Dog training has many variables beyond the basics of teaching sit, down, heel and come. One key part of training is how we interact with our dogs. Cesar Millan (The Dog Whisperer) says to be calm and assertive. When I train dogs in obedience, I speak quietly and say “Good Boy” at the exact right time. Dogs we work with struggle with lunging and leash pulling. They are usually hyperactive or social; they either lunge to seek attention or they are lunging and barking because they fear strangers. Either way, the dog is distracted by a human and lunges towards them, but as a trainer I need to teach the dog not to do this.
I teach with movement, correction, and praise. As the dog learns, we praise for not staring and focusing on the person holding the leash. Once we work with the dog for about a week, it is time to test the behavior in public, real life situations. The worst thing people can do with a friendly or reactive dog is to approach the dog and attempt to pet. Approaching the dog with eye contact, high pitch talking, and a forward lean is going to send a super friendly dog into overdrive. The lunging will begin and the reactive dog’s eyes will start dilating, then they get an adrenaline rush and will start barking. If I am not alert, a bite may occur.
Your Behavior Matters
As a general rule, if you want to pet a dog, get your own dog. You can admire other dogs from a distance and ask questions about the dog in a normal tone of voice but never assume you can pet the dog. A lot of families struggle with dogs that lunge and they are trying to teach them not to lunge. Please be respectful and leave strange dogs alone. When I am approached and asked for permission to pet my dog, I just say, “No, he’s working right now”. People are never offended and are impressed the dog is working.
People who talk to dogs in high-pitched voices put their dogs in overdrive. If you want your dog to be a calm, well-behaved dog you need to act that way. Dogs are not little fur babies, they are animals. I love cute little dogs, but I don’t love cute little dogs that stand on their hind legs as they pull the owner trying to get to me. Those dogs get ignored, and if they come to me for training are taught not to do that. I have people tell me they won’t go to visit a friend because the friend’s dog is obnoxious. Don’t be that dog owner.
Reactivity and Aggression
Dogs typically will test the waters at a young age (6-10 months). I get a fair number of Rottweilers that have guarding issues. They guard anything of value to them, such as food or toys. Any dog can have resource guarding issues, but I see it more with Rottweilers. I asked a breeder I know if she has ever had issues with resource guarding from her dogs. She hasn’t, and shared how important it is to correct the dog at the onset of such behavior. She said you must be firm with them. This lady is 100 pounds soaking wet, which shows it has nothing to do with stature or strength and everything to do with attitude. She is confident and not going to put up with any nonsense with her dogs. It’s all about being calm and assertive.
One common example is when your dog doesn’t want to go in his crate even after you tossed a treat in it. If the dog is aggressive, he may show teeth growl, and snap at you. In this case, be firm, calm, tell him to knock it off and get in the crate. The worst thing you can do is back off and take a time out. If you back away from a dog that growls and snaps at you when he is 6 months old, you are going to have a dog that owns you. If a dog shows aggression towards me, it’s time to do some obedience training. I will have them do a series of training practice without getting any treats for doing it. We are going to do some work, then he is going to his crate to think about it. When your dog is happy and obeying that is when he gets love and treats. It’s all about how we interact with our dogs.
Every dog is unique, but here are the main things to remember for how you interact with them:
- Don’t treat your dog like it’s your fur baby
- Don’t spoil your dog
- Leave strange dogs alone
- Don’t back down from a pup that shows aggression or they will own you
- Teach your dog some basic obedience: sit, down, heel, wait, and place
Dogs are wonderful pets and a great part of the family. We love them, and as I write this my two dogs are laying right next to me. Be a calm, assertive owner and your dog will love you for it. If you are interested in learning more or think your dog would benefit from professional training, we’d love to chat- shoot us an email!