As food for thought, I am going to share something that happened just this morning. I have a space heater. It is Winter. (My lizard blood is incompatible with cold.) Its filter needed cleaning. It is recommended that you use a vacuum cleaner and a brush to clean it. The process took several minutes. I am just finishing up cleaning the filter as I sit right next to my dog who likes to eat vacuum cleaners when they are on. I am vacuuming, and my dog is totally ignoring the vacuum cleaner. Nothing, no reaction from the dog. At the very end of my vacuuming, I was going to tell my dog it was good for not attacking the vacuum and, in so doing, I made the mistake of looking at my dog. Our eyes met, it saw my “what are you doing look” that was about to morph into my “good dog” look. My dog did not think twice. It interpreted my look to mean I thought it had missed something. It immediately turned into guard dog supreme. At this point, I actually got really harsh for us and uttered “hey” in a normal tone of voice. He immediately settled back in beside me and ignored the vacuum again. There is no way I can possibly describe this conversation, and it was a conversation, adequately to convey its depth and complexity to anyone who does not have that level of communication with their dog. Clever Hans effect or true communication? You be the judge
When guests enter your home, does your dog jump on them? Would you prefer that your dog politely sit? After all, even if your dog is friendly, it can easily injure guests with its jumping. Your dog might knock a guest over, breaking a hip or worse. Its paws and claws can tear a guest’s skin or clothing. Have you noticed that some of your family or friends rarely or no longer visit? If so, it may be because your dog mauls them when they do.
You have probably noticed that your visitors have learned some coping responses to your dog’s overly enthusiastic greeting ritual. Some of your guests may enthusiastically welcome your dog, seemingly enjoying the interaction. They are enablers; they are encouraging your dog’s undesirable behavior. Other guests are obviously not happy with your dog’s behavior; but, they are unsure of what is acceptable or not to you in the way of corrections. Trying to reach a compromise between choking your dog to death or having the dog maul them to death, they look at it, tell it no, and may even use their hands to deflect its jumping. Either way, to the dog, it is winning the attention trifecta.
Despite all your best efforts to stop your dog, does it still jump every time someone crosses your threshold? Do you have to hold the dog back tightly so it cannot achieve lift off? When that does not work, do you find yourself trying to wrestle your dog unsuccessfully from atop your guests? If this sounds remotely familiar, you need help.
The first thing you need to do is accept that whatever you have been doing is not working. Most owners know why their dog is jumping. It is jumping for attention. To stop the jumping, all you need to remember are two basic principles: (1) If you reward your dog for jumping, it will keep jumping; and, (2) If you do not reward your dog for jumping, it will stop jumping, eventually.
Visualize what you want your dog to do when guests come in the door. You should think that you want your dog to sit calmly to greet guests. Does your dog know to sit on command? If it does, you need to help your dog generalize the sit to all people, all of the time. If it does not, you have to teach it to sit first.
The best way to teach your dog is to work with a trainer to teach your dog basic commands. (The trainer should use positive training methods.) Once your dog learns the basic commands, ask your dog to sit every time it approaches you. Your dog needs to learn to sit automatically in front of humans. Correctly rewarding your dog is a skill. It is not about being a Pez dispenser and doling out treats nonstop. You need to vary your dog’s rewards randomly. Your trainer can help you with this.
You can practice this inside your home and in your fenced yard. Once your dog is sitting every time it approaches you, go in and out the doors to your home and encourage your dog to sit calmly before you give it attention or another reward. Next, ask close family and friends (the ones who love you enough to visit you in spite of your dog) to help you generalize the dog’s automatic sit to other visitors.
There are two scenarios in which this new calm sit comes in handy. One is with family members and friends who visit your home; the other is for everyone else anywhere else in the big wide world.
Review: Teach Your Dog to Greet People Politely
- To avoid rewarding your dog for jumping up, be sure your dog does not receive any attention at all for jumping up. Jumping should signal an immediate and complete end to any interaction with the dog.
