For roughly 30,000 years, human beings and dogs have had a fascinat- ing and rewarding relationship. At the core of human-dog interaction are some very interesting similarities. Humans and dogs are both highly social beings with numerous sophisticated communication skills. Both species are group or pack oriented and territorial. Although we were once competitors for food, the relationship between humans and dogs has evolved into a symbiotic one.
A MEMBER OF THE FAMILY
Everyone comes from some kind of family and every family has a structure, with different members having different responsibilities to that group. For thousands of years the roles family members were expected to perform remained fairly consistent. Although family roles today are much less rigid, it’s still true that each member has some responsibility to the group. Some members are responsible for finan- cial resources, while others are responsible for taking care of or man- aging the household. Even small children are responsible for getting an education.
Yet, dogs are kept as pets without any job other than to provide amusement and affection. This is a relatively new development— almost within living memory, common everyday dogs were members of the family with clearly defined roles. They guarded our property, provided personal protection, herded our livestock, rid our house- holds of vermin, helped us hunt, pulled carts and sleds and located lost people.
For the majority of human history, most people had far less dis- posable income than they do today. There was no dog food industry, and dogs consumed our leftovers. Because houses did not have elec- tronic alarm systems, dogs slept outside to patrol around the house. Because there was no forced or central heating, doors were kept closed as we moved from room to room and only occupied rooms were heated. This meant the dog had to follow us and had no opportunity to move about freely in the house. Because people couldn’t afford replacements, household furniture had to last many years, and for this reason dogs were not allowed on the furniture. Because people expected their dogs to work at one of the jobs listed earlier, they were respected members of the family with clearly defined responsibilities, not surrogate children.
Fifty to 75 years ago, some behavior problems commonly seen today in dogs were rarely seen at all. These include nervous disorders, idiopathic aggression, lack of desire to fetch or learn obedience, sepa- ration anxiety, incessant and useless barking and severe phobias. One of the biggest reasons we see so many more of these behaviors is that today, most dogs no longer have clearly defined jobs within their fam- ily pack.
Unfortunately, and what many dog owners don’t realize, is that by failing to give a dog a clearly defined role, you are communicating a lack of leadership and social cohesiveness to the dog. This creates anx- iety, which often causes behavior problems.
Today, dogs are frequently treated like the leader of the pack by being allowed to get up on beds and furniture, eating out of an over- flowing food bowl whenever they like, coming and going as they please, having lots of unearned possessions to guard, having subordi- nates fawn over them with constant free petting and being able to demand to be played with, petted, taken out or left alone. This is not how dogs exist in their own packs, and it is bound to cause miscom- munication and confusion when it occurs. The tips and exercises out- lined here will help your dog regain his rightful place as a respected, responsible member of the family.
Decades ago, behaviorists observed what most dogs owners have known for centuries: Dogs have a definite social hierarchy. Within the normal dog pack, there is a distinct order in which some members have dominant roles and others subordinate ones. Some of the ways in which individual pack members communicate their position with other pack members seem obvious to human observers. Since the social hier- archy concept is familiar in human group interaction, it was both easy and natural for human beings to create dog training methods based on their observations of dog behavior and their own human instincts.
This is where many familiar confrontational training methods came from. The “alpha roll,” in which a human physically forces a dog onto his back, is the result of people observing what appeared to be similar behavior among dogs. The “scruff shake” and direct eye stare were also copies of dog behavior and were thought to be the “natural” way to exert your dominance over your dog.
As our understanding of the subtle complexities of dog behavior and interaction increased, we learned that many of the “natural” train- ing methods I’ve just described mimicked extremely threatening behaviors that a sane dog pack leader would use only as a last resort and not as a way of “training” or relating to his or her followers. Dogs have a much more complex method of “training” and relating to one another that relies on posturing, social ritual and avoiding confrontation. This is extremely important for people to understand. In the dog world, avoiding confrontation is very important. Dogs understand that if you are injured in a fight and you cannot hunt, forage, breed and travel to get food—you die. Since effective pack leaders only use threatening behaviors as a last resort, how are humans supposed to act? The answer is, we must appear as strong, dependable, consistent, non- confrontational leaders who know the posturing and social rituals that make sense to our dogs.
