Do you have an over excited demanding dog you appear to have lost control over?
Having a dog who appears in control of everything and demands attention when they want it is actually more common than you think. As a dog trainer working in the Dorset area I come across this issue weekly. The degrees of issue can vary from it being mild to a point where the dog can almost appear threatening if it doesn’t get what it wants. Thankfully the latter is rare.
This post will examine the problem and look at some of the issues the owner causes and the role of the dog training world in complicating matters with being politically correct.
Dog training professionals getting their house in order
Dog training has changed for the better, no one can argue with yet. There is still a lot which needs addressing such as regulation of trainers and behaviourists. However, I have seen we are in danger of being too politically correct. By this I mean we can no longer use words like ‘correction, or leadership or saying ‘NO’ to the dog without falling foul of those in the training world who have perhaps taken things too far to the extreme. Let me say that I do not agree with pain inducing equipment or hitting the dog, but I will verbally correct a dog and let it know the boundaries.
I know in my own dog training practice that when I discuss about providing leadership to the dog I have to explain this does not mean the owner is the pack leader or the ‘alpha male’. It is about giving the dog boundaries, setting rules and ensuring they are followed. We do it for our children, yet doing it for our dog can be a dirty word amongst some of my fellow professional. As I would never hit my daughter I will not inflict pain on my dog, but my dog understands no and where the boundaries are, the same as my daughter does.
What happens when we live in a society where there are no rules or boundaries set for our children?? Well the same happens when we fail to do the same for the dog who lives with us. Dogs are masters of survival and their ancestors knew how to manipulate us to ensure their survival. The dog we have today will do the same and they will take every opportunity to ensure they can ‘milk the system’ Of course nowadays it is not a matter of life and death survival for most dogs, but them making sure they have access to those things which they find rewarding.
Why do dogs get to be over excited and demanding?
The basic answer to this question is we teach them this is a rewarding and acceptable behaviour without realising we are doing it. One day we look at our dog and realise we have created something not nice and a dog trainer is called.
An example I use which people can relate to. Most of us have seen or been there where a young child starts screaming in a supermarket for sweets and everyone looks around. The mother has two options. Ignore the child and hope it learns this behaviour will not get the sweets and perhaps risk someone querying child neglect and then walk the walk of shame around the supermarket. Or option 2 is the mother opens a bag of sweets and pacifies the child so she can carry on shopping and people stop staring. Option 1 is the better one, but the most difficult to do and the child will soon learn that when mum says ‘NO’ it means exactly that and this type of behaviour will not be rewarded. If the quick fix is option 2 then this behaviour will be seen as rewarding and most likely repeated when there is an audience. Of course some people would say we cant do option 1 as it will be stressful for the child and may effect its later life!!! Some in the dog training profession would say we should not correct dog behaviour, but just ignore it. We need a balance!!
Dogs are experts in trying and learning new behaviours, they practice it daily and are persistent and are totally focused on their task. We might be able to negotiate with a child: if you behave now you can have sweets later. You cannot do this with a dog. You have to be more persistent and consistent with a dog as you can’t bargain that they can pull today as you need to get somewhere, but on other walks they cant pull. Remember a dog’s day is based around ‘whats in it for me and what actions do I need to take in order to get those rewards’
A dog who is learning that certain actions will deliver rewards such as fuss, access, fun or food then they will push these behaviours until we deliver them. We think its cute when a dog keeps nudging our hand for a fuss. We think we are important!! What we are is the instrument which delivers the fuss when the dog demands it. The dog has learnt it nudges your hand and you will stroke it. Suddenly after many reinforcements of this behaviour you ignore the dog or push it away because your busy and the dog tried harder and might cry a little. The dog is now modifying its learnt behaviour to tempt you to reward. If you do then that is the slippery slope as you have just taught the dog if it persists then it wins.
Teaching your dog that you set the rules and boundaries
I consider myself a middle of the road trainer. I don’t agree with causing the dog pain to get it to comply and I don’t sign up to the notion I must not upset the dog because I said No to it. We can teach the dog we have rules and boundaries without enforcing this with pain. We do this with children. When I work with a client who has a demanding dog then I teach the owner to change the way things happen. The dog needs to learn that demanding behaviour gets nothing and everything rewarding must be earned. There is no easy fix to change this behaviour as the dog has been reinforced that it is rewarding
As an experienced dog trainer I work with the client to modify what the dog finds rewarding and support the client on this difficult journey. They have to show the dog in a kind way that the behaviour is no longer rewarding and a new ways are more rewarding. Patience and setbacks are part of the process, but dogs are very clever and soon start to realise if they try another behaviour then that is more rewarding.