naughty dog

My dog won’t take no for an answer

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“My dog has many good points but does not take no for an answer and is very disobedient when he appears to be totally deaf.”

So wrote a reader of her “challenging” dog.

Well, I’m glad the poor dog’s owner recognises he has good points! But the rest of her statement means that she doesn’t understand her dog or his motivation one bit.

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Disobedient. The dictionary tells us this means “refusing to obey rules or someone in authority”. Now if you’re to obey rules, you have to know what those rules are. And I’m willing to bet this dog has NO idea what the rules are that he’s meant to “obey”!

A common misconception

There seems to be an extraordinary misunderstanding rife amongst dog-owners. They think their dog arrives pre-programmed with English (or Spanish, or Turkish, or whatever they speak themselves). They think that the dog will have a perfect understanding of the meaning of words enunciated loudly and with clarity. So “SIT!” should immediately have the dog sitting.

Furthermore, they think that all their physical expressions and vocal tones will be instantly understood. So “NOOOOOO!” said in a menacing way with finger wagging will clearly mean “Take your paws off the table and go to your basket.”

How is your non-verbal, non-human, dog meant to know this?

Teach first

In the first place, your dog needs to be taught what it is that’s wanted - not left to guess, take pot-luck and hope he gets it right.

You have to give the dog information about what it is you want, not just what you don’t want.

Think of a toddler in your home. You’d be showing her what you wanted, kindly and patiently, naming objects and actions in that motherly chatty way that comes naturally to loving parents. Requests would come as suggestions, (Do you think your teddy bear would like to have tea now?) You wouldn’t bark orders at her! You wouldn’t expect her to understand language before she is verbal herself!

You may treat your dog the exact same way. And it’ll help if you think of how you get your wishes known and followed with your human family.

Cues not commands

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Do you order, or “command” your partner or family?

Or do you perhaps ask them?

Perhaps you drop hints, without even saying anything at all! For instance, you may come home exhausted and throw yourself into an armchair. A sensitive family member may say “I’ll put the shopping away for you - would you like a cup of tea?” Or even, “You make us a cup of tea and I’ll deal with all these groceries.”

We give and take. We assess a person’s mood and act accordingly. We adapt our requirements to the situation. We are kind and patient (if we want to keep the peace!).

In enlightened dog training, we call these communications - not “commands” but “cues”. They can be vocal cues (“Would you like to sit?”), or they could be environmental cues (I’m holding your lead - if you want me to put it on you for a walk you need to sit). And no, they don’t understand every word - neither does your toddler. But they can get the drift.

So if you take the word “command” right out of your vocabulary you may find that straight away you get on better with your dog. Really!

You have asked your dog to Sit and she doesn’t. Instead of shouting SIT ever louder and more urgently, you may ask yourself why she doesn’t sit:

• Is it because she’s in pain?

• Is it because the floor is slippery so she’s unable to prop herself up?

• Is it because it’s wet and muddy and she’s a comfort-lover? (My whippet wouldn’t dream of sitting on wet grass - and I’d never ask her to!)

• Is it because she’s distracted by the dog over the road/the postman/children screaming/the shopping bags on the floor/[insert your dog’s fear or fancy here]?

• … or is it perhaps because you never taught her?

“Disobedient” and other such words

The dictionary gives us related words for disobedient:

unruly, wayward, errant, disorderly, delinquent, disruptive, troublesome, rebellious, defiant, mutinous, recalcitrant, uncooperative, non-compliant, wilful, unbiddable, intractable, obstreperous, awkward, difficult, perverse, contrary, naughty, mischievous …

I’ve heard almost all of those words applied to a dog’s behaviour by a frustrated and thwarted owner! Often it’s new dog-owners talking about their first puppy. They clearly are labouring under the misapprehension I outlined above, and are expecting miraculous perception from this baby of another species.

Usually I suggest they substitute the word they’ve used (often stubborn, difficult, disobedient) with a word which better fits the situation: try fearful, shy, overexcited, hungry, overtired … perhaps the sort of words you may use to describe that little toddler who is not doing what you’d like.

We all have reasons for doing things

Of one thing you may be sure - dogs don’t do things for no reason.

You may not be able to see or understand the reason - but there is a reason! And as we’re meant to be the ones with the bigger brains, and we chose to have this dog live with us, it’s up to us to work out what that reason is.

