I want to talk about one of the reasons that many of our dogs are getting away with behaviors we don’t really want happening. No one wants their dog jumping on their guests, snatching food off of the counter, or nipping at the kids, yet we are hesitant to disagree or punish the behavior. Is it because we are lazy? Feel bad? Feel guilty? Don’t know how to do it properly or effectively? Probably some of all of these.
No one likes having to be the bad guy. We ignore, we evade, we avoid, and we procrastinate. Think about it this way. If your dog jumps on your grandmother, he could knock her down and she could break her hip. If your dog snatches the wrong food off of the counter, you may be making a trip to the emergency vet. If your dog bites a kid, not only may the child be hurt, but you may have to put your dog down. Everything has consequences. Some are given and some come naturally.
An example of a natural consequence.
My dog, Evvy had a bad habit of licking silverware in the dishwasher while we were loading it. I knew a lot of good reasons I should have stopped it, however I put it off. Mostly because I was lazy, but also I felt guilty because I had allowed this behavior for a while. Until one Sunday evening, my adult son was helping load the dishwasher and she was licking the silverware as usual. He tried to shoo her away and she snapped at him! This was so shocking to me that I planned to set her up with an e-collar the next day and give her a meaningful correction. However, I procrastinated again and another week went by. The next Sunday my husband was loading the dishwasher and I happened to have a leash on Evvy as we had multiple dogs up in the main part of the house and I had her in a “place” command on her mat. (or so I thought) The next thing I know, I hear a loud clatter and see Evvy scrambling away from the dishwasher with the whole basket in tow as her leash got caught on the silverware. She could not get away from it until we helped her unhook. This natural consequence made such an impact that she has never gone near the dishwasher since.
That time worked itself out, but do you really want to wait around to see if a natural consequence occurs? A controlled, well thought out consequence is much safer. Be a leader, disagree with bad behavior now, it will serve you in the long run.
Here’s how you do it
Part of training your dog, is letting them know what is and isn’t acceptable. That’s your responsibility. We are pretty good at letting them know what we like. We give them treats, praise, and petting. That’s the easy part. The other part is letting them know what we don’t like. This is the topic of many training discussions out there and there are many beliefs and methods. I subscribe to a balanced methodology and believe in punishing a poor behavior with a matter of fact, well timed, correction. This might be a leash pop, an e-collar stim or an interrupter such as a pet convincer (compressed air), or a bonker (throwing a rolled up towel). The correction needs to be a consequence that matters to the dog and this will vary from dog to dog.
Let me go through the 3 important components of a proper punishment.
- Be Matter of fact – your state of mind should be non-emotional and fair (if you are angry, examine your state of mind first). This is where an e-collar can be beneficial. With an e-collar correction, you are not physically attached to your dog and therefor your adrenaline cannot influence the level of correction.
- Be Well timed – this refers to correcting at the time of the behavior, not after (your dog will not associate a punishment for a behavior that was exhibited 10 minutes ago). Unlike humans who can rationalize to know hours later what got them in trouble, your dog lives in the moment and will only associate a punishment with what just happened. To expound even further on this, if your dog is leash reactive for instance, don’t wait until they are exploding at another dog before correcting. You have to go after the earlier signs that he is ramping up. (Wrinkle between the brows, posturing, etc.)
- Correct with the right intensity – the correction should match the level of the dogs state of mind (you will know the correction is meaningful when it stops the behavior). As I spoke of in #2, it is most efficient to correct at the first sign of the behavior when you can use a more moderate correction, vs. waiting until the dog is far gone, you will need to use a more intense correction and it will have less of an effect.
If you find yourself saying “no” to your dog repeatedly and feel like he is not listening, you are probably missing the correction. Give some balance to your dog. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how your relationship with your dog improves.
Consequences…the missing link