In truth, if you want your dog to show stable behavior, you must be this type of leader. Some people are uncomfortable with the entire pack leader concept. In their minds, it’s archaic. Why does there have to be a leader? Can’t everyone be equal, without some members dom- inating or leading others? What humans need to grasp is that dogs do not understand the concept of equality. In fact, it is extremely stress- ful to most dogs to be without a leader. Lack of leadership means no pack cohesion. Without pack cohesion, there is no group hunting, protection of weaker members and other activities that are vital to survival. Dogs did not evolve to survive for any length of time on their own. Their strength is in the structure of the pack. With such instincts, it’s easy to understand why if a dog sees no leader, he will become extremely stressed and may even instinctively attempt to fill the leadership position himself—because every pack needs a leader to survive.
In a human family (pack), some dogs, if left to their own devices, will attempt to assert leadership in a canine way. When this happens, humans are faced with a variety of behaviors that they consider unac- ceptable. These include being pushy or aggressive at the front door, attaining the most central and elevated sleeping area, demanding that they not be disturbed when resting, barking excessively, having first dibs on any food or possessions within reach, having the right to defend any food or possessions they come upon, expecting to not be touched in any way they do not like and being able to demand various forms of attention or behaviors from you, their subordinates.
Other dogs will not attempt to establish leadership, but will be anx- ious and may engage in a host of anxiety-related behavior, including chewing, digging and barking.
Once dog owners understand these concepts, the question is: How do you show your dog that you are a wise, strong and dependable leader in a way that will enable your dog to remain or become a happy, confident and well-adjusted family member?
Here are some simple guidelines that will allow you to show your dog that his humans are good leaders and that he has a responsibility to the family to serve and follow his leaders. Please note: These meth- ods are completely nonconfrontational.
- The dog should have his meal prepared and then set aside while you eat your meal. He can eat after you’ve finished.
In the wild, the leader eats first. This is a very easy way to com- municate your leadership role to your dog.
- The dog should wait for you to set his bowl down and give him permission to eat (release with “OK!”) before he advances toward his bowl to eat. If you have not attained this level of control through obedience, make sure he is leashed and prevented from advancing toward the bowl until he is released.
Although there are no leashes in the wild, dogs will understand that this is leadership behavior.
- The dog must finish his entire meal in one sitting. If he leaves food in his bowl, the food is taken up until the next scheduled meal. This prevents the dog from having unlimited access to food, which he would never have in a regular dog pack.
- The dog should not be allowed to sleep on human beds or human furniture.
- The dog should sleep outside the bedrooms.
Another easy way to assert your leadership.
- The dog should accept being gently moved from any sleeping or resting place.
Access to and Movement Throughout the House
- Night: Untrained dogs should sleep in a crate. If you want the dog to have free access to the inside of the house at night, that can only be allowed after the dog has house manners (is quiet, calm, obedient, stays off furniture, is housebroken, doesn’t touch for- bidden objects like shoes or TV remote controls, stays out of for- bidden areas of the house and so on). Additionally, you must have all dog behavior problems (such as aggression or separation anx- iety) solved before granting the dog free access at night.
- 2. Day: Until the puppy or dog has house manners, he should not be allowed loose in the house. The key word here is loose. This does not mean owners can’t have their puppy in the house. It does mean until he is trained, your dog must be crated or kept on a leash by you. Leaving an untrained dog to run free or unsuper- vised in your house will likely create numerous problems. For some owners, keeping their dog crated sounds cruel and restric- tive. It is not, and while I sympathize, it is important to under- stand that you won’t have to do this forever. Four to six months of crating and consistent training will probably result in a dog who learns to be calm and well behaved in your house. Is it worth half a year to have 15 years (God willing) of calm house behav- ior? I think so, and I hope you’ll agree.