You’ll find some study of Dog Body Language will repay you well (see Resources below). Your dog will heave a huge sigh of relief when at last you seem to understand his clear messages! And no, they’re not obvious to most of us dumb humans till they’re explained to us.

Once you know whether your dog is just distracted or - perhaps - afraid, you’ll be able to deal accordingly with the situation. Keep in mind that you cannot train an emotion-based behaviour out of a dog. They’re not operating on a rational basis at that moment, any more than your shrieking toddler who wants something she can’t get.

So, as I replied to the reader I quoted at the top of this piece, assess the situation carefully before you apportion blame. Your dog needs your help and understanding, not condemnation.

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How can I stop my dog doing stuff I don't like?

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People are often looking for an instant fix to something they don’t like. 

Me too! 

I’d like a magic wand to wave over life’s problems. Trouble is, people come to me thinking I can wave a magic wand over their dog’s problems and they won’t have to do a thing. 

A recent query was along the lines of, “My dog runs around barking all day in the garden. How can I stop him?”

You don’t have to be a genius to see that your first step must be - don’t leave him unattended in the garden! You can’t hope to change his behaviour until you’ve changed things enough to prevent him indulging in it.

My dog keeps … [insert annoyance here]!

Here are some starters for you:

    •    Jumping up on the furniture
    •    Raiding the bin
    •    Running off on walks
    •    Barking
    •    Destroying shoes
    •    you name it

Whenever someone tells me one of these things, I have one (smug) question:

“Where were you when he was doing all this?”

If you cannot yet trust your dog in any of these areas, then you shouldn’t give him the freedom to carry on doing what you don't like!

Practice makes Perfect - this doesn’t just apply to piano and tennis!

Every time your dog indulges in one of these annoying activities he’s getting more fun from it, and getting better at it. It becomes a habit - and we all know how hard habits can be to break.

The good news is that good habits are just as hard to break as bad ones.

Free online training workshop for you and your dog!

Free online training workshop for you and your dog!

  • If your toddler had a fascination for the oven, you wouldn’t be leaving her unattended in the kitchen.

  • If your 6-year-old is a danger on his bike, you wouldn’t let him out on the road on his own.

  • If your teenager was beginning to mix with the wrong crowd, you wouldn’t be cheerily waving him goodbye of an evening, knowing you’ll be finding him in the police station later that night.

So if your dog is doing something you don’t like, the first thing to do is make sure he can’t do it. 

  • You can shut the door to the front room when you’re not there (this will prevent chewing the furniture and barking at the window).

  • You keep your dog in the same space (room/garden) as you so he can’t chew shoes, raid bins, dig up the flowerbeds, bark at the moon.

  • And if he runs off on walks - you use a long line so that he can roam but not ramble.

That's just for starters ...

Now that isn’t the end of the story. And none of this should be forever. 

Once you’ve got a measure of control over the situation, and you’ve removed the frustration and the yelling, you can start to re-teach your dog what you’d like him to do. 

Dogs don’t exist in a vacuum. They can’t NOT do something - they’re doers.

So once you’ve eliminated what you don’t like, the way is open to change your dog’s habits to what you do like.

So come and join our free 5-day Workshop today! 5 days of free online training, with videos, text, and live broadcasts. You’ll get to meet a host of other lovely dog-owners who are looking to improve the connection between them and their dogs.

 

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What you expect is what you get - or, Be careful what you wish for!

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“He’s a terrier - he’s never going to come when he’s called!”

“You can’t teach a spaniel to listen. Their attention span is only a few seconds”

“My dog’s thick. It’s a waste of time teaching him anything.”

 

Really. People say these things. And they become self-fulfilling prophecies.

If you truly believe that your terrier will never come when he’s called, then guess what? He never will.

If you really think that your spaniel is incapable of focus, then you’ll never put in the work needed to build a team with him.

And if you truly think your dog is too stupid to learn anything, you have a cast iron excuse for never bothering to teach him.

Get-out clauses?

These are all lazy, get-out, clauses. You got a dog - you thought it would be a good idea - then found that it didn’t come with training and manners installed. You were expected to add these yourself? Oh no! Work required - application, dedication, education, understanding, patience … This all seemed too hard. Much easier to claim that your dog is untrainable and leave it at that.