- No doubt your dog may occasionally jump as the two of you work to develop its new automatic, calm sit. If your dog jumps up on you, turn 180 degrees or more. Do not look at, touch or talk to the dog while it is jumping. You should find the turn causes your dog’s paws to fall off your body. If the dog jumps again, repeat. If turning is inadequate, turn and walk away. Once your dog stops jumping, turn back to it and ask for a sit. If it sits, reward it. If the dog pops up again, turn around and walk away again. Keep in mind that the longer your dog has been exhibiting this behavior, the longer it will take to extinguish it.
- An alternative to the turning method is to use a leash to teach your dog a more appropriate greeting. You secure your dog to a 6-foot leash and, with a carabiner, attach it to a heavy piece of furniture, or create a tether station by screwing an eyebolt into a wall stud and clipping the tether to it. Once your dog is on its tether, approach it. If your dog leaps around or up in greeting, stand still and wait until your dog calmly sits and then reward it. Anytime your dog starts to act up, stop and stand still. You want to be close enough to touch your dog but not so close it can put its feet on you.
Initially, most dogs resume jumping up when petted. If this happens, step back out of the dog’s range and wait for it to sit again. You may have to repeat this approach/withdraw exercise numerous times before your dog understands that jumping up makes you go away and that, when it sits, you approach.
More than likely, there are enablers lurking in your immediate circle who may say they do not mind the dog jumping on them. If you do not prepare for this eventuality, it will, at the very least, confuse your dog and, at worse, erase all your hard work. To prepare for an enabler, train your dog to jump up on cue. The cue should be distinct. I use my open hands to pat myself on the chest and say “jump” to let my dog know I want it to jump up and put its paws on me. If your dog understands it is only allowed to jump when cued, the enabler’s actions will not thwart all your hard work.
If a tether is not immediately available, and you substantially outweigh your dog, you can use a six-foot leash. You should attach the leash to your dog’s collar as usual. Hold the loop end of the leash in one hand with your arm hanging down at your side. If your dog is beside you, allow the leash to touch the floor between you and your dog. Place your foot on top of the leash where it meets the floor and shift your weight onto the leash, this should prevent your dog from jumping up.
As with most types of training, your success depends on consistency, patience, repetition and time.
My last blog addressed how a trainer’s attitude could affect his dog training efforts. Here are some additional thoughts about dog training that I want to share with you.
Have you heard of dog body language? If so, did you bother to look into it? Alternatively, did you assume what you think you know about how a dog “looks” is correct? What if you are wrong? It is easy to misinterpret dog body language, especially if you believe in “alpha dog” theory.
Either way, whether you are familiar dog body language or not; I have great news for you! A knowledge of dog body language and good observation skills are a virtual window into your dog thoughts and feelings. You can gauge how your training methods are affecting your dog! It does not get better than that in training!
All trainers use one or more aspects of classical and operant conditioning. Some trainers understand they are, and some deny it. The deniers are more likely to be “alpha dog” trainers. There are so many negatives to alpha dog style training that I plan to address them in another post in the future.
I am also not going into the technicalities of either approach here. There is plenty of information on the internet regarding classical and operant conditioning. It is learning theory. What I am going to do is compare differences between a dog trained with aversives versus one trained with positive reinforcement. I am generalizing my observations.
I am writing from the perspective of having used negatives in the past and, then, learning a better approach. I do occasionally use negatives today; however, the negatives do not involve force or punitive devices, such as pinch, choke or e-stim (shock) collars. I might, though, turn in a circle if a dog jumps up, putting its paws on me. Turning in a circle makes it difficult for the dog to keep standing with its paws on me. More importantly, I am not going to look at the dog, touch the dog or say anything to the dog. Not giving the dog attention by looking, touching or talking to the dog, is the punishment. The dog is jumping for attention. If I look at, touch or talk to the dog, it would be rewarding the dog with what it wants for jumping. I only pay attention to the dog when all four of its paws are on the ground, which is what I want.
Moving on to the point of this post, when one is aware of and familiar with dog body language, one can see subtle telltale signals indicating a dog is enjoying or is not enjoying the training. Negative emotions can impede learning, making it more difficult to train a behavior. Negatives can cause fear or aggression in obvious and unforeseen ways.
