"Why is Petal so baaaaaaaaddd???"
This is a conversation (word for word) I had this morning with a client – we’ll call her Mary (to protect the innocent) – when, as I dropped off her 7 month old Boxer after a stay with me, Petal proceeded to (a.) mow Mary down in her joy at their reunion; (b.) race around the house like she might possibly be possessed by the devil; and (c.) attempt to steal the newly-purchased groceries off the counter (they were still in the bags!).
I actually hear this kind of thing a lot: "my dog is bad," or "my dog doesn't listen," or "my dog is stupid." 99.9% of the time, none of these are true. No dogs are just "bad." Dogs – like kids – aren’t going to listen unless they're taught they're supposed to. And, well, okay – some dogs aren't exactly the brightest lights in the sky, but most are intelligent enough to learn what we teach them.
That's the key: what we teach them. Petal's problem – and the problem most dogs have – is that she was never taught exactly what was expected of her, or what she is and is not allowed to do. Even if some attempt at training has been made, often it's the case that it's wildly inconsistent, or it's being done in a way that doesn't make sense to the dog. Given that nowadays dogs are being asked to live in our houses with us the same way our kids do, it's up to us to teach them the same way we do our kids.
Class Is Not Enough
A six-week obedience class isn’t enough to teach your dog the things you need her to learn. It’s a good start, but that’s all it is: a start. It takes years to teach a child everything they need to know to be a productive, appropriate member of society; it’s going to take at least a few months to teach a dog the same thing!
Give your dog all the time she needs to both learn what you want her to learn and to get good at it. People tend to think that the moment a dog understands what a word means they’re going to obey it every time, everywhere, no matter what. That is SO not how it works. Do your kids start saying “please” and “thank you” with no reminders in every situation as soon as they’re able to say the words? Of course not! Help your dog at least as much as you’d help your kids. Remember – you’re not only teaching your dog appropriate behaviors, you’re teaching her a whole new language, too.
If one day jumping on you ends in play and the next day it ends with you yelling at her you’re going to end up with one confused puppy. Decide what your rules are going to be and stick to them. If you don’t want your dog to jump on you, never let her jump on you – or anyone. If she’s not allowed on the furniture, never let her on the furniture. Make sure everyone in the family knows what the dog’s rules are, and that they all have to enforce them. No matter how cute the puppy is, if she’s not allowed on the couch, she can’t be on the couch. In the end, it’s not fair to her.
The more you yell at your dog the worse her behavior will be. Dogs don’t respond to yelling; if anything, it scares them (which is NOT good – your dog should never be afraid of you), but mostly it just makes you look out of control and a little crazy. Dogs don’t respect crazy. If you praise her for good behavior and – in a calm, controlled way – let her know when she’s made a mistake while showing her what she’s supposed to do instead, she’ll learn in a way that’s easy for her to understand.
Be the Leader!
Not in an “alpha dog” way. Your dog knows perfectly well you’re not a dog. Be more like a parent: set rules and boundaries, enforce them, and don’t let your dog tell you what to do. If you let your dog tell you when it’s time to go out, time to eat, time to play, etc., she’s not going to be particularly inclined to listen to you when you turn around and try to tell her to do something. Set her up to understand that you’re the one who makes the decisions about when and how things happen in her life.
Don’t leave your dog languishing in a world where words she doesn’t understand are being shouted at her, and she’s getting in trouble for things she didn’t know were wrong. If you take just a little time to teach your dog some basic manners and a bit of your language, it’ll make your life – and hers! – a thousand times easier and so much more pleasant. And that’s what it’s all about, right? Making it easier to live happily ever after.