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I recently had an email which read: “I have two dogs, one is a perfect companion and the other is a challenge. She has many good points but does not take no for an answer and is very disobedient when she appears to be totally deaf.”

So her first dog is perfect, and the second is not. (I wonder how much this had to do with the individual attention that No.1 got, while No.2 was tossed into the mix to sink or swim?) Her dog is disobedient, she doesn’t listen, and won’t take no for an answer.

What a lot of labels in a couple of sentences! This poor dog is always going to struggle against her owner’s preconceived notion that she is difficult, stubborn, and uncaring. Whatever she does will be perceived as wrong, or potentially troublesome, while Dog 1 gets all the praise for being a goody-gumps. (Any of you younger children out there may recognise the same thing from your own family life, where there was one favoured child and one difficult one.) 

And it’s likely that when she does do something right it’s either not noticed or greeted with “For once! At last …”

This dog needs a program of training which caters to her own individuality, her own quirks and foibles. You cannot blossom when continually compared with someone else - you have to have a pride in your own achievements, done your own way.

So my reply to this owner was along these lines: 

“My dogs don't understand the meaning of NO either - why? I never say “no” to them. “No” doesn't give them any information about what you'd like them to do - only that you're cross with them. Try focussing only on what you do want, and rewarding that. Totally ignore what you don't want. Give it a week and see where you are!

This is what a puppy-owner said to me this week:

“Just thought that I would let you know that your brilliant idea of rewarding for the behaviour that we want has helped Odin to become a very calm and patient puppy when it's our dinner time. He will lie down nicely and play with his toys while we're eating. :)”

This took her about 10 days to achieve.

Come back to me in two weeks and tell me how you get on.”

 

Sadly I didn’t hear from her again. So I guess Dog no.2 is still being shouted at.

 

As the famous saying goes, “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you always got.”

 

There has to be change for change to happen. And the first change is in your mindset! All our dogs are capable of being trained, of learning new things, and of fitting into the household comfortably. Yes, it takes time, and all that dedication and self-education, understanding and patience, mentioned above. But is it worth it? What do you think?

 

But what about my terrier / spaniel / dumb dog?

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• To see just what terriers are capable of, take a look at Jesse the Jack Russell Terrier. You will be amazed! 

• Think of what spaniels are bred for - hours and hours of tireless work in the field, focussing on one thing only - finding birds. They are capable of laser focus - if the reward is right you can teach your spaniel to focus on anything you like!

• And as for our dumb dog … it’s true that some dogs are not blessed with as many brains as others. Cricket the Whippet will never beat Rollo the Border Collie in an initiative test, though if there is food to be found - she’ll find it! Her phenomenal speed is in her legs, not in the workings of her brain.  But she has plenty to offer, and once you’re on her wavelength you can teach her some very un-whippety things to do. Cricket - and Bolt, another whippet I know - have great retrieves.

Here’s Cricket showing off her amateur dramatics

You see? Her gift is in making us laugh!

 

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Why is my friend's dog so easy when mine is so difficult? 7 tips to make life easier!

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It’s all a matter of perception.

Maybe, for a start, your friend is laid-back and easy-going. While you are wired and anxious by nature.

Perhaps your friend is the kind of earth-mother who can cope happily with a household of children and pets with no cares about being houseproud.

It could be that this is your first puppy, and your friend is on no.4.

Are you comparing apples with oranges? Your friend’s dog could be mature and settled, while yours is still a wild puppy. 

Or maybe … just maybe … the dogs are different, and yours is more challenging.

First puppy?

Is this your first puppy? Many people remark on how easy their second child is compared with their first. The unfortunate first child has to deal with all the expectations, hopes, and fears - not to mention the awkward and novice parenting - and of living up to everything her parent always wanted in a child. Your first pup suffers some of the same unrealistic expectations. Take it easy!

The breed or type of your dog will make a big difference too. Especially if you went for a dog that is bred principally for looks and not purpose or temperament. Many of the currently fashionable so-called “designer dogs” would fit into this category. What I mean by that is that if the breeder is selecting for looks, then temperament may not get much of a look-in. This is where the extreme importance of choosing the source of your puppy wisely comes in. You want to know that the parents’ temperaments have been assessed along with their looks. We’ve all met good-looking cads in our life! We don’t need a four-footed version in our home if we can possibly help it.

