Read an Excerpt
Training Your Dog the Humane Way
Simple Teaching Tips for Resolving Problem Behaviors & Raising a Happy Dog
By Alana Stevenson
New World LibraryCopyright © 2011 Alana Stevenson
All rights reserved.
POSITIVE TRAINING AND HOW DOGS LEARN AND UNDERSTAND THE WORLD AROUND THEM
WHAT IS POSITIVE TRAINING?
The term positive training means giving dogs rewards for what they do. A reward is something that your dog enjoys and that encourages him to repeat a behavior. Rewarding a dog can be done in many ways. Play, baby talk, smiling, food, praise, toys, petting, running, throwing grass for your dog to catch, swimming, walks, and tug-of-war can all tell your dog that what he is doing is good. Showing your dog that he has succeeded in learning what you were trying to teach is, in essence, positive training.
Positive training is a way of teaching your dog desired behaviors, redirecting and preventing unwanted behaviors, and encouraging your dog to work with you to achieve the best results in a positive, fun way — without frightening, bullying, inflicting pain, or physically forcing your dog to do what you want. Tools and techniques not used in positive training include choke, nylon slip, prong, pinch, or shock collars; jerking on the leash; squirting a dog with a water bottle; hitting; shaking a dog's scruff; kneeing a dog in the chest; slamming a dog to the ground; staring; growling; and yelling. (See appendix 4 for more information on harmful training techniques.) It is so much more enjoyable to compassionately teach your dog what you want from him than it is to be angry at him for not living up to your expectations.
WHY THERE IS NO NEED FOR PUNISHMENT
There is never any need for punishment. Animals don't entirely understand it (at least not when it comes from humans). They also become easily inhibited, shy, frightened, or agitated by punishment and may lose their love of play, along with a big portion of their self-esteem. Besides having these negative and damaging side effects, punishment does not give a dog the information he needs to succeed. It does not provide a dog with the knowledge necessary to do what the punisher is wanting. It only confuses the dog and creates more anxiety for him.
Another problem with "correction" and punishment-based training (such as using leash jerks, choke chains, pinch collars, physical confrontation, scolding, and reprimands to achieve desired results) is that animals do not learn well under stress. The moment any animal, including a human being, is stressed, his or her ability to learn decreases. Through positive methods, play, and motivation, you can teach your dog to overcome fear and anxiety and to learn behaviors on cue (in response to requests such as "Leave it," "Wait," "Drop," "Come," "Lie down," and "Stay") without making him anxious in the process.
DOGS ARE SOCIAL: THEY DO EVERYTHING TOGETHER
Dogs are innately social and communal animals. They live, sleep, eat, play, and hunt together. It is psychologically stressful and abnormal for a dog to be left alone. Even if a dog is not in close proximity to another dog, he will usually remain in view of other dogs or follow them. This can be very problematic for dog owners who have only one dog, who want their dogs to sleep in a different room, or who work long hours.
This desire for social interaction and attention is why dogs will follow the people they are closest to from room to room (the so-called Velcro dogs). It is why, when left alone, many dogs do not want to eat and may panic. It is why dogs want to sleep on the bed with you and why puppies cry when you leave them. Even eating is communal. Your dog wants to eat with you and be close to you. This is why your dog may bring food from the kitchen into the living room and eat it while watching you watch television.
DOGS EXPERIENCE LIFE IN THE PRESENT
Dogs experience life in the present, as do most animals. They just go with the flow, interacting with and reacting to their environment as things happen to them. They are in the moment. This is a very innocent state.
We can catch a glimpse of what it is like to live in the moment by considering human infants and toddlers. Young toddlers learn what is safe versus dangerous, pleasant versus unpleasant. Their frustrations, anguish, hunger, and excitement all take place in the present. They don't think of the consequences of their actions or how past events affect future circumstances. Nor do they initially understand how your behaviors relate to theirs. And so it is with your canine companion.
Being in the present does not mean that your dog does not remember the past. Dogs, like other animals, remember past events, people, and places. If they didn't, they wouldn't know where to find their food bowl, who you were when you came home, what the leash meant when you picked it up, or where they left their favorite toy. But being in the moment means that they do not understand how your behavior in the present relates to their behaviors in the past.
This means a number of things when it comes to how dogs learn and interpret our behaviors. For example, if you are interacting with your dog because of something that happened four hours ago, he will not understand. He may remember what happened a few hours in the past but cannot relate your present behavior to a past event. This is another reason why punishing a dog is not very helpful. When you reprimand your dog for something he did in the past, he will not make the connection. He will assume that something is going on in the present that is unfortunate and potentially frightening. Likewise, if you interact with him regarding something that happened four seconds ago, he will most likely correlate your behavior with what is occurring at the present second.
