If I was ever held at gunpoint and ordered to give one piece of dog training advice to fix an unknown dog’s unknown behaviour problem, I know exactly what I would say.
No matter why I have been called in to see a dog, I always end up giving this piece of advice, because it solves such a wide variety of behaviour problems. Want to know what it is?
Reward Eye Contact
Just give your dog treats, praise, pats, and play time every time your dog glances up at you.
Sound silly? Try it for a day and you’ll see what an amazing difference it makes.
For one day, carry your dog’s favourite treats, or better yet your dog’s entire day’s worth of meals, in your pocket. EVERY time your dog happens to glance at you, say “yes! Good!” and offer food, and then give him or her lots of love.
At first you may need to encourage your dog to look at you. Most dogs are in the habit of looking at other things – trees, the food bowl, cats, fire hydrants. You might need to make kissy noises or jump around to get your dog to glance in your direction. But as soon as they do, no matter how quick of a glance it is, throw a party.
By the end of the day, your dog will be following you around, staring constantly into your face.
What does that mean?
Well, it means that your dog is not trying to chew your shoes or break into the garbage or urinate behind the sofa. It means that your dog is not pulling your arm off on walks. In fact, your dog is now walking in a beautiful heel position at your side.
That’s right – just rewarding your dog for looking at you will make them fall into a lovely heel position as you walk.
It makes sense if you think about it. When you go for a walk with a friend, do you walk one behind the other? Of course not. You can’t see each other’s faces, which is a huge part of normal human conversation. So if you and your dog are talking and walking and looking each other in the face, your dog is going to want to walk next to you.
Suddenly, your dog is walking WITH you instead of being walked BY you. Suddenly, your dog realizes that you are a friend who wants to talk. Suddenly, you become the most interesting thing around.
Eye contact doesn’t fix everything. It doesn’t fix separation anxiety, or a fear of nail trims, for example.
But if your dog is looking at you, your dog won’t notice the scary men with hats or the other dogs that normally cause havoc on walks.
If your dog is looking at you and eating from your hand, resource guarding the food bowl becomes a non-issue.
If your dog is looking at you and waiting for food, then your dog is ready to work, and ready to learn. And that is the first step for virtually every behaviour problem there is.
So reward your dog for looking at you, and keep it up. Because it’s the first step to a better, happier relationship
People are always trying to make their dog be good.
They drag the leash this way and that, choke the dog, pick up the dog, physically force it to do what they want while insisting “sit sit sit sit SIT!”. But it keeps on trying to misbehave. Unless something changes, they will live in a constant state of war.
Don’t fight your dog. Don’t try to force your dog to do your bidding, because it will just make the dog wish he didn’t have to.
Isn’t it better to have your dog actively choose for herself that she wants to please and obey you? Isn’t it better for her to see food on the coffee table and choose not to steal it, or to see a cat and choose not to chase it?
Instead of trying to make your dog behave in a certain way, set up a world in which your dog will actively choose to do so.
Set up basic positive and negative consequences – if the dog sits, he gets dinner. If he doesn’t, then no dinner. If the dog walks close to you, she gets to continue her walk and gets the occasional treat. If she goes up ahead and drags, the walk stops. Too bad for her.
Then let the dog make his or her own choices.
At first those choices will be the wrong ones.
He misses a meal. She only gets to go three feet down the front path.
You don’t yell, you don’t nag, you don’t force. You simply accept the dog’s choice and enact the consequence that comes with it, good or bad.
Then the dog decides that he doesn’t like this. So he chooses. He chooses to sit. He chooses to walk nicely on leash.
You can’t make a living thing do anything. You have to respect that they are independant living, thinking, feeling beings who make their own choices for their own reasons. Your role is to guide them by giving them reasons to do what you would like them to do and let them choose to do it themselves.
And if they do the “wrong” thing, then that was their decision and we respect and honor it… as well as the consequences that come with it.
A dog’s life is too short to spend fighting. You and your dog should be a joyful team, not opposing armies in a battle of wills. So drop the war, take a look at how you would like your dog’s behaviour to change, and then set up your dog’s world so that it will be easy for her to choose to do so.
And if you need help… you know where to find us!
It’s Canada Day, and at 10 o’clock tonight every city is going to be setting off fireworks. How well does your dog handle them?
Some dogs pay no attention at all, others bark, and others are terrified. The good news is that some treats and some patience can help teach your dog how to handle fireworks.
If your dog barks annoyingly every time a firework goes off, it’s time to train her out of that!
Step 1: Gather some special treats and make sure your dog is a little hungry tonight.
Step 2: Whenever a firework goes off, start waving a treat and wait for your dog to stop barking and to pay attention to you instead. When your dog stops barking and focuses on you, praise and give the treat.
Step 3: Repeat! It won’t take your dog long to learn that by quieting down and focusing on you, she gets a treat.