The crate can be a very useful tool in controlling your dog’s freedom in the house. If you make the crate a safe haven for your dog by putting toys and occasional treats in it, your dog will likely get used to it and even enjoy being there. However, I think it’s important for everyone to understand time frames with regard to crating. That is, how long can you realistically put your dog in a crate? I am not suggesting that owners leave their dogs crated all day long. Quite simply, most dogs will find that intolerable— and who wouldn’t?!
This does raise some challenges for owners who don’t have anywhere to put their dog during an average workday, when they’re gone for six to 10 hours. Believe it or not, I have spoken to numerous trainers about this dilemma and many of them flat out say if you live in an environment with no yard and nowhere to put the dog during the day, and you’re working, you shouldn’t own a dog. I disagree. In my mind, while this situation is not ideal, it’s the reality many people live with. So what can you do? There are several options.
If you are gone all day, you may consider a house sitter, or at the very least a dog walking service. I’ve worked with people who crated their dogs for a number of months until they were trained.
The dog was crated when they left first thing in the morning. However, they had a dog walker take the dog out two or three times a day while they were gone. This meant the dog was not crated for longer than three or four hours at a time. Some people have used pet sitters, although the cost of having someone there from nine to five, Monday through Friday, for many months makes this option too expensive for most people. Additionally, if you’re going this route, the pet sitter needs to follow the same training regimen you do, or you’ll never get anywhere with your training.
Many owners overcome the crating challenge by getting home for lunch. If you have kids who are old enough to be trusted with the responsibility, the children can exercise the dog and handle portions of the training when they get home from school. Many owners make this a cooperative family effort. Some enlist the help of trusted neighbors or relatives living nearby. In my experience, if an owner genuinely wants to get someone to take their dog out a couple of times a day when they’re gone, it usually happens.
If you absolutely can’t get this covered, please consider the crating instructions found in Chapter 6 for housebreaking and paper training. Basically, instead of a crate, you’ll need an exer- cise pen, because the pen can be made larger and less confining than a crate. If you’re housebreaking at the same time you’re addressing unruly behavior, there are other tools you’ll need that are covered in that portion of this book.
Please note that young puppies may find it very difficult to avoid eliminating for longer than three to six hours. A good guide is to expect an hour of control for every month of a puppy’s life. That is, a three-month-old puppy can hold it for three hours, a four-month-old for four hours, etc. If your dog eliminates in the crate, you may have confined him too long. Remember, the crate should be large enough for your dog to comfortably lie in, but not so huge that he can walk all the way to the other side and be well out of the way of any mess he may have made in the crate. If you are unsure, contact a local professional trainer.
- Before the puppy or dog learns house manners, he should be given an on-leash “tour” each time he enters or is allowed to walk through the house. Calmly walk the puppy through the house on a leash and head collar, allowing him to sniff. Praise and reward him with food treats for being calm. If he tries to drag you through the house, simply stop and wait for him to focus back on you. If he sticks his nose somewhere it shouldn’t be (for example, in a potted plant, shoes, children’s toys), gently pull the dog away from it and continue with your tour. Don’t use your voice to inter- rupt him. You don’t want him to think he should only leave those things alone around you! Remember to reward calm behavior. Please don’t attempt to bring your puppy in the house if you are not sure when he last relieved himself or if he hasn’t had suffi- cient exercise to be able to be calm in the house.
Many of you are familiar with the “puppy crazies” that afflict most puppies several times each day. This is when your dog starts running around grabbing things and generally acting wild and rambunctious. There is nothing wrong or unusual about this behavior. However, it is generally not something you should encourage or reward in the house. If the “puppy crazies” strike while he’s in the house, it is definitely time to take him outside for exercise. If your puppy already has a habit of being rambunc- tious and playing in the house, it will take longer for him to learn the new rules of being calm in the house.
Be patient and consistent when teaching your dog house man- ners and he’ll catch on. Remember, consistency is critical in train- ing. This means avoid playing rambunctious, high-energy games with your dog in the house. These include fetch and chase games.
