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Helping Your Dog Learn from Everyday Living

In This Chapter

Dogs and people really do want the same thing: They want to get along and spend time together. Unfortunately, no one can enjoy an ill-mannered dog, which leads to a vicious cycle: left at home or corralled into a kitchen, this dog learns nothing about the world and how to behave. When finally invited into the family circle, the dog is simply bursting with excitement but has never been adequately educated to know what to do. So his hyperactivity becomes annoying to his human family, resulting in further isolation but no further learning.
To survive as a good human companion, a dog must learn what to do in his life. He must not only learn how to respond to formal commands, such as “Sit,” but he must learn to interpret and appropriately respond to human signals and frequently occurring situations. Given the opportunity, a dog will spend his entire life learning, and we must recognize that we’re consciously or unconsciously teaching him all of the time. Understanding how your dog learns allows you to shape his behavior to make him a better and happier companion.
Consistency Counts
If you want a well-trained and civilized dog, you, and everyone who lives with you, should be consistent in your behaviors involving your dog. The first thing that you should do is to always use a word or phrase to signal what you want your dog to do. If you’re going upstairs with him, say, “Upstairs.” If you’re going to put a leash on him, say, “Leash on.” If your words always signal actions, the dog soon learns to pay attention to the sounds coming from your mouth because they signal what he’s supposed to do next.
Remember
Always use the words before you act so that the dog can learn the meaning of your language. Everyone in your family must use the same words. If the aim is to get the dog off the sofa, make sure that everyone knows that you’re all going to use the word “Off.” If one person yells “Get away” and another “No!”, this inconsistency only confuses matters. Whether you’re starting your journey with a young pup or an older dog doesn’t matter as much as maintaining a consistent approach.
Dogs respond very well to routines and repetition. Consider your morning ritual: rising out of bed, taking a shower, eating breakfast, letting the dog out, drinking coffee. When was your routine set? Probably in childhood. Whatever the sequence, you repeat the routine, quite unconsciously, day after day.
Shaping your dog’s behavior is no different. Dogs actually love routines even more than you do: The more regular their schedule and the greater your predictability, the greater their feelings of safety and security and the more likely they are to behave in a cooperative fashion.
Tip
Begin by establishing routines around your dog’s basic needs: eating, drinking, resting, playing, and eliminating. Assign a word and a specific routine for each need, creating a chart to help your household follow through (see Table 11-1). Though your dog’s schedule will vary slightly throughout maturity, the constancy of these words and routines will tie him to the certainties of his everyday life and give you a mutual language base.
Remember
Remember, your dog doesn’t speak English (see Communicating with Your Dog). Though she listens to you, most of what you say sounds like gibberish. When a word pops in that she recognizes, it’s as exciting to her as our hearing recognizable words when in a foreign land.
Though you need to take time out of your day to teach your dog the proper responses to your directions (for example, Sit-Stay), once she’s learned those responses, you can use the directions throughout the day. Practicing these exercises with your dog is like your being taught in school the skills you need for everyday life: Counting fruit or balancing your checkbook can be thought of as learning to stay or behaving appropriately when greeting someone or on an outing.
Also, make sure that everyone understands that your dog loves attention. He’ll repeat anything that guarantees interaction and, like a human child, he can’t distinguish negative from positive. If a response guarantees anyone’s reaction, it will be repeated: If you put his food dish down when he sits calmly, then he’ll sit calmly. If you ignore hyperactivity and only interact with your dog when he’s rational and responsive, then your dog will learn to behave rationally. Of course, the reverse is also true: If a dog’s demanding posture is responded to, he’ll learn those undesirable behaviors just as quickly.

Monitoring Human Behavior

Inconsistency will create confusion in your dog’s mind and often intensifies her reactivity. All the people in your dog’s life should know the rules and words to use around your dog.
Imagine trying to understand what to do based on the reactions that you get to your behavior. Imagine trying to work out the rules if one person insists on consistency while another welcomes chaos. Under such circumstances you or your dog won’t be able to determine how best to behave when meeting someone new. In dogs, such inconsistency for different people in their lives invariably snowballs into maniac anxiety, and the resulting confusion guarantees only one thing: that your dog will not be welcomed into polite society or be the star attraction at family gatherings as he’d loved to be.
Of course, as anyone who has shared their life with a dog will tell you, that friends and family members can be the hardest “dogs” to train. Everyone has their own ideas as to how to control dog behavior, and many people are, by nature, very strong willed. Shouting, “Don’t let him jump!” (or similar epithets) at someone to rally their support will fall on deaf ears: No one likes to hear the words “don’t” or “no.”
Of course, you can’t train everyone
In a perfect world, you’d be able to control everyone, consistency would reign, and your dog would never be confused. Alas, it’s no perfect world out there and, try as you might, some people just won’t heed your advice. If it’s an occasional stranger on the street, don’t worry about it, but if it’s a live-in companion that interacts frequently with your pup, then you must come up with a plan.
If your companion encourages jumping, exercise your dog prior to his or her interaction with your pet to tone things down a bit. If he urges your dog to jump on the furniture, agree upon one piece of furniture and teach your dog that the others are off-limits. If feeding from the table is the main issue, be sure to feed your dog first and reward her for staying on her bed during meals.
Be creative and think outside of the box: You’ll find there’s always another way around your problems with both four-footed and two-footed dogs.
Remember
It’s hard for some people to see the downside to ecstatic joy. When asked, they’ll tell you that the wild greeting they get from their dog at the door is one of the highlights of their day. Unfortunately, permitting and, in effect, rewarding hyperactivity takes its toll: A dog who manically greets his own people will greet everyone that way. Furthermore, if the dog suffers from separation anxiety, even the sound of someone nearing the door is likely to trigger hyperactive anticipation, which, when unfulfilled, may result in destructive behavior.
If you’re trying to change the behaviors of people when interacting with your dog, it’s sometimes easier if you control the dog’s behavior. Do the problems arise when your kids get off the bus, or your partner walks in from a long day at the office, or your friend who just adores your dog comes for a visit? If you can predict their arrivals, considering leading your dog to the door to greet them as described in Communicating with Your Dog and Happy Training, Happy Tails or, alternatively, diverting your dog’s attention with a new toy. If you can prevent your dog’s manic behavior, then it has no chance to be rewarded, and your dog’s calm demeanor may help change the expectations of the humans in your life. Some things to try include

