Author - Junior Watson

How To Stop A Puppy From Biting & Nipping

This article is in response to the many, many, questions I have received about nipping problems in puppies. It’s a common problem. I hope the following will help explain why it is so common and how to turn the behavior into something more agreeable for everyone.

how to stop a puppy/dog nipping and biting

Why Puppies Bite & Nip

Dogs live their life without our most useful “tool” – opposable thumbs. We can grasp and hold things to feel and examine them; dogs use their mouths to explore their world. Puppies have a lot to learn. Not only do they have to learn how to be dogs, but they also must learn how to live with humans. That can be the hardest part! We, as humans, also have to learn somewhat how dogs work, and the communication gap can be enormous!

One of the biggest tools puppies have to learn with is their mouth – not only for vocalization, but to touch and feel and explore…and test their limits! Think about a litter of puppies playing. They are rough and tumble – they bite, nibble, and bark. If one puppy bites another too hard, the bitten puppy lets out a screech which usually is successful in getting the hard nipper to temper his bites. This is how they LEARN, and a BIG part of learning is DOING IT WRONG! This is how anyone, including a puppy, can learn to DO IT RIGHT. If a puppy isn’t doing something wrong, he cannot be shown what right is.

Puppies will test their limits with you, too. Nipping and mouthing is a big part of that testing. They mouth and grab hands, pant legs, skirts, etc. Part of how you teach a puppy to temper their biting lies back with how his litter mates taught him – a shrill shriek “OW!!” to let him know he’s gone too far – even if it didn’t hurt that much. One thing that you are responsible for training this puppy – that should start EARLY- is that UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should that puppy’s teeth touch your bare skin. Now, I know Lab owners are going to say “my puppy enjoys taking my hand into his mouth sometimes”. Dogs understand ALWAYS or NEVER, YES or NO. They do not understand SOMETIMES and MAYBE! You will be giving your dog too much human reasoning by letting him decide when it is appropriate to take your hand in his mouth or to nibble your hand!

How To Teach “Nice”

I like the word “nice” or “easy” when I teach a dog to respect my skin. If my puppy gets wild and nippy, I will take his collar (after I let out a big “Ow!!” for nipping too hard) and give it a little tug and offer my hand back to the puppy and tell him, in a firm voice, “NO, NICE!” If the puppy nips again, I repeat the command and tug a little firmer, “I said “NO, NICE!” If the puppy licks your hand, sniffs it, or turns his head away, I tell him “Good, NICE!!” and make sure my voice sounds pleased. Each time the puppy gets away with a nip without working your “NICE” command means he has learned that he can, in fact, get away with nipping – and he will continue to do it.

You can also “set up” teaching “NICE” to your dog (as opposed to waiting for it to happen). I get a bunch of small, soft treats (small and soft means that the puppy will not forget why he got the treat if all he has to do is swallow it. He will forget if you give him a biscuit and it takes him 3 minutes to chew it up!) and hold one in the fingers of one hand. In the other hand – I have the puppy’s collar, and he is sitting close to me. I offer the treat to the puppy and remind him that we are being “NICE”. If he lunges for the treat, I give him a tug on his collar and remind him, “NO, NICE!” The same goes if he grabs the treat and any part of my hand or fingers. (Note: the hand that is holding the treat remains stationary It is the hand holding the puppy that will move and tug the puppy away from the food. If you move your “food hand”, you will encourage the puppy to chase the treat – dogs like moving objects.) With this exercise, the puppy will eventually learn to take the treat without even touching your skin with his teeth.

Heading Off Trouble

Now, after all this – some big “NO NOs” that will undermine your attempts to have what we call “bite inhibition” (in other words, what you were just taught to teach your puppy). NEVER, NEVER, play hand games that will rile up your puppy and encourage him to lunge for your hand, or any other part of your body. That is not part of teaching ALWAYS or NEVER! Chase games, especially for herding dogs (German Shepherds, Bouviers, Collies, Shelties, Border Collies, Corgis, etc.) will also encourage them to nip and bite at legs and heels. Not good!