- After your tour of the house has concluded, you can recrate the puppy or teach him to go to a safe spot. To do this, take the puppy to a well-trafficked area of the house and work on teaching him a safe spot exercise.
Safe spot exercise: Attach the leash to a secure object, thus preventing the puppy from being able to wander around the house. The puppy should be wearing a buckle-type collar when he’s secured, not a choke chain or head collar. Additionally, NEVER attach the leash to an object or near an object that the puppy can jump over. Dogs have been known to hang themselves over the backs of chairs, couches and fences. Be careful! Never leave your dog on a leash unattended. Finally, if your puppy chews on the leash, treat it with chew repellent or use a chain leash. If you have a mat for him to lie on, place it where you want him to lie down. Give the puppy an appropriate chew toy he enjoys and invite him to lie down and relax in that area on his mat. Again, reward calm behavior. (Incidentally, you can start telling him “go to your place” as you are taking him to his mat, so eventually, you can tell him from anywhere in the house to “go to your place” and he’ll go there by himself.)
In the beginning, be careful not to work on this safe spot exer- cise for more than five to 30 minutes at a time. When he knows some simple commands, if he starts to get fussy you can, in an unemotional and calm way, tell him “no” and give him the “down” command. If this doesn’t settle him, ask yourself if the puppy was properly prepared to be in the house. Does he need to relieve himself? Has he had sufficient exercise? Don’t get into an argument or start struggling with him. If he doesn’t calm down after you’ve given the “down” command, it might be best to take him outside and try the safe spot exercise again later. But before you try again later, you will likely need to recrate him or put him outside. This is not punishment. He will soon learn, if you are consistent, that being rambunctious gets him put outside or crated and being calm allows him to stay in the house in a comfortable spot, surrounded by toys.
- After your puppy understands the routine of the calm tour, fol- lowed by going to his safe spot to lie down, you can start training him to have small amounts of freedom in the house.
- Begin teaching the puppy boundary training techniques. The idea is for the dog to learn there are a few areas of the house that are off-limits. The bedrooms, or at least the master bedroom, are excellent off-limits areas. As you take him on his tour, show him that doors to these areas will always close if he starts to enter those rooms uninvited. Be careful not to close any of the doors on your dog because that could hurt him. Simply make sure that if the dog starts to enter an off-limits area, you pull the dog back and close the door or have someone on the other side of the door close it while you pull your dog back. If this is done consistently, your dog will get the message in a couple of weeks. This can be further reinforced when he has learned enough obedience, because you can then practice sit-stays and down-stays on the correct side of those doorways.
- Eventually, allow your puppy to be somewhat off-leash in the same room with you. Start by leaving the leash on and allowing him to drag it around. Only do this when your full attention is on him, so you can catch the puppy the instant he starts to act inap- propriately (for example, putting paws on furniture, chewing plants, shoes or toys). If the dog does act inappropriately, inter- rupt the behavior with a gentle pull of the leash and then redirect his attention to one of his toys if he was chewing inappropriately or put him back in his spot if he was jumping on the furniture. If he needs to relieve himself, take him outside to eliminate. It’s important to make sure your puppy is always wearing his leash in the house until several weeks have passed in which you have not had to correct any inappropriate behavior. Until that time, the leash should always be worn because it gives you the opportunity to address numerous unacceptable behaviors. For example, if he suddenly leaps up on the sofa, you can calmly walk over, grab the leash and whisk him off the sofa. Lead him away from the sofa and after three to five seconds, praise him for being on the floor.
Gradually increase his freedom as he earns it. One mistake and you should take a step backward—go back to freedom in just one room, such as the kitchen, for shorter periods of time with the leash dragging. Most dog owners go too fast in giving their puppy freedom. Remember, you wouldn’t allow a two-year-old child to run around unsupervised. Most dogs can’t handle being loose in the house for even an hour until they are eight to 10 months old.
- First, select appropriate play and chew toys for your dog. I am grouping play and chew toys together because you should play with your dog with his chew toys, especially in the beginning.
