Why should a dog respond to you in an instant? Could there be a few reasons why training isn’t what you expected? Great insight and making you think on your feet from Nicole.
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I’ve seen it way too many times. An owner has asked a dog to do something, and the dog doesn’t do it…so the owner repeats the request more loudly. (Have I mentioned that dogs can hear a potato chip hit the carpet in the next room? The dog heard the cue the first time!) If the dog still doesn’t comply, the owner gets frustrated, or perhaps even angry. Depending on what the person feels is acceptable human behavior, the dog may then get jerked, shaken, or worse.
Why do we become so upset when dogs don’t comply with our requests? Well, for one thing, we anthropomorphize. We think, He blew me off! Or She’s just being stubborn! The truth is, dogs don’t do what we want when we want for a variety of reasons. Here are just a few possible scenarios:
1. The dog simply doesn’t know the behavior well…
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We all love our dogs to bits; but aren’t there just some habits – like jumping up – that can get a bit annoying after a while? (Imagine how your guests feel!) Then there are the attention-seeking habits you don’t even realize are happening.
Does your dog have your attention ‘on tap’ every waking hour of every day? Who exactly is living on whose terms?
Why do we accept some attention-seeking behaviours as just part of our dog’s personality? And when do those attention-seeking habits turn into truly “bad habits,” usually causing a dog owner to seek out professional help? Why do dog owners wait until they are at “the end of their rope” to start talking about changing or stopping these unacceptable habits?
Let’s take a closer look at some of our dog’s attention-seeking patterns that can often turn into habitual and challenging behaviours.
What is a habit? Here’s how “habit” is defined in the Dictionary.com:
1 [hab-it] Show IPA noun
- An acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary: the habit of looking both ways before crossing the street.
- Customary practice or use: daily bathing is an American habit.
- A particular practice, custom, or usage: the habit of shaking hands.
- A dominant or regular disposition or tendency; prevailing character or quality: she has a habit of looking at the bright side of things.
- Addiction, especially to narcotics (often preceded by “the”).
A lot of our own habits, as well as those of our dogs, fall under one of the five definitions above. When we focus on teaching our dog ‘good habits,’ we are aiming for the first definition. For example: when teaching a dog to “sit,” we repeat this behaviour repeatedly, usually with food rewards, until the dog starts doing it without thinking about it anymore. This pattern of behaviour has now become involuntary. This is what true “training” is all about. But what if demanding your attention on a 24/7 basis has become your dog’s new pattern of behaviour or habit?
Well, your dog is now addicted to your attention and will do ANYTHING to get it! (See definition #5 above!)
The Top 10 Dog Attention-Seeking (or addictive) Habits (some obvious ones are first):
- Jumping up on you (or others)
- Barking or whining at you
- Pawing or nosing you
- Bringing something to play with to you and demanding you join in
- Rolling over to get their belly rubbed (oh yes, it works every time!)
Below are some of the more subtle habits which – at first glance – might not seem to be about you at all or even attention-seeking. But each of these habits were developed or encouraged while giving your dog attention (either positively or negatively):
- Sitting on your feet, leaning against your leg or placing their head in your lap
- Playing or chewing something they are not allowed to have, turning it into a game
- Chewing or licking themselves (sometimes loudly)
- Chasing their tail or chasing light or shadows
- Barking at something when there seems to be nothing there
Now, these latter behaviours may start out as attention-seeking behaviours; but did you know that most of them can turn into almost neurotic behaviours if:
- Your dog is encouraged to continue the behaviour; or
- Your dog is under a lot of stress and uses one of these habits to cope with that stress?
I could go on and on with this list as dogs are highly intelligent creatures and know us inside out (sometime better than we know ourselves!). Where and whenever they received your attention, they will probably use that exact same behaviour again if something else doesn’t work to get your attention!
Well I may have already given this one away when I said “Instantly” in the title; because the easy answer is to just Ignore It!