The best games to play are games involving fetch and toys. One trainer says that any time you play with your dog, make sure you have a toy between you and the puppy. NEVER play tug of war with your puppy – that will only make your puppy think of himself as your equal! The only time I will play tug of war is when I have a wimpy puppy – but I always start the game, and I always finish it too. I also make sure I have taught my puppy a firm “Out” , “Release”, or “Drop it!” command to make sure I don’t have a problem or confrontation when I want the toy back.

Remember, you’re in charge! Your puppy looks to you for consistent – and persistent – training.

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Increasing Confidence In Your Puppy Or Dog

Increasing your dog’s confidence and reducing fearfulness is a process, and requires repetition and patience. Below are some pointers to guide you:

increase-dog-confidence

Basic Tips & Advice To Increase Canine Confidence

  • NEVER tell dog it is OK when it is not
  • Use “Jolly Routine” with play, treats, or toys to get dog thinking about something OTHER than what is concerning him
  • Emphasis on appropriate praise for appropriate behavior
  • Patience and consistency are key
  • Remove emotion, especially disappointment or anger!
  • Favorite treat and/or toy reserved for stressful times ONLY
  • “Strangers” should have special treats (they are “treat dispensers”)
  • Obedience commands work to get dog thinking rather than reacting
  • Tone of voice is VERY important! Sweet, soft tones are reassuring and should ONLY be reserved for cuddle times
  • Normal, matter of fact tones of voice conveys confidence
  • Teach a “watch me” command – watching you will keep your dog safe
  • Exposures to new things should be carefully planned, timed & supervised
  • Clear commands, few words, NO asking/pleading, but BE NICE!
  • ON LEASH when challenging situations happen
  • Backsliding is expected and prepared for
  • Tug games can increase confidence (need to also teach an “out” command)
  • Teach thinking games at home: names of family, toys, places, objects…
  • Prevent hiding & cowering away from fearful things
  • Use a word or phrase in place of “It’s OK” (“Oh, you’re being SILLY!”). Use your matter of fact tone of voice to cue the dog to something OTHER than the fearful object or situation (“sit”, “watch me”, etc)
    • “Let’s say hi” is a good phrase to cue your dog to interacting with strangers, and have plenty of tasty treats & jolly praise handy!
    • “Look” is good for introductions to potentially fearful objects, along with a jolly, confident attitude
  • Petting and touch reserved for non-fearful or non-shy behavior (petting can inappropriately praise this behavior!)

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Thoughts On Leaving Dogs In The Yard

We receive a lot of questions about leaving one’s dog/s in the yard at home. In this post, we’ll cover some thoughts and suggestions about freedom in the yard when dogs aren’t supervised:

Dogs that are either left outside or have access to outside when you are not home or aren’t supervised are at the whim of things out of your control. Dogs will be dogs, and barking, digging, fence climbing, chewing inappropriate items, etc, are all normal dog behaviors. The problem is, these things can be irritating to us and more importantly, people around us – not to mention, can be dangerous to or for your dogs!

Leaving your dog in the yard

What’s The Worst That Could Happen…

By letting your dogs in the yard when you are not supervising, I can envision numerous scenarios:

  • Your dogs bark “too much”, and your neighbor on the next street, who works afternoons or midnights, cannot sleep. He may “take matters into his own hands” by taking your dogs to the shelter/pound one day when you are not home. Or, you will find yourself with tickets for public disturbances, or slapped with a lawsuit by the neighbor. Or, that same neighbor will slip your dogs some antifreeze, which will kill them quickly. In the subdivision I lived before I moved to the country I had a neighbor behind me who let their (Sheltie) dog out for long periods and never corrected the barking (shelties are awful barkers!). This dog would bark at butterflies, cars going by, bikes, other dogs, and imaginary intruders! It drove me crazy!
  • Your dogs dig under the fence, trying to either get a “toy” in the neighbors’ yard, go after a squirrel, or just “escape”, and either disappear or are hit by a car.
  • Dogs adept at fence jumping can easily to jump into your yard and interact or fight with your dogs or possibly pass fleas, worms, or contagious diseases. Cats can come and go at will.
  • Gates that are not padlocked are a welcome invitation to anyone. The meter-reader can inadvertently leave the gate ajar or mace your dogs if he perceives a threat. Kids can help themselves to your yard and your dogs at any time (and if one of those kids claims to have been bitten by one of your dogs it doesn’t matter that the dogs were in your yard, the kids were trespassing OR that they may not have actually been bitten by the dog).
  • People are at liberty to harass your dogs. A long time ago, I had one dog who I let out in the yard while I slept (I worked afternoons). I was unaware the kid next door would throw sticks at my dog, and later threw firecrackers at her. When I discovered this, I never let her outside without my supervision, but she was never the same about loud noises (thunder or firecrackers) OR ten year old boys! A friend of mine caught the neighbor kids throwing rocks at her dog after climbing onto the roof of their garage. Kids will be kids! And, sometimes, adults will be kids, too!