- Acceptable Chew or Play Toys
- Kong or Rhino toys
- Hard rubber balls like Boomer Balls that are large enough that they won’t get stuck in your dog’s throat; better too large than too small
- Soft flying disks (think fabric Frisbee-type disks)
- Interactive play toys like the Buster Cube, a square box you can put little food treats in; by moving it around, your dog can get some of the treats. Many dogs spend hours playing with this toy.
No dog should have free access to a play toy. Free access to pos- sessions tells a dog that he is the leader. Also, it gives the dog an opportunity to destroy and ingest these toys, which can be dangerous.
- Unacceptable Play Toys
- Don’t use tennis balls and stuffed fuzzy toys. These are too similar to unacceptable items, like your carpeting and clothing.
- Ropes or other toys for tug-of-war can stimulate some dogs to be aggressive. They’re an absolute no-no for households with children.
- Most squeaky rubber toys can be chewed into little pieces, which presents a health risk for the dog.
Get your dog focused on the appropriate play and chew toys. This is done by making the toys a major source of interaction between you and the dog. Play with the dog and his toys. Greet him with his toys. Act coy with his toys. Constantly focusing him on his toys and praising him when he plays with them will soon result in your dog seeking the toys out on his own. When he seeks them out, praise this behavior. Some owners dismiss certain toys, like Kongs or Nylabones, saying, “My dog doesn’t like that toy.” This is because the dog has not been properly focused on them. Try soaking the Nylabone in beef or chicken broth and filling the Kong with cheese or peanut butter. You could get your dog to love to play with a cast iron skillet if you came home from work each day, grabbed the skillet, ran around with it, buried it, smeared it with liver or peanut butter and basically made it the center of all your positive interactions with the dog. In other words, focusing your dog on the correct toys makes them the signal for tasty treats, interaction and fun with you! (By the way, please don’t try this with a skillet. It will save your dog’s teeth and keep my hate mail to a minimum.)
- One of the best games for you to play with your dog is fetch. The right way to play fetch with your dog is for you to decide to start the game with a toy that is in your possession. You toss the toy and give the “fetch” command. The dog brings the toy back to you and drops it at your feet or in your hand, either automatically or on command. If your dog has little or no desire to fetch, runs off with the toy, tries to get you to chase him, refuses to give it back or decides he suddenly doesn’t want to play anymore, sim- ply stop playing the game for 10 to 15 minutes. You can also try a variation of this called the two-toy game, which is found in Chapter 5.
- Other acceptable ways to play with your dog involve teaching obedience and tricks. Think about this for a second: Why should your dog associate obedience with work? What if your dog con- sidered it play? Perhaps your dog would be far more inclined to listen. A simple obedience exercise that many dogs find fun is hiking with your dog in a safe open area. Many dogs will start by following or walking with you, but quickly get distracted and move off on their own. When your dog does, don’t say a word. Instead, simply walk in the opposite direction until your dog, looking up from whatever he was doing, runs to follow you. As soon as he reaches you, praise him and continue to walk. This exercise is a great way to encourage your dog to follow you out- side without a leash. This also teaches your dog in a very non- confrontational way that you are the leader, because every time your dog follows you, the message of your leadership is commu- nicated in a very positive way. Remember, you need a safe, enclosed area at least half the size of a football field to do this exercise effectively. This is much different than walking down a sidewalk, where most people end up following their dog. Another option is hide-and-seek, where your dog must find you, another member of your family, or a toy you have hidden from him.
- Unacceptable ways of playing with your dog include teasing, slapping, wrestling, chasing, allowing him to bark at you to demand that you play with him, using your hands as a toy, allow- ing him to nip, and tug-of-war.
