Sometimes, dogs being dogs is just too much for their human owners to handle. That’s why we need to help our canine companions to learn when we’re happy for them to do certain things, and when we’re not
Posted: 05 July 2019
What’s the thing that your dog does that you find baffling, frustrating or even downright annoying?Barking at people walking past the window, ripping up the post, digging holes in the lawn, eating food out of the bin or running off with your slippers? Whatever the waggy-tailed trait that drives you up the wall, the fact is, your dog is not doing it to be naughty – he or she is simply exhibiting normal canine behaviours.
Tamsin Durson of rehoming charity Dogs Trust says: “Puppies are not born knowing which behaviours are okay from our point of view, and which are not, so although we might not always like the way our dogs are behaving, they can’t misbehave deliberately, and doing things just to spite us is just not possible for dogs. They only know whether behaving a certain way works out well for them and results in something great happening, or not. If a certain action makes them feel good then they’re likely to behave that way again, but if it doesn’t work out so well for them, they’re unlikely to bother doing it again.”
Tamsin stresses that it is up to us humans to help our dogs learn when we’re happy for them to do certain things and when we’re not – otherwise, how else can they know what we expect from them? She adds: “It’s up to us to teach our dogs what to do to get a good outcome, making sure we always reward the behaviours that we want them to do again.”
She cites the example of chasing – which is something most dogs love to do and will find very frustrating if they can’t: “We can teach our dogs that it’s okay to enjoy chasing a toy, all safely under our control, but teach them not to run off chasing after joggers or motorbikes and to stay close to us instead. Unlike children, we can’t necessarily teach dogs to understand the risks involved with chasing things like traffic, but we can teach them a much safer alternative and make it so rewarding for them that they’ll always choose that instead, and it will become their routine behaviour through practice.”
Of course, practice makes perfect and, like all worthwhile things, teaching your dog the best ways to fit in with the challenges of everyday human life while being happy and confident will take time. Dogs Trust School has some top tips that are a great starting point.
1. A trusting relationship is key
It’s important to build a strong, lasting bond with your dog so that they can trust you to keep them feeling safe and secure and lead them away from dangerous, frightening or over-exciting situations where they might easily become overwhelmed. Having fun with your dog, playing with them, training them and getting them out and about to explore the world around them, as well as settling down for quiet time together too and giving them confidence on their own, will help your bond go from strength to strength.
2. Understand what your dog tells you and how to give them what they need to be happy
Learning exactly what your dog needs to be happy and confident, as well as how to recognise how they are communicating with you and what they need from you at any given moment will enhance your relationship and help your dog to trust you.
3. Preparation makes perfect – setting things up for success
You can help your dog to behave well by guiding them into being much more likely to make good choices, so they just can’t go wrong in the first place. Ask yourself “how can I set things up so my dog will behave in the right way?” before you do anything new, then prepare what you need to make sure your dog does well. For example, if you’re visiting friends with your dog this might be very exciting. They might jump up, bark and be unsettled. Planning ahead and taking calm, relaxing things for your dog to do, such as their blanket to lie on with a long-lasting tasty treat or food-stuffed Kong toy, gives them something quiet, rewarding and enjoyable to do that you can be proud of.
4. Always reward good behaviour
Dogs learn through the consequences of their own actions. If something good happens to them directly in response to their behaviour, they’ll be more likely to behave that way again as it worked out well for them. If things don’t work out well for them, they probably won’t behave that way again. We can help them learn that ‘good behaviour makes good things happen’ by always being ready to reward them for being good, or by making the way we’d like them to behave rewarding all by itself. Rewards can be anything that your dog likes – from being groomed to travelling in the car – whatever your dog enjoys. All dogs are different so they will all find different things rewarding. However, most dogs enjoy food, toys and our attention.
5. Ignore – or interrupt if you can’t – unwanted behaviour
If your dog is behaving in a way that you’d prefer they didn’t be careful not to accidentally reward this by giving them attention in any form. If you can, ignore them until they are doing something different that you do like and reward that much better choice. If you can’t ignore them – they might be doing something dangerous or upsetting someone else – then interrupt them calmly and quietly, without too much direct attention, and give them something else to do instead that you are happy about and can then reward so they know this is a much better choice in future.
6. There’s no need to punish – getting angry never helps
Dogs Trust Dog School encourages fun, reward-based training so that your dog will always enjoy learning and does not advocate any training which causes pain or fear. Your dog needs you to be someone they can trust to guide them safely through life – getting cross or frustrated when they’re getting things wrong is counter-productive.
7. Be clear and consistent
Consistency means always giving your dog clear guidance on how you’d like them to behave and making this good behaviour rewarding for them, so they’ll do it again. Making sure everyone in your household treats your dog in the same way means they won’t become confused. Think carefully about how you would like your dog to behave and make sure you always reward these behaviours. Decide on a rule and be consistent in sticking to it so your dog always knows what to expect.
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