If you have chosen a breed or type of dog that has been bred for hundreds - or thousands - of years to do a certain thing, and do it very well, that behaviour will be inbred in the dog. It will be part of his instinctive drive and no amount of saying NO will change that. So you have to know what you’re up against. 

If you don’t want a dog with a strong prey-drive, you may want to avoid sighthounds. If you don’t want your dog to herd everyone into a corner, a herding dog may not suit you. And if you don’t appreciate your lap being filled with socks, twigs, and teddy-bears, maybe pass on a retriever. If you just want a quiet life, don’t choose a high-energy dog! 

Having said that, there is no doubt that ALL dogs are trainable. All dogs will respond to force-free training where they find out for themselves what works - and what doesn’t. But there isn’t any need to make the task harder by starting with more challenging material.

Adult rescue dog

You may have chosen to rescue a dog from a shelter - good for you! - but it's not necessarily roses all the way now. All adult dogs have established ideas and things that they do, desirable or undesirable. So there may be a certain amount of un-training to do while you re-train what you want.

Keep in mind also that a re-homed dog can easily take a couple of months to settle into his new home and know that it’s for keeps. I get lots of emails from people saying “He was great to begin with then after he’d been here two or three months he suddenly started doing xyz, out of the blue.” What was happening was that the new dog was scared to put a paw out of place when he first came, and chose to keep a low profile. Once comfortable and at home, the dog’s true nature is expressed - along with some things you’re not mad about, like reacting to other dogs or house-visitors, or hogging the bed. But don’t worry! A properly-qualified trainer will have the knowledge and experience to turn this around.

Different strokes for different folks

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Your approach to training - indeed to life - could be very different from your friend’s. It’s a long slow process to teach a child not to put sticky fingers on prized possessions. It can be a long slow process to teach an enthusiastic puppy a new (and foreign) way to greet visitors that doesn’t involve flattening them. 

 

So a relaxed approach is far less stressful for everyone involved. Parents make their home as childproof as is convenient so they don’t have to be standing over their child all day, telling her what not to do. Employ the same strategy for your puppy, who comes equipped with splendid teeth and claws for optimal demolition work.

 

     1.  Be sure your puppy is in an area where both he and your home are safe, then relax!

     

     2.  Young puppies should be in the same room as you at all times - except for the large amount of time they’re asleep, when they can be in their crate. Your dog earns his freedom as he demonstrates that he is reliable in new areas. So he doesn’t get free access to the living room, or the garden, until he has proved that he will not dig, soil, bark, or chew, while you’re not watching. 

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     3.  If your dog is an ardent chewer, invest in a doggie playpen and feed his habit with lots of chewable items. If his way of playing with the toys you give him is to rip them to shreds, then that’s his choice. Get cheap toys from the charity shop, or plait ropes out of old jeans, so you’re not invested emotionally in the state of the toy. It’s his toy - allow him to know best how to enjoy it. You can, of course, teach him interactive play with you with his toys, so he finds they’re more fun when you are hanging onto the end of them. 

      

    4.  Ensure your pup is getting the right amount of rest - this is around 17 hours a day for an adult dog. Yes, 17 hours a day. So, more for a puppy. “He never stops,” is always a red flag to me. I know there will be behavioural issues with a dog who can’t switch off. And people usually find their puppy’s behaviour improves dramatically - especially in relation to biting - once they’re getting enough sleep. And if your puppy is not yet giving you a peaceful night’s sleep, read this one.  

       

"I really want to learn how to please you!"

"I really want to learn how to please you!"

   5.  Tailor your expectations to your dog, his breed or type, his history, and your experience. We don’t expect our toddler, or our schoolboy, or our lovesick teenager, to behave like responsible adults. We educate, coax, and encourage them to reach this state of virtue - often ignoring the things they do which we don’t want repeated. Remember that “educate” means literally “lead out of”. So we are using our knowledge to lead our hooligan child or puppy out of the darkness of ignorance, and into the civilised world. This takes time!