In dog training, the success or failure of teaching a dog a concept or behavior depends on timing. Sometimes, to be effective, you must reinforce a behavior within a half second. If you are off by even a few seconds, your dog may be very confused about what you are trying to teach him. As the seconds pass, so does his understanding.
Unfortunately, by imagining our dogs as people, we set them up to fail to meet our expectations. We assume that they understand much more than they do. Living in the moment is much easier for us to observe than to conceptualize when teaching dogs. When you positively teach a dog a prompted (or cued) behavior, you realize quite quickly just how precise your timing has to be for him to understand you. You also realize how important your behaviors are in influencing your dog's behaviors.
DOGS ARE VISUAL, NOT VERBAL
Dogs learn visually, at least when it comes to their interactions with humans. It is much easier to teach a dog with hand signals, mannerisms, facial expressions, and body language than it is to teach him with verbal instruction. Tone of voice also affects how dogs learn and respond to people. Inflection is very important, since dogs tune in to sounds and noises that go up and down (such as a whistle or an expression such as "Hey" or "Let's go"), as opposed to the monotonous sound we make when we pronounce words like "Come," "Stand," "No," or "Stop."
Dogs do not easily discriminate among human words. Most of the time dogs are not paying attention to what we're saying, so when we talk to our dogs and then talk to each other, dogs tune us out. When you think your dog is tuning you out, you are probably right. This is not because your dog is purposely trying to ignore you, challenge you, or be stubborn; rather, it is because often he is simply focusing on other things and not on verbal language, especially language coming from another species! Of course, dogs can learn certain words and some aspects of what we say, but that long-winded dialogue you are having with your dog more than likely is going right over his head (that is, if you are expecting him to take you literally).
Using visual signals is the best way to teach a dog quickly and easily. Dogs are sensitive to your body language, the inflection and tone of your voice, your touch, and your proximity. Focus on enhancing your nonverbal communication skills, and your dog will be happy you did!
BODY LANGUAGE IS VERY MEANINGFUL TO DOGS
Body language is important to dogs. The way dogs position themselves in relation to one another has significance. If dogs are being friendly, they usually do not face each other directly. They position themselves parallel to each other or so that they are standing, sitting, or lying down at perpendicular angles to each other.
Direct, face-to-face contact is very intense and stressful for most dogs. If dogs face each other and stare, a fight may ensue, especially if one dog fails to angle himself. Mock attacks during play, when one dog directly charges or faces another, are just for fun. But if this positioning is not preceded by play gestures such as paw taps and play-bows, the other dog will take it much more seriously.
Most of us approach dogs face on. We pet them directly on top of their heads. We lean over and stare at them. When dogs approach us, we rarely angle ourselves away from them. Doing so would be a nice, welcoming gesture. When we face dogs directly and extend our hands toward them to pet their heads, we think we are being friendly, but many dogs get a different impression.
Many dogs become aggressive, or cower and seem head shy when people lean over them, pet them directly on the head, or stare at them while putting their faces too close to theirs. That's because these gestures and behaviors are threatening and unnerving to dogs. Some dogs learn to adapt to our body language, but others do not. Many canine behavior problems stemming from fear and aggression diminish considerably when people stop facing dogs directly and staring at them.
DOGS HAVE AN OPPOSITIONAL REFLEX
Dogs love tug-of-war because they have an oppositional reflex. That is, when dogs feel a force pushing against them or pulling on them, they will instinctively push or pull in the opposite direction. Have you ever noticed that when your dog approaches you and you push him away, he gets more excited and keeps pushing himself toward you? Or that the more you pull back on the leash, the more your dog seems to pull against you? When you push your dog down for jumping on you, you are actually encouraging him to jump back up because he is instinctively going against the force you exerted.
For this reason, you should not push him away from you when he jumps on you, close his mouth if he is play-biting, or pull back on the leash if he is pulling, or you will make the problem much worse. (For tips on preventing and eliminating play-biting and jumping, see chapter 4.)
DOGS DO NOT RESPECT PROPERTY RIGHTS: OWNERSHIP CHANGES PAWS
If an item is in a dog's mouth or under his paws, it is rightfully his. If nobody possesses an object, it is up for grabs. Dogs view ownership much the same way that toddlers do. If an item of yours is not in your possession, meaning that you are not actively holding, focusing on, or eating the object, then it is not your property.
Dogs don't naturally understand human property rights. In dog culture, if a dog does not let go of an item or walk away from it, it rightfully belongs to him. When a dog stops focusing on an object or becomes distracted and walks away from an object, another dog will take possession of it. Ownership of an object changes according to who has it in the moment.