Positive obedience should be incorporated into your daily activities. Positive obedience is obedience the dog does to get something (such as petting, a car ride, a treat, a walk, play with a toy). Most people give their dog all those things for free and then only use obedience as a way to control their dog when he is either about to do something wrong or already has. Then they punish him if he doesn’t obey. The dog soon figures out that if he can just avoid the punishing consequences of mis- behaving by moving fast or adopting a pathetic look, he has it made. This is why making obedience fun is a much better way to train. It’s also a great deal more rewarding for you, since almost no one likes harsh, repetitive obedience that’s as much work for the trainer as it is for the dog.
An Important Professional Tip
Most owners ignore their dogs when they are being good. This is understandable, because it is much easier to ignore a dog who is sitting quietly by your side or a dog lying on his mat in the safe spot than a dog who is jumping on you or running madly through the house with a dish towel in his mouth. Because of this, most dogs quickly figure out that doing something bad is what gets them attention. For a social ani- mal like a dog, negative attention is better than no attention at all.
A good example of this is when dogs jump up on people. When observing a jumping dog, dog trainers typically see an active, intelli- gent dog who is jumping up as a greeting gesture. The dog has learned that standing or sitting quietly will not get him the attention he is seek- ing, so the dog tries the next thing that comes to his mind to get atten- tion—jumping. This works every time! The owners turn to look at him, talk to him (“No, no don’t do that!”) and touch him (by trying to push him away). Looking at, talking to and touching are what trainers call reinforcing; in other words, those actions will tend to reward the dog and increase the likelihood the dog will do them again. The dog ends up thinking jumping is a game and the owners get frustrated. Even if the owner is able to administer a strong enough correction to deter the jumping, the dog will still try to get attention, and some dogs will then resort to looking for “safe” times to jump, such as jumping straight up instead of on you or jumping on your back. Other dogs may engage in what is sometimes called symptom substitution, which is a fancy way of saying they’ll engage in a different unacceptable behavior to get your attention. Some of these include barking at you, whining, grab- bing their leash or stealing whatever object they can find that will get your attention (a shoe, the TV remote control, a child’s toy or a dish towel).
To effectively teach your dog to be good by rewarding good behav- ior, you must also train yourself to be on the lookout for your dog’s good behavior. Remind yourself and your family members to give the dog praise, attention and treats when he’s being good. Do this consis- tently and your dog will be far less motivated to engage in bad behav- iors to get attention.
Continuing to use jumping as an example, the next step in learning how to train your dog to get attention by being good is to prove to him that every time he approaches any person and sits, he will get attention and a reward. If he suddenly stands up or jumps, simply turn away until he sits down again.
After the dog has had several weeks of consistently being rewarded for sitting any time he is near a person, he will learn that the appropri- ate way to greet people is to sit, as opposed to jump. The final step is to teach your dog that no matter what a person does, the dog should sit when he’s near them. Set up situations where people come and tap their chest and invite him to jump. They can also throw their hands up and speak excitedly to him. The instant the dog jumps, the attention stops and the person turns away. After 20 or 30 seconds, most dogs will sit, especially if the sit behavior has been consistently reinforced over several weeks in numerous situations. The instant the dog sits, praise this appropriate behavior. Following these directions consistently will teach your dog that jumping is not rewarding and sitting is the appro- priate way to greet people.
Jumping is used as the example here for discussing attention, but it is easy to use these techniques to eliminate any other undesirable behavior your dog engages in to get attention.
If you read this chapter and come away with a better understanding of what your role in your dog’s world needs to be, you are on your way to a better relationship with your pet. If you come away also under- standing some specific ways to communicate your role in a nonphysical, nonaggressive way, you are ready to move to the next level. Please read the Practical Training Rules that follow before moving on. And if you are unclear about anything in this chapter, please read it again.
PRACTICAL TRAINING RULES
- If a training method is ineffective, it doesn’t matter how good it sounds.
- Communication is critical, as is understanding.
- Reward exists in nature; so does punishment.
- Reward is more effective in teaching desired behavior than punishment.
- It’s much better to teach your dog what you want him to do than to focus on what you don’t want him to do.
- To address a behavior problem effectively, you must understand its cause.
- Never correct in anger.
- Do nothing to physically harm your dog.
- No training method works for every dog.