Correcting Your Dog’s Bad Habits
Do you have someone in your life who is constantly nagging at you, expecting things from you that you know nothing or very little about? You have no clear image of what it is they want – or don’t want. Do you like spending a lot of time with that person?
Do you keep nagging at your dog about bad habits she has developed? Isn’t it amazing that she stays optimistic and comes running to you with her tail wagging…for now. Wouldn’t life for both of you be much more pleasant if you took the time to train a good replacement habit through positive means rather continuing to nag about the bad one? Obviously, the nagging is not being understood.
It takes time and effort to teach a dog to be and stay the good companion she wants to be. Avoid thinking the dog’s behavior is due to some human attributes exhibited by her. A dog cannot he stubborn, spiteful or jealous. They don’t feel the human emotion of guilt. Their behavior might look like one of these emotions, but quite simply, they are not capable of that level of reasoning. The bad behavior is a learned behavior that can be unlearned. (Always be sure that a behavior change is not due to an illness or injury.)
Your dog wants a close, loving relationship with you. Use that to your advantage while training for positive behavior. Praise, a little play, an occasional goodie or pats are great rewards while training a new habit. Use her name in a positive, enthusiastic way so that she wants to come to you or obey you when she hears it, not run or slink away because she associates it with reprimand. The goal of training away a bad habit is to maintain the good qualities of a dog while eliminating the bad habit. You and your dog are partners in this endeavor.
Creating situations where the dog can have success are essential for developing that new habit. So you need to be very clear within yourself what specific behavior you want to change and just as importantly, what behavior you want to develop in its place.
How do you recognize success? It may even be helpful to write down the goals to stay focused. The new habit may have to be broken down into small steps toward the ultimate goal…especially if the bad habit has been a part of the dog’s routine for quite some time. By writing down intermediate steps you not only stay focused, you also can see the progress.
Remember, the bad behavior has been getting the dog a lot of attention, albeit negative attention, and part of eliminating the behavior is eliminating that attention. For example, if you have a dog that jumps on you when you get home, don’t push her down or yell at her; she is getting attention. Rather, turn your back on her and fold your arms in front of you, don’t look at her. Pay absolutely no attention to her. She will learn that the jumping behavior is not getting her what she wants. What she wants is attention. Once she stops jumping, give her attention for a proper replacement behavior, such as, sitting in front of you waiting for a pet.
Be sure the commands that you are teaching the dog are ones that the dog can really perform. If you give her an undoable command, she is allowed to ignore it, and you ignore the fact that she did not perform or try to perform, she can learn that intermittent obedience is okay. If you say “sit….sit….sit….sit” the dog learns that she can ignore you and doesn’t have to respond until the 4th time. Use one word commands – once. Commands should be given as calmly as you can muster…but firmly, then gently enforce the command. As you may have discerned by now, part of developing new habits in our dog may be developing new habits within yourself. After all, the dog’s bad habits have created a lot of frustration on your part and you may have fallen into ineffective ways of responding to them. Part of training the dog is analyzing your own performance in the training process.
As you start to dissect the bad habit in order to replace it with a good habit, take a look at what might be confusing the dog. For example, if you allow the dog to sit beside you on the sofa but you get upset with her if she jumps up to sit by your mother-in-law when she visits, you are making confusing demands. Replace that behavior by teaching her the commands of “Up” when she is allowed on the sofa and “Floor” when she is not. It will take a while, but stay positive and consistent and the time will come when she will start asking before she gets up.
If your dog’s bad habit is predictable, it is best to catch it before it happens…in the “I think I’ll…” stage. Divert her attention by having her do what you want her to do (not just not do what she was about to do), followed by a positive reinforcement. Remember, you want your dog’s respect; something that will not happen if you loose your temper and constantly speak in angry tones.
Don’t feel quite up to the task by yourself? Many people do not and quite honestly are not prepared to do all the training needed. It might be time to invest in a good obedience Trainer. If you choose that route, you will need to use care in the selection of a trainer. You and your dog can learn lessons that will lead to a happier life for both of you.