When one is knowledgeable about dog body language, one can easily distinguish between a dog trained by a good clicker trainer and a dog trained by an “alpha dog” trainer.
In my last blog, I talked about owner attitude, saying that owners need to have a good attitude. They need reasonable expectations. They need to understand ownership is a two-way street. It is not just about you and what you want. You can try to fit a round life dog into your square peg life; however, if you do, you are going to have problems. How does this happen? That’s an easy question. The vast majority of people get a dog because of the way it looks.
Why you don’t want to get a dog based on its appearance. There are numerous breeds for a reason, not just so you have a choice of sizes, colors, shapes, hair lengths, etc., from which to choose. One day, when genetics catches up with our doggie desires, we will be able to order a dog tailor-made to our specifications. Won’t that be fun? We want a dog that looks like a Husky that wants to be a couch potato. Or, say, an English Bulldog with endless stamina that wants to run five miles with us every other day. A Beagle that doesn’t care to sniff anything, much less follow a trail. Any of the “guard” breeds without the inclination to guard. We probably will be able to do that one day; but, that is a pretty screwed up reason to play with genetics.
I digress. The closest we can get to choosing qualities in a perspective canine companion is by choosing a breed suitable to our lifestyle. Forget how the dog looks. While you may think that is of paramount importance, it is not. What is important is that your future dog wants to do what you want to do, especially with it. Do you want to take long, leisurely walks? Don’t choose a dog that wants to snuggle up on your pillows like a princess. Choose a dog bred for that purpose. Do you want to look like a queen as you stroll along with an Afghan? Afghans are bred to run, not walk. How do you plan to meet their exercise needs? Weims are another breed that people get thinking they are getting a completely different dog than they are. Did you fall in love with a William Wegman photograph of a Weim? The dog or dogs are sitting, standing, laying perfectly still (it is a photograph), elegantly, regally gazing at you with their beautiful eyes. Yeah, right. I am much more likely to see the whites of a wigged-out Weim’s eyes after its owner has driven it blubbering crazy because of its stubborn but extremely soft nature.
All but one or two small dog breeds tend to be quite chatty. By chatty, I mean that they bark, a lot, almost non-stop. I could go on for hours. More than one breeder is probably calling for my lynching now, but I am not faulting any breed or even breeder here.
I am talking about owners who foolishly choose a dog because they like the way it looks, setting themselves up for failure. If they get a Shepherd that has one ear that never stands, they get rid of it. When they figure out that keeping most long-haired dogs means grooming, they get rid of it or let it mat so badly that the mats have infections under them or host undesirable creatures, like maggots, living them. I have seen dogs so matted that they could barely walk from mats.
If you are in the market for a dog, take some time to think about the personality traits you would like to have in a dog. Do you want to spend endless hours cleaning up dog hair? Surprise, some long-haired dogs shed less than short haired dogs. Are you a couch potato? Don’t get a dog that needs plenty of exercise.
The dog you finally choose should be and will be a reflection of you. Do not set you and the dog up for failure. You will be okay if the relationship does not work out. Sadly, if you do not make a lifetime commitment to your new friend and end up rehoming the dog or surrendering it to an animal shelter, it is likely a death sentence. This applies even if you try hard to find it a good home and think that you have.
Today, there is a significant and ongoing debate on the best way to train a dog. I want to add a new perspective to that discussion.
Think about your attitude. Are you a positive person or a negative person? It makes a difference.
Someone with a good attitude sees the world differently than someone who does not. We may be genetically programmed one way or the other; however, we still control our actions. We can significantly influence our attitudes. Changing one’s attitude for the better can improve the human/animal bond and, therefore, one’s effectiveness as a trainer.
Everyone has had the experience of approaching someone who appears angry and annoyed. That person’s body language almost screams, “No Trespassing, Stay Away!” While one may not be able to change one’s demeanor, one can change one’s approach to others. Focus less on oneself and more on others. It is not all about you, contrary to popular opinion. Let’s all work to bring back something forgotten and no longer fashionable. Motors have grease and oil to cushion their parts and run better. Social interactions have rules that make those interactions with another easier and more pleasant. It is called manners. If you want to receive better treatment, try respecting others. That is good advice generally and especially important when working with a dog.
