Training tips for dogs who do bad things.
I suggest the following
(note: I don't take credit for any ideas I present, I read everything I
can on canine behavior and talk to a lot of trainers, behaviorists, and
vets - my personal favorite is Jean Donaldson): Have in your mind
tricks" I like to call the situation) ALTERNATIVE BEHAVIORS you can perform
WITH THE DOG when one of the 'situations' come up. For example: If
bitch stiffens up and begins "charging" a strange dog while you are
her on lead, immediately say (not yell) "No, leave it" in as neutral a
voice as you can manage. Without a breath in between, start a heeling
routine or say 'sit' then back rapidly up, leash in hand and call her, or
have her heel as you trot away from the situation - be creative and have
the plan IN MIND BEFORE YOU GO OUT THE DOOR AND INTO THE 'SITUATION.'
She/he must be given this Alternative Behavior IMMEDIATELY and fully. The
Alternative Behavior Routine must go on until you see the dogs body
language return to normal and her attention go fully to you.
Should you force the Alternative Behavior? Yes, if necessary, as the point
of the exercise is to put her attention TO YOU, not anywhere else. The
Alternative Behavior is necessary to get the dogs attention from his/her
target, change their attitude from that which produces a nip or charging,
and have them do something that can't be done while they are
charging/nipping/whatever. Some behaviorists call it Incompatible Behavior
- because the unwanted nip or snarling can't be done while you are
demanding the Incompatible Behavior. Whatever you call it, you must have
the plan ready in your head, start it immediately when the 'bad' behavior
starts, and insist the dog do it. The Alternative Behavior must be
something that REALLY cannot be done during nipping/charging/whatever. If
pulling the bitch away from barking and charging other dogs into a fast
heel is not working (she continues to turn her head and bark), try 'doggie
pushups' (sit-down-sit-down, etc.), or put a ball on a rope in her mouth,
pull it out, put it back, and then play tug - think about your dogs likes
and games and make up an Alternative Behavior that fits.
For the nipping in the butt problem (and related body parts), I provide a
mouth-game that the victim of the nipping can do. I had this problem last
winter with my Gustav who nipped my step-daughter-friend, Holly, in the
butt. I had Holly carry a small toy, hidden, with her. When Gustav
into a charge, Holly sternly said "NO," produced the toy, and in a
high, puppy voice, "Gustav! Lookie! Toy toy!" She shoved
the toy in his
mouth, took it back, threw it two feet, he brought it back and a simple,
short-range (distance) game of toy-toss ensued for a short time (under two
minutes). Not only did the Alternate Behavior interrupt the potential nip,
he began to associate her arrival and presence as 'toy-toy' time, and now
brings her the toy to start the game. ALL THE PEOPLE involved in this MUST
understand how to see when the dog is going to nip and be prepared to say
"NO" and produce a toy (food, whatever) as the Alternative Behavior.
precisely timed (and Holly is good at that), the Alternative Behavior game
will soon correct the behavior. Even the non-dog- trainer type of family
member or household visitor can do this! Remember, the basic idea is to
provide a behavior that is incompatible with the 'nip.' And in this case I
am saying to force the dog to go from a doggie version of fear-anger-nip to
oh-boy-a-toy in attitude.
Good Alternative Behaviors over a space of time (consistently) will produce
a dog that sees another dog while you are out walking, and instead of
barking and charging, she turns to you, with an expectant attitude, looking
for her toy!
Obviously (I hope), it is necessary to have EVERYONE who walks the dog or
comes in the house 'on board' with this program. You need to explain it to
them, and REHEARSE it! Have someone play the dog and PRACTICE changing
your voice and attitude as you launch into the Alternative Behavior! (I
make my Search and Rescue Trainees practice with another handler as the dog
- you will be surprised at how much good it does the new handler with just
Notice I said 'change your attitude,' because dogs are the Ultimate
Interpreters of human body language - remember this rule:
YOU CAN'T PLAY POKER WITH A DOG!!!
They read us so well because it is their job! If every husband/wife could
read their spouses body language as well as the family dog there would be
90% fewer divorces!
As you go to provide the Alternative Behavior, remember - change your
attitude (force yourself to do it!) because the dog can read if you are
still angry or worried about something.......
A little effort, and fun, on your part will change the situation. You are
the responsible human, you must change the 'bad' behavior - remember - this
could be a life or death situation for the dog. Those are high stakes, and
you, after all, are the 'more intelligent species.'
Find 'Em K9, Learning and Training