The hardest part in stopping these habits is to be aware of them in the first place! Once you are more aware of your dog’s behaviour, ask yourself, ‘Is my dog trying to get my attention on their terms or mine?’
If the answer is “on their terms,” then look away instantly; moving your whole head, not just your eyes. Remember, they are trying to get your attention! So moving your eyes is good, but if your dog is a pro at this (and most are), they will simply move back into your line of sight. By moving your head away (along with your eye focus) you are delivering a stronger message to your dog that you do not want to interact at the moment. Try it! You will still be able to see your dog in your peripheral vision. Just do not look at him or her directly … doing so means “attention” to your dog.
Some of your dog’s behaviours are also about personal space. We all have personal space, humans and canines. Our dogs need to understand when we want our personal space back. You can use the technique of looking away (as you learned above) for more annoying attention-seeking habits as well … like jumping up on you. If your dog begins jumping up on you, either move away from the dog (if you are standing up) or gently (but quickly) push your dog out of your space and let go. Do not speak to them. If you’re still holding onto your dog’s collar at this point or if your hand is still lingering on their body, your addicted dog may very well misinterpret your real intent and enthusiastically try to make this into a fun new game! Keep your actions calm, assertive, yet gentle, so your dog doesn’t see your actions as exciting and engaging like when you DO want to interact with your dog.
Quiet confidence will effectively get your message across. If you do forget and speak to your dog, just watch how quickly your dog gets excited (or even overexcited)! (Translation: Woo Hoo, I just got their attention!)
You are now teaching your dog that attention on your terms is about Quality not Quantity.
For habits that are more subtle (but can still turn into more serious behavioural problems if allowed to continue) or if you are having trouble discouraging unwanted attention-seeking behaviour, seek a professional’s advice.
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Do you go for walks with your dog happily trotting by your side? Or do you feel like you are being dragged behind a heat-seeking missile with absolutely no steering (or brake for that matter), just waiting for disaster to strike?!
Ever wonder how some dog owners make walking their dog look like pure pleasure?
Ever wondered how an 11-year old girl can easily lead her pony without being dragged in every direction? (Especially when full-grown adults are being dragged off-course by dogs half their size?!)
Want to know their secret?
The answer is simple; they were taught to behave this way.
Someone put the necessary time, effort and knowledge into teaching that pony (or dog) – at a young age and before bad behaviour set in – what is (and isn’t) acceptable behaviour. We all know that a child would not be able to hold onto something as powerful as a horse, especially if the horse was young, wild and untrained.
So why don’t we think in the same terms with our dogs?
Imagine if you were to alter your mindset when it comes to your dog. What if you put a wolf in the place of your dog; wouldn’t you show greater respect for that creature and treat it differently? Now, what if that wolf wasn’t properly trained with care and kindness? Imagine the mayhem, fear and even injury that could result! Wouldn’t you feel responsible if you were to get this wrong?
So why do we look at our dogs so differently? If left untrained, wouldn’t they be as likely to cause mayhem, fear or injury as the wolf? Of course! So let’s start working on that new mindset below.
Teaching Your Dog
Puppies and dogs learn in the exact same way, by experience. Those behaviours that feel pleasurable will most likely happen again. Using positive praise and rewards will work, but only if you give these at the right time. For instance, your dog starts pulling on the lead and you start speaking to him, telling him to behave, go easy, slow down and so on. But when he is walking nicely beside you, he gets very little positive interaction from you. So which behaviour do you think he is more likely to repeat?
I always teach my clients to get their pup or dog happily walking beside them at home without the use of a lead. Why? Because this helps your dog quickly learn that they can be part of the team and get your positive interaction without being coerced or dragged into place. The idea is to make it fun – almost like a game of “follow the leader” – to help your dog learn to walk beside you. With lots of short 5-minute “games,” you will begin to easily ingrain this “good” habit or behaviour as a natural way of your dog walking with you, without consciously thinking about it.