The bottom line is that unsupervised dogs can become nuisances to your neighbors. Even I, who LOVES dogs, don’t appreciate nuisance barking or other out-of-control dog behavior that will interfere with my dogs or my “peace”.

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The Ten Golden Canine Commandments

At DogTrainingBasics.com, we strongly believe in the “10 Canine Commandments”. It’s a reminder of how man’s best friend sees the world (and you). We hope you enjoy it – you can also download this visual in PDF format here. Feel free to share it on social media.

The 10 Canine Commandments

 

The Ten Canine Commandments:

  1. My life is likely to last 10-15 years. Any separation from you will be painful for me. Remember that before you get me.
  2. Give me time to understand what you want from me.
  3. Place your trust in me.
  4. Don’t be angry with me for long, and don’t lock me up as punishment. You have your work, entertainment and friends. I only have you.
  5. Talk to me sometimes. Even if I don’t understand your words, I understand your voice.
  6. Be aware that however you treat me, I’ll never forget it.
  7. Please don’t hit me. I can’t hit back, but I can bite and scratch and I really don’t want to do that.
  8. Before you scold me for being uncooperative, obstinate, or lazy, ask yourself if something might be bothering me. Perhaps I’m not getting the right foods or I’ve been out in the sun too long or my heart is getting old and weak.
  9. Take care of me when I get old. You too will grow old.
  10. Go with me on difficult journeys. Never say “I can’t bear to watch” or “Let it happen in my absence”. Everything is easier for me if you are there.

15 Fun Things To Teach Your Dog!

When you are looking to interact with your dog in other ways rather than the typical walks and obedience work, you can teach her thinking games. Often, if you identify what your dog already has an aptitude for, you can develop on that. Does she use her eyes or her nose more? Below are 15 fun ideas to get you started:

  1. Names of family members/pets: “Where’s ________? Go find ________!”
  2. Find it – teach a “sit” and “wait” while you go hide the item, then come back and release with, “OK! Go Find _____!” Start with the item close – even in the same room, and help her.
  3. Find a person – teach a “sit” and “wait” while someone hides, and release with, “OK! Go find ______!” Or, if the person you want your dog to find is YOU, then, after you have hidden, call your dog! (your dog may need help in “waiting”, at first, with another person holding her.
  4. Hide & Seek (a particular favorite around my house is ROAR!)
  5. Names for toys
  6. Catch – start with popcorn first, because it is light
  7. Frisbee – start with dog close, first
  8. Pick up your toys (and put them away!)
  9. “Magic” tricks
    • treat under cup, 3 cups to choose from
    • find treat under towel or rug (try hiding a toy or treat under a large towel, old blanket or rug – first show your dog where you
    • are putting it, then cover it, and tell her to “find it”!
    • pick hand treat or toy is in
  10. Walk between legs while you are walking (weaving in and out) – just one of the many Freestyle moves you can teach your dog!
  11. Tricks: gimme 5 (gimme change, too!), roll over, sit up, play dead (“bang!”), treat on nose, speak, high 5 — use your imagination!
  12. Two boxes on their sides – take a treat or food, and with your dog sitting facing the box bottoms (the box opening is out of the dog’s sight) show the dog the item and put it into one of the box openings. Release your dog (“OK!”) and tell him to “find it!”
  13. There are all kinds of puzzle toys on the market – ones that dispense food or treats, and some that can be taken apart
  14. “Touch” – teach touch with his nose. “Touch” the palm of my hand, “touch” the tip of a stick – this is the start of “target training”.
  15. You can make obstacles and create an “agility” course with things found around most homes: broomstick on the rungs of 2 chairs to create a jump, weave in and out of dowels stuck in the ground (about 18″ apart) or ski poles, pause “box” with an old rug, jump through an old tire (the original agility tire jump!), kids’ play tunnels can be found at toy stores…

