The new puppy Levi, is doing what normal puppies do: he’s using his teeth to explore.
At the moment, he’s exploring a hand that’s been offered. I hear “Ow! No!” and watch as the offered hand remains well within the puppy’s reach, dangling enticingly, despite the protesting voice.
Again, “Ow, no!” this time with a little more, shall we say, enthusiasm. Yet still, the wiggling fingers dangle oh so close to the puppy teeth.
“Ow! Dang it, stop it!” Finally, I can take no more. The puppy clearly isn’t learning anything. The person clearly isn’t learning anything. I step in and tell the person to simply withdraw their hand from the puppy. The quizzical look surprises me. Doesn’t this make sense to everyone, I wonder? When one touches a hot stove, how many need to reach out again and again to see if it’s still hot? Yet when it comes to a puppy or dog, people don’t seem to come to this logical conclusion.
Maybe the fact that dogs seem to understand to much most of the time that renders people incapable of following basic logic, but I find myself daily instructing people on seemingly straightforward matters that involve dogs.
Whatever the reason, people tend to abandon common sense in their interactions with dogs. I’m here to lobby on behalf of dogs who are quite uncomplicated and need to know what they should be doing, not what you don’t want them to do. This article explains how and why it’s much easier and more efficient to focus on what you’d like your dog to do. It’s a version of Do This, Not That (DTNT), but doggie-style.
Focus on the Do This Part
Too many people focus only on the “Not That” part of DTNT.
And they stop there. Imagine this scenario:
You have a new job and your responsibilities weren’t clearly explained. The phone rings and you answer “Hello, this is Julie” with a smile in your voice. Your boss comes out, slams his hand on the desk and says “No!”
A little later, the phone rings again, you answer with your standard “Hello, this is Julie,” and again your boss emerges, slams his hand on the desk and says “No!”
You go about your day, making copies, filing things, and when it rings, answering the phone. You don’t get any feedback on anything, other than the “No!” when you pick up the phone.
How much are you learning? How confident do you feel in your new job? Do you have any idea why your boss is yelling “No!”? Nope. And pretty soon, you’re going to stop answering the phone altogether because it’s just so confusing as well as aversive.
Now, how about this scenario instead:
You answer the phone when it rings, “Hello, this is Julie” with a smile in your voice. Later in the day, your boss stops by your desk, welcomes you to the team and explains that the company likes the phones answered by stating the company name first. “Acme Production, this is Julie.”
What a difference, right?
In so many ways. All too often, we stop halfway when teaching our dogs. We focus solely on the stopping of something that we forget to teach the dog what to do. And the what to do is the most important part of the equation!
Real Life Examples
I’m raising a puppy again for service work.
He’s 11-weeks old and he’s into everything. If I spent my day focusing on the things he’s doing wrong, there wouldn’t be time for anything else. And I’d just be “putting out fires” all day, not teaching him anything useful.
He tends to bark a lot when he gets overexcited. I could tell him “No!” every time he gets overexcited, but that’d do nothing to calm him down, wouldn’t teach him what to do, and would make me (and him) really frustrated. Instead, I simply separate him from the other dogs (either he’s leashed to me or he’s in his crate) for five minutes or so until he settles down. By doing this, I’m actually teaching him some self control, I’m not letting bad habits develop, and I’m maintaining some sense of peace in the house – for me and the other dogs.
If you want your dog to quit nipping your pants as you go downstairs in the morning, have a stuffed toy at the top of the stairs.
Grab it as you walk down and offer it to the dog instead of having him grab your pants. The dog wants to play. You want to walk unencumbered down the stairs. By offering the toy, you both get what you want! But if you focus solely on “No! No! No!” every time the dog bites your pant legs, you’re going to be pretty frustrated – and so will your dog.
When you feel like all your doing is correcting bad behavior, step away from the problem for a minute (or ten).
Take a break. Grab a cup of coffee, sit down at the table and write down what you’d like the dog to do. Your list should contain no words like “stop doing x,” “quit doing y,” or “listen to me.” I want you to write down specific, achievable things like “I want the dog to chew on his toy instead of me.” Or “I want the dog to sit instead of jump on me.” Or “I want the dog to drop my shoe when I ask him.”
You can solve many of the problems quickly and easily.
Substitute a chew toy for your pants (or hand), ask your dog to sit before he jumps on you, teach your dog to give up things nicely before he steals something again.
The easy, permanent — and fair — solution is to teach your dog what you want him to do.
If you need help finding a qualified positive reinforcement trainer, drop me a line. I’d be happy to help you find someone who can help you and your dog.