Welcome to the seventh post in our Dog Training blog series. This ongoing series features guest posts by local professional dog trainers and highlights some of the big questions they address to their clients. Today's post was written by Adam Miller of Big Dog Canine Behavioral Dog Training.
All dog’s need affection in order to enjoy a balanced life but it is essential that dog owners understand when it is appropriate to give affection to their furry family members. People have a bad habit of using human psychology when dealing with their dog’s behaviors…they tend to coddle, sweet talk or console their dog as they would a child. Unfortunately, this does not work with dogs. Dogs only understand your energy when you interact with them…as I have always said, “it is not what you say to a dog but how you say it.”
Never give affection to a dog that is in a bad state of mind…especially when your dog is exhibiting nervous, scared or aggressive behavior. This common mistake is actually reinforcing and nurturing the dog’s conduct. A good example to illustrate this concept is what I call the “Spoiled Little Dog Syndrome”. I frequently see owners make this mistake when dealing with a small dog that is reacting to a situation with fear or reactivity. The owners have a habit of picking up the small dog, hugging and petting it and sweet-talking the dog. The owners are actually rewarding and encouraging the behavior. Look at it from the dog’s perspective…every time they react this way, their owner picks them up, coddles them, talks sweet to them and pets them. Since the owner is unwittingly highly rewarding the behavior, the dog will assume that the behavior is proper and the unwanted behavior will persist.
Instead of rewarding your dog’s troublesome behaviors, it is the owner’s job to help their dog get through the situation and realize that there is no need to respond in a bad way. If an owner feels bad or sorry for their dog, they cannot help their dog…the owner actually becomes part of the problem and not part of the solution. Getting worried or stressed will only give your dog more reason to react with bad behavior.
The proper response, to any situation that normally elicits an unwanted reaction from your dog, is to ignore, re-direct or address the behavior. By ignoring the dog’s behavior, you are not empowering the problem and you will show your dog that the situation is no big deal and that there is nothing to worry about. If ignoring your dog does not work, you can try re-directing your dog’s attention so you can get the dog’s focus off of the stressor. Thankfully, dogs can only do one thing at a time. The trick is to get your dog’s focus back onto you so that the dog is less likely to react in a negative manner. Finally, if ignoring or re-directing do not work, then it is necessary to address the behavior. The goal of correcting your dog, whether it is a verbal, spatial or physical, is to follow through until your dog changes its state of mind and you can get the dog’s attention back onto you.
Remember, no matter which technique is used, it is important that you always remain calm and assertive when communicating with your dog. If you get anxious, worried or fearful about an issue, you are giving your dog cause to act in an inappropriate manner and your dog will never learn how to correctly respond to a given situation…if the pack leader is worried than everyone is worried. Always give your dog lots of love and affection but be sure that you are doing it at the right times and that you are not accidentally nurturing the exact behavior which you are trying to prevent.
This post was written by Adam Miller of Big Dog Canine Behavioral Training. For more information or to learn how Adam can help with your dog needs, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.