Fun Things To Do With Your Dog

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Adopting A Shelter/Rescue Dog

Dogs of all breeds, mixes, sizes and types are always available for adoption from shelters or rescues. The selection changes daily, unfortunately. The decision to adopt a “recycled” dog can be a positive one if careful choices are made and a commitment is made to train and socialize the new family member.

Adopting A Shelter Dog

Decisions, Decisions

In order to make your shelter adoption a more informed and less of an emotional decision, certain requirements need to be listed before the trip to the shelter:

Size Considerations:

Large, medium, or small dog? Keep in mind size does not necessarily designate space required or energy level.

Coat Considerations:

Long, short, one that will require grooming/shaving? Keep in mind short-coated dogs such as Labs and Dalmatians shed JUST AS MUCH if not more than longer coated dogs such as Golden Retrievers or Shelties.

Which Breed:

Purebred? Mix? If a purebred is desired, make sure ALL breed traits are researched – EACH breed has good and bad traits, and those are variable depending on the person!

Activity Level:

Usually if the breed or mix is known, the level of activity will be able to be ascertained, as well.

Age:

Puppy or adult or senior? Most dogs find their way to shelters between the ages of 6 months and 1 year of age, because that is the worst behaved time of a dog’s life – their adolescence; they WILL misbehave more during that time period. Adult dogs can also come to you with excess baggage of behavior problems from their previous life, but usually they can be worked through. Seniors can sometimes have age-related health or behavior problems, but can be a wonderful laid-back companion.

Visiting The Dog Shelter

When looking for a dog, remember that WYSIWYG!! A shy, cowering dog will take just as much work as an overpowering, in-your-face dog. Dogs in rows of cages or kennel runs may still act like a pack; each one of them may be at their gate barking and clawing! Take each dog you are interested in off to a quieter area away from the masses to evaluate him behaviorally. Ask the shelter worker about the dog. Look into his eyes – I really believe in honest eyes; they can reveal a lot about the dog. A dog that is interested in play, especially fetching, is a very good candidate; you have the start of a good, positive bridge of understanding. Look for a dog that will come up to you – one that is interested in interacting with you. An aloof dog will most likely remain aloof. All family members should meet the adoptive prospect – even down to the smallest child. If the dog shows any fear or aggression to anyone, the adoption should NOT take place!

Bringing Your New Dog Home

Establish an area for the new dog that will keep him AND your house safe. The safest way to do this is with a crate (cage). Most shelter dogs spent their time in a cage or a run, so the transition to a crate at your home should run smoothly. A confined area such as a crate will greatly assist with potty training [see article] and give the dog a safe, comfortable place. Time in your house outside the crate should ALWAYS be supervised for several weeks to several months, depending on the dog. The only factor regarding supervision or lack of is your observation of the dog’s behavior; age, breed and size are not. Feeding times should be in the crate at first, as well as daily times in the crate even while you are around. Dogs quickly learn when they are crated only when nobody is at home, and some can develop separation anxiety. No matter how old the new dog is when you adopt him, he should ALWAYS be treated like a puppy and not trusted with ANYTHING until he earns it. You have worked too hard for your house and the stuff in it to have it destroyed by a rescue dog!

No matter how old the dog is, potty training should ALWAYS follow the same pattern: outside ON LEASH, with voice command to eliminate, praise during elimination and freedom in the house ONLY after elimination outside. The length of time you will need to do this will depend on the dog – it will vary from days to months (see potty training article).