Goal: Make a goal of having your dog report for the treat as soon as they hear the fireworks instead of bothering to bark. To do that, make sure the treat is whipped out the second the noise starts. Ideally your dog should be chowing down while the noise is still going on.
You’ll know it’s working when a firework goes off and your dog just trots toward your expectantly.
Step 1: Do NOT take your dog to a firework event. Sit in a room where the sound is as muffled as possible. Put on some white noise to help cover it up a bit.
Step 2: Skip your dog’s dinner tonight and get some REALLY high value treats. Hot dogs, steak, whatever it takes to get your dog really excited. If your dog really doesn’t care about food, bring an extra-fun toy, but food tends to work best.
Step 3: Every time a firework goes off, throw a party. Set a good example. Fireworks are wonderful! Great! YAY! In fact, they give you the uncontrollable urge to dole out STEAK! Stick the meat right under your dog’s nose and act really happy. If your dog eats the treat pat and praise him. If your dog does not eat the treat, hide it again as soon as the noise stops. Firework = treat. No firework = sorry, chum, no more treats. Act calm and completely normal between explosions. Produce treats for consumption only when noise is going on.
Goal: Your dog’s fear will not disappear overnight. However, if you can coax your dog to eat during the noise your dog will slowly begin to associated fireworks with fun steak/hotdog parties instead of terror. You’ll know you have succeeded when your dog responds to a firework by looking at you hopefully for steak.
If tonight is too much for your dog, and he was uncontrollably excited/terrified, that’s okay. It just means that you need to start smaller. Set yourself a goal of making the next big firework event (usually Hallowe’en) bearable. Once a week (set a reminder on your phone!) from now until then, put on a video of fireworks on Youtube and practice the above steps. You can reduce the volume or raise the volume as necessary to set difficulty levels.
For really frightened dogs, you can also ask your vet for a natural supplement like Zylkene or L-Theanine, which are proven to have a mild anti-anxiety effect without “drugging” your dog. This won’t work on its own but will help reduce your dog’s stress levels to a point where you are able to train effectively.
I love to meet a stubborn dog.
Too many people think that “stubborn” is a negative trait in a dog, and it certainly can be, especially if you employ traditional training methods that pit you and your dog into a battle of wills against each other.
If you tell your Shiba Inu, “get in here, or else!” you can guarantee the dog will be asking “or else… what?”
However, when harnessed correctly, stubbornness is a fantastic trait, because it makes it really easy to train a dog to REFUSE to be bad.
What Is Stubbornness?
Stubbornness can be defined as “fixed in purpose or opinion – resolute.”
Does that sound so bad?
Stubbornness is only bad when the dog is refusing to do what the owner wants him to do, and even then, that is assuming that the owner wants him to be good.
…What if the owner was trying to get him to be bad?
The real secret to training stubborn dogs is to constantly try to get them to misbehave, and reward them for resisting your bad example.
It’s Called Proofing
“Proofing” is the act of trying to get the dog to mess up so you can catch them in the act and correct the behaviour.
For example, say you are teaching your dog to hold a down-stay.
Once your dog understands the basic concept (hold the down position until the release command is given), you need to start making it harder for the dog:
You start walking further away, to see if that will make her break the stay.
When your dog does break, your dog doesn’t get a reward. Instead, the dog has to start all over again. Dogs learn fast. They start to hold the stay, and you have to make it harder.
So, you try running away. You try walking in circles around the dog. You try hopping over the dog. You try bouncing balls past her nose. You end up doing a flamenco dance while juggling hot dogs, just trying to get your dog to break the stay.
Now, a non-stubborn dog will break a LOT during this process.
“Soft” dogs are so focused on trying to please you that they fall for the bait every time – when you lean over as if you’re about to call them, when you hold a treat out invitingly, when you bounce a ball, when you say their name…
Stubborn dogs don’t tend to make as many mistakes.
A stubborn dog will think,
“Oh HELL no, you aren’t cheating me out of that cookie! I’m staying put, no matter what kind of trick you try and pull!”
Stubborn dogs are also great in situations that require the dog to think for herself.
Take street safety.
If you want to train a dog to stop automatically at curbs, hope your dog has a stubborn streak.
In order to be properly street trained, a dog needs to stop at curbs without the owner giving a command, and without the owner giving any sign that a curb is approaching.
The whole point is for the dog to recognize a curb and stop despite anything else that may be happening – even if a ball has run right into the road, or a squirrel, the dog needs to stop.
Now, if you take a soft, eager-to-please dog and put him at the edge of a curb, and then try to encourage him off the edge so you can order him back, that poor dog is going to hop off the curb again and again before he finally develops the courage to resist your temptation and refuse to cross.
A stubborn dog doesn’t have that crisis of faith. A stubborn dog learns quickly that resisting your tugs on the leash gets him treats.