You don’t want to give off the “vibes” of a negative person. Doing so tells the world that you feel threatened, hunted, in immediate danger of attack, or like a victim, real or imagined. It is like putting a sign on your chest asking to be abused or mistreated. It is that simple.
Approaching others with a smile on your face and good manners will take you far in life. A bad attitude also may cause you to accept the alpha dog theory of dog training. You believe you must stay on guard, ready to punish your dog for any possible infraction of your rules or imagined position of superiority.
Having used both types of training, positive and punishment, let me assure you that the position of power is positive. It is also more humane than the alternative.
Some Memphis dog trainers may recommend that you use a shock collar as a training aid. A recent study has proven that shock collars, which are also known as e-collars or electronic collars, have been shown to have negative effects on dogs. And, as the shock goes higher, these bad effects only get worse.
The study used 63 dogs that were split into 3 groups. One group used industry approved electronic collars according to manufacturer guidelines. The other 2 groups were not trained with e-collars. The end result? The shock collars “did not result in a substantially superior response to training in comparison to similarly experienced trainers who do not use e-collars to improve recall and control chasing behaviour. Accordingly, it seems that the routine use of e-collars even in accordance with best practice, as suggested by collar manufacturers, presents a risk to the well-being of pet dogs. The scale of this risk would be expected to be increased when practice falls outside of this ideal.”
So, basically, even when used by professionals, this is not the best way to train your dog and can affect them negatively. For more information about the study, please visit The Welfare Consequences and Efficacy of Training Pet Dogs with Remote Electronic Training Collars in Comparison to Reward Based Training or Every Dog Owner Should Know About This New Shock Collar Study
For more information about training your dog using positive methods, contact me at (901) 488-9238 any time.
I have another obedience class starting in a week and I was thinking about something that I often tell my students; I tell them that “less is more” in training. I say this because most people, early on in training, are all over the place with their communications. I prefer to see less body movement (especially from the hands), less intent looks, less frustration, and less talking. Less really is more because, otherwise, we confuse dogs.
We are going to talk about “body language” from a more complete perspective than usual, and we will include looks, voice and other noises, all movements, attitude, etc., in other words, the totality of your communication with your dog. Ask yourself, which type am I? Am I extremely sparse with my body language; barely giving a hint to my dog of what I like or don’t like? Or, am I all over the place; throwing multiple signals, knowingly or not, large and small, in all directions, all the time? Do I chatter nonstop so my dog comes to ignore me because I am always talking? Or, do I talk to my dog enough to let my dog know what I want? Am I always up in my attitude or, worse, always down? Are you one of those people who endlessly switches back and forth between the above options and more? Are you consistent in commands, using one word commands, giving the command once, and giving your dog an adequate chance to respond? Do you repeat your commands over and over, although the dog is barely responding or not responding at all? Are you consistent between your feelings and how you communicate with your dog?
If we are upset with a dog and say “good dog,” the dog is going to know we are not pleased. Much like a young child, it will probably sense our displeasure and, as a result, this will negatively impact its future responses. If this happens, one might see one’s dog start to throw off “calming signals,” or exhibit avoidance or displacement behaviors.
Every first time trainer is handicapped in one way or another in relation to training. The important thing is that we learn to make adjustments in our body language and approaches as necessary. It is critical that we are as clear, concise, and consistent with our instructions as humanly possible. If we like something, we need to make that clear. In addition to saying “good dog,” we need to make our body language consistent with being pleased. We need to change our voices slightly, going up slightly and sounding happy when the dog does something correct. If we are not pleased with a dog’s response, we need to keep our face neutral and voice normal. By the time one scowls at a dog, snarls out a forceful “no,” and physically corrects a dog, one has definitely gone into overkill and it will hurt your relationship with your dog and negatively impact your dog’s performance for some time. This is not a desirable result. A dog needs to understand that whatever he has chosen to do is or is not the option you would have chosen for him.
Remember: Your dog is a reflection of you and your training methods.