certified pet dog trainer and a certified dog trainer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.