Unless they live in the same household or know each other well, dogs normally do not remove items directly from other dogs' mouths. Doing so is rude, improper doggy etiquette. Fights can ensue when it is unclear to whom an item belongs, such as when two dogs approach an object at the same time. This is also why dogs may growl at people when people approach items that the dogs love. Dogs are saying, "Back off." It doesn't matter if it is your wallet, your cell phone, your underwear, or your socks. If your dog has it, it's his. It doesn't belong to you anymore.
AN OBJECT'S WORTH IS BASED ON ITS USE AND SOCIAL VALUE
The importance of an object to a dog is partly based on its use and social value to others. Tissues, socks, underwear, the TV remote, and stuffed toys in the children's rooms are all items that are important, novel, and used frequently. The old toy on the floor designated for the dog that nobody uses has little value, so your dog rarely plays with it. By having a toy bin, and playing with or acting interested in your dog's toys and other items you want your dog to have, your dog will be more enthusiastic about wanting those items too. If you chase your dog around the living room every time he grabs the Kleenex or toilet paper roll, you are only making the toilet paper roll or tissue more desirable to him.
DOGS LEARN BY ASSOCIATION
Animals learn by association. Webster's New World Dictionary defines association as "a connection in the mind between ideas, sensations, memories, etc." Dogs make connections by pairing events or sensations that occur simultaneously.
Not understanding that dogs learn this way can cause a lot of misunderstandings and lead to many behavioral problems in our dogs. For instance, if you jerk on the leash every time your dog sees a person, he will think that the next time he sees someone, he will be jerked or yanked. You might think you are correcting an unwanted behavior, such as jumping, barking, or lunging. Your dog, however, has not made this connection. He may assume that every time a person passes, you will jerk on his leash or punish him. Over time, he may establish a negative association with people and become fearful, aggressive, or overly submissive. This can happen if you punish your dog around other dogs, children, motorcyclists, bicyclists, skateboarders, or guests at the door. As a result of your frequent reprimands, scolding, and punishments, your dog now reacts to these triggers more frequently and with less provocation.
Why contribute more stress or anxiety to a situation your dog already feels upset or nervous about? Getting angry at your dog for being upset, anxious, or stressed out is, of course, not the best way to teach him to calm down. You will find that you can change many of your dog's fearful or negative emotions by desensitizing him (see chapter 5 for more about this technique) and by pairing positive things your dog enjoys with things he dislikes or finds unpleasant.
DOGS LEARN IN THE ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH YOU TEACH THEM
Dogs learn in the context in which you teach them. If you teach your dog a behavior in the kitchen, he will think the behavior is linked to the kitchen. If you always teach him a behavior in the living room and assume he will perform the behavior in the hallway or on the patio when friends are over, he will probably disappoint you. You didn't teach him the behavior in the hallway or on the patio — you always taught him the behavior in the living room!
You have to teach a behavior in the environment in which you want it to occur. When training your dog, remember that when you change environments, you may have to reteach him what you think he already knows. Ultimately, you must teach your dog in the setting where you would like him to perform the behavior.
DOGS LEARN BY REPETITION, AND PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Dogs learn through repetition. The more often they engage in a certain behavior, the more likely they are to repeat it. Positive or negative, behavior patterns are likely to become habits. Practice makes perfect! If your dog performs a behavior once, the likelihood of his performing the behavior again is almost 100 percent. Be aware of this, and try to divert any unwanted behaviors before they become patterns.
* * *
Positive Training and How Dogs Learn and Understand the World around Them
Dogs are social. They do everything communally.
The use of punishments can make dogs fearful, anxious, and reactive.
Dogs live in the moment. They do not understand how your present behavior relates to a past event. Nor are they contemplating the future or trying to usurp your power.
Dogs are visual learners. Using your body language, visual signals, and voice inflection is the best way to teach dogs quickly and easily.
When being friendly, dogs will position themselves so that they are at an angle to each other, or they will stand, lie down, or sit next to each other.
To dogs, property rights are determined by who has immediate possession of an item. If a dog has an object of yours, he does not consider it your property anymore.
The value of an object to a dog is based partially on its worth and importance to others.
Dogs learn by association, that is, by pairing things that occur simultaneously in the environment.
Dogs are context learners: they associate a new behavior with the environment in which you teach it to them. Ultimately, you must teach dogs in the settings in which you would like them to perform the behavior.
Excerpted from Training Your Dog the Humane Way by Alana Stevenson. Copyright © 2011 Alana Stevenson. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.