One of the most important things to do with your new dog is to enroll in an obedience class. This class is important for many reasons: · establishes a working relationship and bond between owner and dog · socializes dog to other people and other dogs · helps to reinforce basic training, even if the dog seems to know the basics · helps to teach the dog that he must comply even if many distractions are present.

No Excuses. Period.

DO NOT make excuses for your new dog! You may observe he is shy around men or strangers; many people think the dog was abused before they got him. He may have had a scary experience, but generally, if you don’t know for a fact he was, he was probably just under socialized. To sit on the excuse, “Oh, be careful with him, he was abused as a puppy,” is an immobilizing thought. Instead of carefully avoiding things that frighten your dog, give that man/stranger an irresistible treat to give to your dog every time they meet; you may be able to work through the problem! What may have happened in your rescue dog’s past doesn’t need to cripple him for life!

Unless you worked closely with a shelter veterinarian before the adoption, the first trip after acquiring your new dog should be to a veterinarian. The dog should be evaluated health-wise before he establishes himself in your home and in your heart. The veterinarian will check a stool sample (you need to take a fresh teaspoonful with you) for intestinal parasites, do a general exam, and check him for heartworm (if he is old enough). The veterinarian will also evaluate his vaccination history (which you also need to take to the appointment) and give him any vaccinations he is lacking.

Introducing Your Shelter Dog To Other Pets

If you have other pets, part of your pre-adoption evaluation should be to observe how your dog-of-choice interacts with other animals. Ask shelter workers what this dog is like, but also see for yourself. Introduce another shelter resident the dog is not familiar with – with the help of a shelter worker, of course! If you have cat(s), ask a shelter worker to bring out a cat who tolerates dogs. Some shelters will allow you to bring your pets for an introduction, others may require it.

If the potential adoptee has a problem with the type of pet(s) you already have a home, that dog should NOT go home with you, UNLESS you are willing to spend A LOT of time with introductions and supervision, as well as A LOT of training and socialization time. You must also realize that a dog- or cat-aggressive dog MAY NOT ever change!

Once you have established that your adoptee seems to tolerate other animals, you will still have to invest time in introduction and supervision of the new dog and existing pets at home. Introductions should happen in controlled settings. The new dog should be ON LEASH, and your existing pets should also be controlled in some way: cat in carrier (you could be bitten or scratched if you hold the cat for the new dog to meet!), other dog(s) on leash – one at a time. Some raised hackles are normal even in friendly introductions. Keep leashes fairly loose or leave dragging on the ground, but always be ready to pull each dog away from the other should an argument ensue. If a fight starts, NEVER put your hands anywhere near to grab dogs! Instead, throw a blanket over them or use a chair to separate them by wedging in between. These introductions work best when a person handles each animal.

The new dog should NOT be alone in the house with your existing pets until you have carefully monitored and controlled their interactions for a period of time. That time period could be anywhere from a couple days to a month or more. The new dog should be crated when you are not able to supervise. The crate can still be in an area where your existing pets can approach to sniff; however, this also needs to be supervised. Your pets could tease the new one, or the new one could be somewhat cage aggressive/protective and lunge and growl.

With careful planning, preparation and training, adopting a shelter or rescue dog can be one that will work for life.

Check-list For Adopting A Shelter Dog:

  • DON’T USE YOUR HEART in decisions! Think your choices CAREFULLY through.
  • Make sure the new adoptee will work in your home – with other pets, men, women, children, WHATEVER and WHOEVER he will encounter in his new life with you.
  • CAREFULLY research: breed choices, size, coat, etc.
  • CAREFULLY consider WHY you want a dog, and WHY you want a shelter/rescue dog. After all, the idea is to have adoptions WORK! · Consider WHAT you want to do with this dog: vegetate on the couch, long walks, competition flyball or Frisbee, obedience or agility competition? Use this to help in your decisions.
  • Do you want all that comes with a puppy? Or would you rather start with a dog that is a little more mature?
  • Do NOT adopt with the idea that you will change a dog! You will be able to work with what you have, but generally a dog is the way he’ll be, UNLESS you plan to invest a lot of time and money in training, with no guarantees.
  • Do NOT hesitate to engage the help of an experienced behaviorist or trainer to help ease the adoptee’s transition into your home and your life.