Practise walking in different directions, stopping and starting, while encouraging your dog to stay with you at your side. Keeping it short and fun means you will both want to repeat this as often as you have time throughout the day. Once your dog understands he needs to be consistently at your side, you can increase and decrease your pace and do more complicated manoeuvres. Once your dog can keep up, it’s time for the next step!
You will now add the lead to the equation; because it is no longer the tool to “make” your dog walk nicely at your side. You have already practised (and achieved) that part! The lead is used to keep your “wolf” alongside you if it sees other distractions and to keep it safe from making mistakes until it learns the “way of the world.” A lot of social spaces demand that dogs be on leads; you and your dog can do this easily and happily now, because you have taught your dog that being by your side is a really nice place to be!
Once out in the world, remember you must keep letting your dog know you are still playing the game with the same encouragement of praise and some rewards. If your dog gets distracted by something, just stop and stand quietly, then change direction and call your dog to you, praising it when he comes.
Don’t set yourself or your dog up to fail.
Start with a 5-minute walk and – if all goes well – increase the walk time in increments (instead of going from 5-minutes to an hour walk in one single leap). How about doing two 10-minute walks instead of a 20-minute walk? This keeps things fun and fresh (for both of you!) and it’s probably easier for you to find the time in your day instead of taking a 20- or 30-minute block out of your busy schedule!
So, as you’ve seen, there really is no “secret” to having a well-mannered dog, it just takes some well-invested time, patience and knowledge at the beginning to be able to enjoy your walks with your dog for the rest of your time together.
Most pet owners know that owning a dog (or cat) offers many wonderful benefits. They make us feel loved and cherished; they are always ready and willing to listen and cuddle close whenever we need it. They also make us laugh and feel part of something much bigger than just ourselves.
If you have a dog, or cat, with a sweet, loving and generous nature, have you ever thought that they could also help other people like they help you?
For the past few years, my two Border Terriers and I have been visiting older people with dementia and more recently, younger people with learning or physical disabilities. These visits are known as pet therapy (UK) or animal-assisted therapy (USA) for individuals with certain physical or mental challenges or disabilities.
Doing pet therapy means volunteering your time usually with a registered charity like P.A.T. (Pets As Therapy) or a similar organisation. These charities are aware of which hospitals, residential and nursing homes, hospices, etc., are looking for people to volunteer with their pets. In addition, these establishments also know which particular clients are interested in meeting your pet; this guidance is critical in ensuring a pleasant and rewarding experience … as not everyone is an animal lover.
My girls seem to love these visits immensely, meeting and being fussed over by different people and I have to say it always makes my day too! Seeing so many faces light up with huge smiles all because a dog has entered the room.
Some of these same people may have had to give up a beloved pet in order to be looked after full-time and others may have lost a dog in their lives that they still miss. These visits always create and bring such joy and positivity to not only these people’s lives, but also for the dog and its owner. Without a doubt, everyone is left with happy new memories from one of these visits.
Did you also know that pet therapy is believed to improve things like high blood pressure, actively stimulate thought processes and memories and also help promote positive mental health? To see someone who barely speaks on a day-to-day basis start to chat and interact with your dog and then to the people around them about their own dog, is so satisfying and heartwarming.
If you want to feel like a beaming, proud mum or dad, there is nothing better than hearing from the staff that your visit was remembered for days afterwards by the same people who sometimes can’t even remember their own name or where they are! That is the power of the dog … connecting and offering unconditional love to everyone they meet! Just like your pet does everyday with you, your dog makes everyone feel good about themselves and always leaves behind a smile and new happy memories of the time spent together.
While it may not be the first thing that pops into your head when it comes to volunteering and animals, nothing beats volunteering with your own dog or cat for such a good cause.
If you would like to know more about this subject, please visit P.A.T. at www.PetsAsTherapy.org or Animal-Assisted Therapy at www.animaltherapy.net/How%20to%20get%20started.html today and make someone’s day brighter (including your own!) with some pet therapy.
I’d love to hear from you if you have volunteered with your pet or are thinking about it, please leave a comment or share your story below.