5 top tips to see an improvement in your dog's behaviour
Do you find yourself struggling with your dog's behaviour? I get it; raising a well-behaved, respectful and obedient companion definitely has its challenges. Sometimes, all we want is someone to come along with a magic wand and, just like magic, fix all your dog's problem behaviours.
Now, although I do not have a magic wand (I would be out of a job if I did!) The following 5 tips are sure to make a positive impact on your dog's behaviour.
1. Reward your dog for good choices
As professional dog trainers, we are usually called in when things aren’t going so well with people’s animals. Perhaps they are ripping up the backyard, jumping all over guest or are exhibiting other behavioural issues which their owners deem to be unacceptable.
However, it is essential to ensure that even though our dogs may have behavioural problems that we would like to fix, we are still acknowledging for when they choose to do behaviours that we like! Doing this means that not only do we help to shift into a positive and proactive mindset when it comes to our dog's training, but in fact, when we start rewarding our dogs for making good behaviour choices, they are much more likely to repeat these in the future leading to an improvement in their overall behaviour.
Lean on management techniques to prevent rehearsal of behaviour
If you have had a private consult with myself, you would have heard me say that there is time for training and time for management. Training is when we are actively engaged with our dogs and working towards a goal; management maybe when we are simply preventing the rehearsal of the behaviour we don’t like. This is so important as our dogs are learning ALL. THE. TIME. They do not just switch on their brain for a 20-minute training session; and they are constantly learning both the good and not-so-good behaviours.
Let's use jumping on guests as an example. If you are caught off guard by a surprise visitor, if you are unable to put into practice the training techniques to combat this, it would be my advice to lean on management in this circumstance. That may be putting your dog outside, behind a baby gate, or in a crate that prevents them from rushing to the door and jumping all over your poor, unsuspecting visitor! This is so important as, generally, any behaviour that is repeated is behaviour that is reinforced.
Ensure your dog is getting appropriate outlets
Every dog has biological needs that must be met through outlets such as chasing, biting, chewing, foraging, etc. For example, perhaps you have one of the herding breeds, such as a Border Collie or Kelpie. These breeds generally LOVE to chase due to their intense prey drive, and if this desire is not fulfilled, it is likely that they will look to other ways to be able to satisfy that need. Usually, what they choose is not ideal for us, and in many cases, such as car chasing, this can be incredibly dangerous!
Introducing ways that your dog can feel biologically fulfilled in appropriate ways plays a huge part in curbing behavioural issues. For herding breeds, why not try an interactive game of flirt pole (a long pole with string and toy attached to the end that your dog can chase, catch, and bite!) If you have a gun dog such as a Labrador, Golden Retriever or Cocker Spaniel, how about teaching them to retrieve items such as your keys, tidy their toys away or a formal retrieve to hand?
Set your dog up for success, not failure.
When teaching new behaviours to our dogs, many of us fall into the trap of asking for too much too soon. Whether this is expecting our young puppies to walk on a loose leash in a busy park past other dogs and people when they only had a leash clipped onto them for the first time last week. Maybe we taught our dog to sit and be rewarded within 3 seconds, and now we are asking them to hold that sit for 10 minutes without any prior build-up. When our dogs don’t meet our expectations, it can very quickly lead to frustration and disappointment. However, we need to ask ourselves, is the expectation I am putting on my dog realistic or am I setting them up to fail without adequately preparing them for the task I am asking?
To combat this, we need to ensure that, first of all, our dog understands what we are asking of them and that we have broken the task down into bite-sized chunks that gradually increase with difficulty over time. We don’t want to go from zero to one hundred and then get angry at our dogs when they don’t perform in the way we hoped.
Work on your relationship with your dog.
If you ask most people if they have a good relationship with their dog, they would tell you, ‘Yes of course!’ but unfortunately, I’m about to give you a bit of a truth bomb!
Yes, I’m sure your dog loves you; however, do you seem to become non-existent to them when faced with competing motivators such as other dogs or people? Perhaps they push you around through demand barking, nudging constantly for pats, barging through the door or jumping all over you until they succeed in getting what they want? Do they look to you in times of uncertainty, or have they learned through past experience that either you will not take control of a challenging situation or advocate for them appropriately and as a result, they have to be the ones stepping up in the form of barking/lunging/growling or other reactive behaviours?
I hope you have found these top tips helpful, and do let us know in the comments if you implement them into your dog's life and the positive changes you see in your dog's behaviour.