Ask Your Dog Training QuestionsStill Have Questions?

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Collar Training Your Puppy – The Basics

Puppy collar training 101 – A collar needs to be one of the first things you deal with when a new puppy comes home.

I usually purchase a cheap nylon collar long enough to allow room for the puppy to grow. I put a collar on my puppies within the first day or two home. My adult dogs have collars just loose enough to pull over their head (with a little difficulty), however, that is too loose for a puppy collar. A little leg can get caught in the collar very easily (especially since it is a new sensation around his neck). The puppy collar is put on so I can just fit a couple of my fingers under it.

How to collar train a puppy or dog

Puppies Will Dislike The Collar – It’s Natural

Puppies do not like strange, new things. This collar will cause quite a trauma! Since pups cannot express their displeasure, or take their “hands” and try to remove it, they will scratch at it. This does not mean it “itches” – it just means it feels strange and somewhat uncomfortable.

Since I have a leash on my puppy whenever I take her out to “go potty” (see Thoughts on Puppies for details), she had to get used to a leash rather quickly! Puppies dislike a leash more than they do the collar. When you first attach the leash to puppy’s collar, let him drag it around for a little while (supervised, of course!). Next, pick up the end and let the puppy feel the resistance. You may experience anything at this point – from crying to twisting the neck, bucking, pawing, – some of the more resistant pups may actually urinate or defecate. Just remain calm and hold the leash. When the pup has calmed, you can either try the next step, or end the “lesson”.

After the “big fight” is over, you can attempt to encourage the pup to follow you with gentle tugs and a lot of “good dog” vocal encouragement. With very resistant pups, some delicious treats (soft, moist, TINY bits) can be great motivation. You should be upbeat and positive with the pup and there should be a lot of praise for correct behavior (i.e. walking with you while on the leash).

A couple of notes about leashes/collars:

Although I have never myself had a problem, and I do crate my dogs with collars on, I know of dogs that have died by getting their collars somehow caught on their crate. Crate manufacturers recommend NO collars when crated.

Many pups, especially retrieving breeds, tend to mouth and chew their leashes. Generally, they outgrow this. If it gets so bad that there is a tug of war happening every time you attempt to walk, try spraying the lower end of the leash with a bitter type spray (available at your local pet supply shop) or wrapping the leash in tin foil (have you ever chewed on it…?)

  • “Choke” or “Slip” collars, especially chain ones, are ONLY for training and should NEVER be left on a dog when the leash is not on!
  • Be sure to check your puppy’s collar weekly and increase the size as he grows. Collars will imbed in dog’s necks!
  • Get an ID tag for your puppy’s collar as soon as possible. (See Safety Tips for more suggestions).

Ask Your Dog Training QuestionsStill Have Collar Training Questions?

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Why Wont My Dog Listen To Me?

Is your furry friend not listening to you? Then you’ve come to the right place! Before we get started though, I thought you might enjoy this video:

On a serious note though, a dog that won’t listen is a troublesome thing. Here’s what you need to know (and do) to overcome the “My Dog Won’t Listen To Me” dilemma.

Step One: Establish Communication

Talk to your dog. Do you know how much he/she understands? When your dog first comes home with you it is as if he/she has been sent to a foreign country. Dogs know no English, French, Spanish, etc. They must be shown what each word/phrase means – EVEN THEIR OWN NAME! Dogs DO understand “dogspeak” – the tones and body language of canines. The easiest way to get a concept across to anyone (including a dog) is to speak to them in their own language. Since we are unable to bark, etc., the best we can do is use our tone of voice to communicate our desires to our dogs early in our new relationship. With proper training techniques, dogs CAN and DO learn not only English, but whatever languages their owners use.

Why wont my dog listen to me?

