The dog is playfully grabbing your pants, tugging and growling, having the time of his life.
You, on the other hand, aren’t enjoying this at all.You’re saying “No! Get off! NO!” to no avail. The dog is still hanging on, tugging harder even. Everything you do seems to make the situation worse – the dog seems to be enjoying himself even more. What’s a good dog owner to do?
I’m here with the answers that will solve 80% of your problems.
There are three things you need to do: redirect your dog to do something else, substitute what he has in his mouth to something more appropriate, and then (this is the part that most people forget, yet is just as important as the other two things) reward the dog for doing the right thing. Let’s break these three elements down into smaller pieces, so you can use each of them to make your life a little easier (and your dog’s, too).
Redirect Your Dog
What is it? Redirect is a fancy way of saying “do this, not that.” Instead of barking at the cat, for instance, how about coming to me and sitting? When you redirect your dog’s attention away from something, you’re in effect, setting your dog up for success. And isn’t that what we’re ultimately after anyway – a dog that makes the right choices? A dog that does the right thing? It’s much more fun to say “Good dog!” than it is to say “No!” (For you and your dog.)
When should you use it? The key to redirection is to use it early. Redirect your dog before he’s invested in whatever havoc he’s ready to wreak. It doesn’t do much good to redirect your dog after he’s dug a hole under the fence. That’s a little too late. The ideal time to redirect a digging dog is the instant he begins to dig. Or, really, the perfect time is just as you see him sniffing for the perfect spot to dig.
How do you do it? To redirect your dog, simply call his name in a happy voice. This is crucial – so many people use a harsh, demanding voice to get their dog’s attention. You’re setting yourself up for failure by doing this. I understand how tempting it is to do this; to demand that the dog look at you. Demands will get you only so far with your dog. Demanding is short sighted. Demands will eventually fail you. You can’t go wrong with cooperation and a dog that wants to listen to you. After calling your dog’s name, when he looks at you, give him something else to do instead of whatever he’s about to do. For example, if your dog is getting ready to dig, call his name and take off running. He’ll enjoy a game of chase and you have interrupted the digging. Great work – you stopped a habit before it got a chance to put down roots.
Substitute Bad Things with Good Things
What is it? Substitution is exactly what you think it is: giving the dog something else to chew on, rip apart, jump on, instead of what he’s currently chewing, ripping, jumping. For instance, if your dog is chewing on your arm, substituting a chew toy is very effective. Your dog needs to do doggie things, but you don’t have to accept that because the dog needs to chew, it’s ok that he chews on your arm, your pants, your sofa, the leash, etc. You can choose to substitute appropriate items so that your dog is engaging only with the things you want.
When should you use it?
Use substitution anytime and anywhere the dog is ruining something, making a mess, aggravating a person/dog/wildlife, etc. Basically, use substitution liberally!
How do you do it?
Substitution is fairly easy – simply offer your dog the alternative item or activity. For instance, if your dog is chewing on your wooden coffee table, substitute a hard chew toy. Your message is “I know you need to chew. Chew on this, not that.”
Reward Your Dog
What is it? Rewarding your dog tells him that you like what he’s doing. If you reward frequently, you can eliminate yelling, punishing, and corrections from your repertoire of training tools. Sound too good to be true? It’s a fact: dogs do what works. If you reward your dog for doing something you like, he will repeat it. Period. The more he repeats the good behavior, the less he’ll engage in the bad behavior, solely because he gets rewarded for the good behavior. All of that can happen without corrections, honest.
When should you use it? It’s really hard to overuse rewards! In fact, people don’t use rewards enough in their daily interactions – with dogs and with people! Basically, if your dog isn’t doing something bad, you should be rewarding him. “Wait a minute,” I hear you saying. “I can’t reward my dog all the time, he’d be a fat pig if I gave him a treat for not being bad!” You’ll notice I didn’t say, “feed a treat.” I simply said “reward.” My dogs think all of these things are rewarding: chasing me, being chased, playing, going outside, coming inside, getting on the couch, getting out of the crate, going into the crate, getting a treat, getting a belly rub, hearing me talk in a high-pitched voice, playing with a toy with me, and the list is almost endless. Make your own list of things your dog enjoys and use those rewards liberally when your dog is doing something you like. And remember: if it’s not bad, you should be rewarding it!
Redirect, substitute, and reward – for many basic dog issues, these three tools will improve your dog’s behavior and decrease your stress level in dealing with them.
Remember, the key to good behavior is setting your dog up to succeed from the beginning. If you wait to intervene until after there’s already a problem, it’ll take longer to get back to “good dog” than if you start out with these three tools.
Talk to me.
What do you think of substituting, redirecting, and rewarding? Does it sound too good to be true? Or have you had success with these tools? Leave a comment and let me know!
Lauren Michelle Major says
I really like substituting and it works great in the house, in the back yard, in friends homes (without other pets), outside when there aren’t other dogs. In fact, when he is the only dog around he very rarely gets into trouble, I think he only gets into actual trouble once every few weeks. Unfortunately the minute another dog engages with him he couldn’t care less what I say, do, or offer. What’s the best way to redirect him in those situations? I want him to be social and enjoy other dogs’ company, but how do I effectively redirect him in situations when he refuses to pay attention to anything other than this other dog? Thank you!