Did you know that most owners seek help from trainers because their dog’s behavior is out of control in one way or another? Owner’s number one complaint is that their dog pulls on the leash. To get the help you need, without causing additional problems, you need to be aware that two approaches are used to teach a heel. You can train positively, or you can train negatively. It is essential to understand that they have scientifically discredited and outdated negative methods as abusive.
Yes, eventually, some dogs will learn to remain in the heel position to avoid corrections. Another percentage will learn to aggressively react when their owners correct them or become leash aggressive toward other animals and people. If your dog reacts aggressively, who do you think it is more likely to bite – someone who is kind to it or someone who is cruel? If your dog does try to bite you, a negative trainer will suggest the use of even more abusive measures to teach your dog who is “alpha.” Studies show punishment can cause dogs to develop other behavior problems, including but not limited to aggression. Another percentage of dogs will into a behavioral meltdown meaning they refuse to do anything (picture your dog glued to a spot on the floor, trembling and unresponsive) in absolute terror of breaking some incomprehensible rule it does not understand.
Negative trainers encourage owners to use punitive methods and abusive equipment in training. What happens if either is “not enough?” Negative trainers have nothing left to fall back on, except to administer ever more abusive corrections including manhandling your dog. “More” includes but is not limited to choke, pinch and shock collars, ear pinches, toe pinches, and numerous other painful practices. It also includes “helicoptering” (using centrifugal force to cause a dog to go airborne circling around your body at the end of its leash.) Shock collars always have higher settings so if the first setting doesn’t work; it can always be turned up! All of these practices, including flat or belt style collars, can damage a dog’s neck veins, arteries, nerves or break various small neck bones. Further, it can cause hypothyroidism, ear and eye problems, excessive paw licking, front leg lameness, and other neck injuries such as tracheal collapse or whiplash.
If a trainer is willing for whatever reason (lack of knowledge, lack of concern) to abuse dogs under his tutelage, how is he going to treat you? He is not going to hesitate to call you out if you fail to follow orders or if you allow your dog fails to perform correctly. A negative trainer will continue to set you and your dog up to fail, that way he can correct you, and you can correct your dog.
Negative training takes time. During that time, problems may arise, possibly nothing as grave as described above, but the bond between you and your dog will suffer or be completely broken. Using punishments and corrections will reduce the trust your dog has in you; so, even if your dog does not develop any of undesirable behaviors or physical problems, your dog will never completely trust you again. That broken trust will make any future training you want to do more difficult. To cite an example, years ago a man was training his dog. He used a shock collar. The dog connected the punishment with its owner. When the dog broke free from its owner, and it occasionally did, it would run around wildly giving a wide berth to its owner. It would not come to the person who had been or was shocking it – it knew better. Eventually, if he acted like he was going to leave, it would come back, crawling to him and role over, submitting to the punishment it was about to receive. It was sad to watch. Obviously, I am not a devotee of correction/punishment based training.
Why would anyone pull or drag a dog into position when one does not have to? Why set a dog up for failure when one can set it up to succeed and reward it for its success? The reason has to do with some of the darkest aspects of human nature, for example, the need for control or to dominate others. Anger when one is unable to control an outcome. The need to punish someone, in this case, one’s dog, if it fails to respond appropriately and does not respond to one’s unrealistic expectations.
If you train positively, you control the setup and the sessions, meaning you largely control the results. Your sessions are easy, exciting, fun and productive. Positive Training incorporates everything you like doing with your dog and that your dog loves doing with you and tops it off by adding rewards, usually treats early on in training. You teach your dog to move into the correct position relative to you using treats and, when it gets in the right position, you reward it. You are not limited to one way to get your dog into a heel position; there are lots of ways. You are happy, your dog is happy. Life is good.
This post is not a “do-it-yourself” guide; you will still need the guidance of a good positive trainer; however, understanding the basics, and knowing why you will be doing things in a certain way will make the training easier and more effective.
This description will help you visualize what “heeling” is. Heeling, once you cue it, means your dog should stop what it is doing, turn in your direction, move in your direction, and then take specific steps so that it ends up, close to but not touching, your left leg facing in the same direction as you are. Your dog should sit in that position until you release it or decide to move. If you move, your dog should move with you, staying in position, whether you move quickly, slowly or erratically step back or to either side. When you stop, your dog should stop and sit in the heel position beside you. It will take some time before your dog can heel this fluidly. Heeling is a chained behavior, not a single behavior, like down or sit. It involves a series of moves that your dog must learn one step at a time. Only then can you pull together the various steps in the final behavior we call “heeling.”
With positive training, should your dog “fail,” you address it by taking a few minutes to reflect on what caused the dog to fail. It could be that you need to go back and retrain one or more steps, making sure you sufficiently address the three Ds (distractions, distance, and duration) of training this time. You definitely need to rethink how you set up the exercises so, next time, failure is not an option. You just fix what caused the snag and continue training. It was merely a learning opportunity – no punishment necessary! You then keep setting your dog up for success, adding the steps one at a time, and your dog for moving into the correct position relative to you and remaining there whether you are walking, running or whatever. This is a more natural, humane, and scientific way to train. You and your dog will both enjoy the process.
I introduce heel in the second session of my basic classes because before we begin to teach a dog to heel, it needs to be familiar with three commands: attention, come and sit. I encourage owners to start training inside their home if at all possible. The only distractions in your home are ones already known by your dog. This will help your dog focus on you and the task at hand. Once your dog learns the basics inside your home, you can start to extend your dog’s dependability in relation to the three Ds of training in a variety of environments and situations. Work on distractions by moving to new locations that provide ever-increasing challenges for your dog. I usually suggest a backyard next, as long as there are no significant distractions there. If your neighbors have dogs that run the fence and bark, children who are active and loud, or there is a squirrel your dog loves to chase or a bird or cat that delights in taunting your dog, or moles or voles your dog loves to dig for, it is not suited for the next step in your dog’s training. You will have to find a more suitable place to work.
You should also keep in mind that you should only increase one of the three Ds at a time. You cannot go from an area with no or low distractions to one of significant or multiple distractions. You cannot go from a single step to a hundred or from a few steps in a straight line to a complex heeling pattern. If your dog does not come to heel from three feet, it certainly will not do so from 3 yards. All of these aspects have to be worked on one at a time, over time. This process can take weeks, even months, depending what your commitment and ultimate goals are. Ultimately, if you follow a positive training method to teach your dog heel, it will learn what you expect of it and be happy to meet your expectations. I have clients whose dogs were reactive to other animals and people who can now have nice walks with dogs that no longer pull or react to anything.
Finally, in doing this work with your dog, you will learn a lot about your dog and yourself. Learning to train positively will make you a better owner and, possibly, even a better person. This is why I prefer the positive approach; now that you understand the difference, I trust you will too.
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
Behavior Consultant and Trainer
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.
Behavior Consultant and Trainer
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.
Behavior Consultant and 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.
Behavior Consultant and Trainer