Start with your tone of voice. Women have the easiest time with what I call the “Good Dog” tone of voice – the one that is most often high pitched, soft, sweet, and generally in a falsetto. Men have the easiest time with the “Bad Dog” tone – the one that is deep (but doesn’t have to be!), stern, and sometimes gravelly. Men also have the easiest time with the “Command” tone – the one that is neither good nor bad, but has a firm (usually lower) tone. Try telling your dog that he/she is bad using the “Good Dog” tone; then try praising your dog using the “Bad Dog” tone. Watch your dog’s reaction to each. Even if they understand some of the words, they generally react to the tone first.

Many people have a difficult time getting their dogs to obey their “Command” tone of voice. Often it is because they “tell” their dogs in the form of a question: “staaaaaayyyyy?” – with a voice raising at the end of the command. Remember, commands must be firm, short, and to the point, with the tone going down at the end, never letting the word drag on.

Step Two: Basic Training

To start to teach your dog your language, you need to combine the words with an action that shows the dog what you want, and some reinforcement – either positive or negative. Say your dog’s name. Does the dog respond (look at you, wag his tail, move toward you)? Your dog should ALWAYS have a pleasant experience when s/he hears his name – NEVER unpleasant. Some people create a new “Bad Dog” name to use for those bad dog times. To teach the dog his name, position your dog close enough to touch, preferably on a leash so s/he doesn’t move away. Say the name cheerfully and give his ear a tug, or his leash a tug toward you, or move his muzzle in your direction. When the dog looks in your direction, immediately use your “Good Dog” voice and praise and stroke your dog on the head or chest. Practice this until looking at you happens without the tug and continue to practice for the dog’s entire life! It reinforces the communication link between the owner and dog.

Teach other words the same way. Simple one word commands work best. Say the dog’s name (to get his attention – remember that communication link!), follow with a command, and then SHOW him what you want. PRAISE IMMEDIATELY when the action is completed – even if you MADE him do it! Eventually you dog will learn to respond to the command without needing to be shown – but you should never forget to praise!

Step Three: Getting Your Point Across

Sometimes words are not enough when communicating with a dog. Since dogs must learn what each word means, all the other “extra” words are just a bunch of “Blah, Blah” to them! Consider the Gary Larson cartoon that shows an owner scolding his dog, Ginger, then shows what the dog hears “Ginger, blah, blah, blah, Ginger, blah…”.

I have learned that a sort of modified canine language can get a dog’s attention faster than human words. Those of you who have been dog owners probably have already learned just how insignificant the word “NO” is to a puppy. This is especially true if it is said frequently (kinda like kids, in that respect…). the word “no” to a dog is a nice soft word, with no sharp sound to it. Therefore there is nothing in the word to catch a dog’s attention, or to stop them from continuing the action you wish to halt. I find a gravelly, growly “EGH!” (hard to spell a sound but it’s like you are vocalizing while pushing air out of your lungs) can be used to halt activity. Or try “Angh, Angh!” – our sound for no, without saying the word – only say it with a growl, and sharply. That is also a good sound to use! If you are having problems with your dog mouthing you, try a very shrill and loud “OW!!”, which ususally stops them in mid-chew! Their littermates and other dogs use sounds like that to set limits on mouthing behavior.

Praise Sounds…

“Praise Sounds” are harder to create. My dog knows she has done really well when I say one of several words I reserve ONLY for really good work: EXCELLENT! or ALRIGHT!, or PERFECT! I say them very cheerfully, but not with the falsetto “Good Dog” voice. I will often follow any of these words with a beloved scratch on the chest, or an extra-special tidbit (small and chewy, not crunchy) that I use only for extra-special rewards.

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Becoming Pack Leader

pack-leaderDogs need leaders. They operate on a “pack” system: there are leaders and there are followers. If this system does not exist in a household, often the dog will slip into the leader spot. In their mind, somebody needs to be the leader. Although many dogs would rather not have that spot, they will still end up there, because no one else in the household has demonstrated clear leadership.. To dogs, leaders have certain roles, privileges and honors. Leaders are responsible for pack safety. Leaders are responsible for providing food and shelter sources and they have dibs on the best stuff. Leaders have the best and highest sleeping spots. Leaders decide when the rest of the pack eats, sleeps, eliminates, and plays.