Living with Kids and Dogs

Got kids? Your family dog will be one of their childhood memories, which puts the pressure on you to ensure that your dog is a civilized companion. Because the lion’s share of the responsibility is resting squarely on your shoulders, here are a few techniques to encourage their participation and self-control:
Warning
Don’t involve your children if your dog has shown any signs of aggression. Dogs naturally dominate young children: Asking them to care for an aggressive dog is putting them in grave danger. Get professional help.
If you’re raising a puppy or teaching your old dog some new tricks, your children may seem to undermine the very principles you’re working hard to instill. Don’t get mad: after all they’re kids. Think back: Did you always follow your parents’ direction? On the whole, children, like puppies, are playful and interactive, and both are very attuned to negative attention. It may be simply that your dog views your kids more like playmates than respected leaders. Please consider the following:
Early stress syndrome
Irresponsible breeders often push for the early adoption of puppies. While the cute factor of a 6-week-old puppy can’t be disputed, it should be criminal to take such a young pup away from her mom. Undeveloped and emotionally weak, such a puppy will likely be brought into a home where people (unless educated) will coddle them ad nauseum. Too often, the result of this heartfelt adoration is the development of a Super Alpha: a puppy who never learns respect for anyone. These puppies are often excessively nippy and may show aggression prematurely. If these behaviors aren’t arrested, the puppy may become a danger to live with and show behaviors that look as if he has a split personality: lovely when seeking a resource like food or attention, demonic when interrupted. If this description sounds familiar, please seek professional help.

Avoidance 101

No one likes to feel discomfort. Most people will go to great measures to avoid pain or disappointment and, as parents we strive to protect our children from physical and emotional harm. Your dog’s instinct to protect himself from harm is no different. Still, it’s here that we must examine the differences in our species, since sometimes what we consider as emotional support is often misconstrued by your pup, and your efforts to “discipline” her may, in fact, not be communicating any useful information..
Soothing your dog’s fear
When your dog shows fear or discomfort, your immediate impulse may be to soothe her. It’s heartfelt, but detrimental, too. Remember, your dog doesn’t understand the reasoning behind human behavior and emotions: He merely reads your posture, eye contact, and tone of voice.
Warning!
When we comfort an animal, we lower both our body and our head, speak in a moderated tone, and look concerned; to a dog, these body cues bespeak utter panic. To a dog, we look cornered, trapped, and cowering — enforcing their fear rather than assuaging it.
A better approach to soothing a dog’s anxiety is to mimic canine confidence and let your dog hang in the shadow of your protection until he feels safe enough to stand on his own. To do so:
When discipline instills fear
No one wants to frighten their dog, but many people do just that, often under the guise of disciplining them.
The truth of the matter is that puppy-rearing philosophies lag behind the newest theories on child-rearing, and we all would do well to take note. For example, physical abuse in response to parental frustration is illegal. Even the suspicion of emotional abuse will have school officials taking note.
Unfortunately, the same doesn’t hold true with the raising of puppies. People still yell at their dog or puppy, though these methods have been proven ineffective. Others are locked into a vicious cycle of physical corrections, though they have no educational value and often instill aggression or make matters worse. If the goal of discipline is to teach a dog better manners, then the effort to communicate as much must be closely examined. Here’s what doesn’t work and why:
Encouraging self-training
Dogs, like children and people, learn through cause and effect. If you want to get rid of a specific behavior, consider why your dog is doing it in the first place. Is he jumping up to get your attention or to get a resource or make himself comfortable? If these reactions are effective, he’ll do them again.
If, however, when he jumps up, your hands consistently raise to cover your face and you ignore him, she won’t keep jumping up for attention. If, at the same time, you encourage her to sit or fetch a toy and give her attention for that, she’ll soon abandon jumping for sitting or play. If she jumps on the counter to steal food and nothing is there or she finds a distasteful snack (bread laced with wasabi sauce, for example), she’ll avoid this activity all together.
With regards to jumping on the furnishings, your dog’s just as much of an opportunist as you are: Offer her a comfortable alternative, such as a floor pillow or dog bed, and when you can’t be there to control his choice, place something on the furnishings that make comfort impossible.
Next, outline the three ingredients of a good correction and how you can implement them:
Tip
Your attention is what most strongly motivates your dog’s behavior.
by Stanley Coren and Sarah Hodgson
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