Stubborn dogs eat that up.
Pretty soon you can be hauling on your dog’s neck for all you’re worth and he’ll be sitting impassively at the edge of the curb, refusing to cross until he hears the magic word which tells him that he has earned his reward.
If You Have A Stubborn Dog
Change your way of thinking a little.
Instead of constantly trying to convince your dog to be good, try to trick him into being naughty. When he resists you and insists on being good despite your shenanigans, reward him heavily.
Consider elaborate sting operations. Those are good for a laugh, and great for training.
Eventually, your stubborn dog will come downstairs on Christmas Day, and see an entire turkey dinner laid out on the table with no one around to guard it…
…and she will think,
“Ha! I’m not falling for THAT one! They want me to eat that food so they can get me into trouble. I’ll show them! I’m going to curl up right here on my bed and not touch that delicious food at all!”
I love a stubborn dog.
–-Carol Millman has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a diploma in Animal Health Technology. You can read her bio here.
How to get your stubborn dog to pay attention to you: Reward eye contact. Our best tip for training stubborn dogs is to make them think they are training you. Don’t waste your time begging for your dog’s attention.
Are You Hooked On Treats?
When we come to your home and say that we want to teach your dog to sit, lie down, stay, and heel (as well as play dead, close your cupboard doors, ring a bell to go outside, spin in a circle, fetch your keys, jump over your leg and so on…), the first thing we will do is ask you to bring out the high value treats.
Many owners are reluctant to give their dogs treats.
They know too many people (maybe including themselves!) who have dogs who will ONLY obey if they have a treat in their hand.
No one wants to bribe their dog into being obedient.
Nor should you.
What you do want is a dog who obeys you eagerly each and every time you give a command.
How do you do that?
By giving your dog a gambling problem.
Let us take you through the process one step at a time:
Is Your Dog Fighting For Dominance?
Perhaps one of the most commonly touted tenets of dog training is “be the leader”.
Whether the family dog is jumping up, growling, biting, or tugging at the leash, owners are advised by professionals and dog hobbyists alike to “lead the pack”.
It sounds good, and it’s an easy line for lay people to take – “Oh, your dog is misbehaving? You need to be the pack leader and be more dominant.”
Advice for how to do to do this usually involves things like going through doors first, eating first, or turning your dog upside down, all of which are supposed to mimic the behaviour of wolves in the wild.
People think that they shouldn’t sleep with their dog, shouldn’t let him on the furniture, and shouldn’t share their table scraps.
When we meet a new client, we often listen to embarrassed confessions of doing all these things… and then we surprise them by telling them the truth: If you don’t mind your dog on the bed, it’s not a problem. You won’t create a struggle for power if your dog cuddles with you on the sofa in the evenings.
Yes, if you want your dog listen to you and respond to you, you certainly need to be the leader in the relationship. But that doesn’t mean you need to dominate your dog.
The Science Behind Dominance
Along with more exercise, one of the most common blanket-solutions for various dog behavior problems is Obedience Training, and many of our clients wonder “why?”
After all, if we’ve been called in to see a dog who is terrified of trucks, why are we talking about down-stays and sit-stays? Isn’t that like going to see a doctor for a sore ankle and being told you need to massage your left arm?
First, let me say that obedience training is not the ENTIRE solution to fear. If your dog trainer tells you that your dog just needs to be dominated and that this will make his fear magically dissipate, then you may want to find another trainer.
Desensitization programs are key to solving fear related issues, and we will talk about this in a later article.
Obedience is another key part of the issue. Put the two together and you have a recipe for success.
How does obedience relate to fear issues?
The answer is simple: control, control, control.
Obedience actually does two things:
1. It teaches him self-control and makes him feel more in charge of his destiny
2. It teaches him that YOU are in control and in charge of his destiny.
“But wait!” you say, “isn’t that contradictory?”
It sounds a little crazy, but let me break it down for you:
We see dogs with a variety of behavior problems:
- Destructive Behavior
and many more.
All of these problems require different approaches, and every dog requires his or her own unique set of steps to achieve a solution.
But there is one thing that almost all of our cases have in common:
Many of the dogs we see are under exercised. Others dogs get a lot of one kind of exercise but not enough of another.
One of the first steps we always take to approaching any behavior problem is to increase the exercise and to balance the KINDS of exercise the dog is getting.
We often find that many times, this in itself is the most effective step towards solving the problem. Quite frequently, this is the ONLY necessary step.
Is your dog getting enough of the right kinds of exercise?
More and more families are waiting to have children, and often their dog is considered to be their furry first-born.
When a baby comes into the picture, the family dog often finds himself shunted to one side. Walks are curtailed and the family’s attention is eaten up by a wailing, squirming little creature who looks nothing like a normal human being.
Some dogs adjust easily, and some adjust with difficulty.