Some breeds of dogs tend to be more dominant in nature. Others are more submissive or easygoing. To start out right with ALL dogs, leadership needs to begin in puppyhood. This leadership isn’t nasty or violent, but it is always firm and fair. Some behaviorists may discuss shaking a dog up or alpha rolling. These methods have a place ONLY in a fair and non-violent way, and should NEVER be started with half-grown or adult dogs. . With most dogs your leadership position is easy to have and maintain. Other dogs must be reminded daily, if not more often.

The following leadership checklist includes things every dog owner should follow. How strictly the list is followed depends on how pushy the dog is. Most of the items on the list, however, should be followed to some extent; some people don’t realize how dominant their dog really is. Many dogs are quietly (or not so quietly) pushy.

Most items are very self explanatory. Most items you can start today and do yourself. If you have ANY trouble understanding anything, or if your dog growls or snaps at your for any reason, you need to enlist the help of a trainer who has knowledge about leadership behavior.

Your dog will thank you for the structure and leadership you provide!

Leadership Checklist

  • Feed scheduled mealtimes (No free-feeding) – dogs need to know their food is “earned” from you, the leader, and their bowl is picked up after mealtime is over.
  • Feed after humans eat – leaders eat first.
  • “Sit” and “wait” while you set the food bolw down, and then release to eat. (“OK!”)
  • Dog goes after humans through doorways. (“get back!”)(“Wait!”) This is mostly to enforce control and manners, rather than “leaders always go first”. Actually, true leaders have the -option- of going first, and everyone waits for the leader’s direction.
  • Never play tug-of-war with overly pushy dogs. All other dogs must have an excellent “OUT!” command, and leaders both start the game and end the game. The tug toy is never available for the dog to shove at you, either.
  • If you establish eye contact, dog must avert gaze first. Casual glances are OK.
  • Dog is NEVER allowed to bite or mouth ANYONE, ANYWHERE! (this includes play)
  • No sleeping on the bed with anyone.
  • Petting or attention to the dog should be given when the human decides attention is to be given (absolutely NO PETTING when the dog nudges or paws you or your hand). Leaders designate petting and attention times, not the dog.
  • Puppies or small dogs who demand to be picked up and held and/or demand to be put down should not be picked up until they sit or give some other acceptable quiet behavior and should not be put down until they settle quietly in your lap or in your arms.
  • Games with toys, especially fetch, are initiated AND ended by the human.
  • Never put yourself in an equal or lesser height position than your dog (i.e. – kids don’t get to lay on the floor to watch TV when the dog is out and no one plays on the floor with the dog)
  • Also, dog is never allowed on furniture, especially if uninvited. (“OFF!”) Leaders have all the best resting and sleeping spots.
  • Enforced time-outs in crate – no reason, and not used only when dog misbehaves! (“Kennel-up!”) Crates are also not only used when you are not home, which can foster separation anxiety.
  • Obedience commands are NOT requests – if the leader says “sit”, then the dog should offer a “slam-dunk” sit. Not mean, not nasty! PRACTICE daily compliance. Leaders always follow through when their dog is given a command.
  • A simple obedience command, such as “sit” should be obeyed before any pleasurable interaction (eat, pet, play, etc.)
  • Dog should be taught NOT to pull when on leash. (“Easy!”)
  • Dog should NEVER be left unsupervised with children or anyone who cannot maintain leadership over dog.
  • Dog MUST MOVE if in your path on a floor or stairway, etc. even if you are able to step over him. (“Move!)
  • When on a walk, dog must not be allowed to sniff or eliminate anywhere he wants (for males, one mark against one tree is enough!) (“Leave It!”)
  • Everything belongs to you: the toys, the crate, the bowls, the bed, etc – they are only on loan to the dog! You should be able to clean, move, handle or remove any item at any time without hassle from the dog.
  • Dog should be taught an “out” or release command (“give”, “release”, “out”) for things in his mouth. Dog should not be allowed to steal things and if that happens, they should be able to release item on command.
  • Remember – appropriate leaders are NOT mean, and are NOT nasty or angry. They are firm and fair, and often even fun! Leaders never hold grudges, and are always appropriate.

* Words in parentheses are suggested commands you can work to teach your dog. *