      

   6.  A puppy of around six months old is developmentally somewhere near a child of 9-12. Don’t expect too much too soon!

      

    7.   Be careful what you draw attention to! What you focus on is what you get, so be sure you show your dog what you’d like him to do in any situation, rather than nag and complain when he doesn’t know. This article will give you some guidelines

 

Once you satisfy your new companion’s basic, instinctive, needs - and adopt a realistic view of the training task ahead - you’ll be able to put some boundaries in place so you can all get along in the same household without friction.

And start enjoying your dog’s individuality!
 

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Hands up who’s never shouted at their dog!

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I don’t see any hands.

I don’t see my own hand either. (More confessions down the page.)

If you have really and truly never shouted at your dog - in frustration or annoyance, then I admire you! You are one in a million. You can go to the top of the class and give out the bones - while I continue with the other 999,999 people.

Now I’m not talking about fury or abuse. That would be inexcusable. 

I’m talking about the daily niggles that cause us to shout at or nag - even those we love most in the world. As soon as we’ve done it we wish we hadn’t. Because, apart from damaging our relationship, it really doesn’t work to get us what we want.

It doesn’t work for family members or work colleagues, with our sophisticated human brains, reasoning power, and social skills.

So there’s little hope of it working for your dog!

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Dogs are simple souls

They do what works. They aim to please - but it’s often very hard for them to know how to please. We say one thing when we mean another; we call them, ask them to sit, tell them to go away, to lie down, to vanish - what do we want?

You have to look at the bigger picture in order to convey clearly what it is you’d like your dog to do. 

For example: You call your dog. He comes bounding over to you with enthusiasm, ready to jump up to give you an extra special slurpy kiss. You say “Sit”. “Sit. SIT. SIT!!” 

One of two things will happen here: 

  1. You are clearly responding to his bouncing with excitement, so he bounces some more. Now you’ve taught him to jump all over you. Out of frustration you begin to sound crosser.

  2. He’s done a smashing recall and instead of appreciating that and congratulating him for his speed and enthusiasm, you are nagging him now about something he doesn’t understand. He mooches off feeling deflated. What’s going to happen next time you call him? Hmm, not so speedy or enthusiastic, I think.

So separate out in your mind what your dog is doing when, so that you can respond to the individual actions rather than the whole thing at once. If you call your dog, you reward him for coming to you. That’s all. Fancy stuff, like sits, can all be added later, when you’ve got the recall down. Allow the little doggy brain to focus on one thing at a time, get it right, and enjoy a reward. 

When you learn ballet you don’t launch into a dance straight away. You learn to stand correctly, to point your toes, to hold your head right. (I’m making this up. I’ve no idea how you learn ballet. But I do know that you start with component parts and gradually fit them together.)

If you can pick out the little things your dog does which you like and respond to those, he will do those things again and again - because it works. 

Yes - dogs can learn to do extraordinarily complex tasks, like opening the washing machine, pulling out the washing and putting it in the laundry basket, for example. But this takes time to teach, and has to be broken down into little stages, each of which is taught separately. When all the parts are mastered, the whole sequence can be put together. On a technical note, this is often taught backwards. The dog first learns to put washing in a basket, then they learn to pull it out of the machine to put it in the basket, and at the end they’re shown how to open the door (stage 3) to get the washing out (stage 2) and put it in the basket (stage 1). 

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So if you want your dog to perform a complex behaviour, like coming when you call and sitting before you, then you must teach the recall on its own, and the sit on its own. Only when they are both 98% reliable do you join them together. If the recall is rocky, then you’ll never get to the sit. And if the sit is wobbly, you’ll only spoil the recall by focussing on the wrong thing.

If we can keep our part of the bargain, and ensure that we teach what we want our dog to do, and not expect him to learn it by witchcraft or thought transference, life will become easy and frictionless.

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Why did you shout at me?

Now recollect the last time you shouted at your dog. You can put up your hand now - no-one’s looking. 

 

  • Was it because he had dug up the flowerbed? (Who left him unattended in the garden?)

 

  • Was it because you were in a hurry, the phone was ringing, the saucepan was boiling over? (And that’s his fault?)

 

  • Was it because he jumped up on a visitor and you felt social pressure to have him behave nicely? (Have you taught him how you’d like him to greet visitors?)

 

  • Or was it because he did something infuriatingly bad which you thought he could be trusted not to do? (He’s a dog.)

 

No, my dogs aren’t perfect either. 

And I’m certainly not. 

But I know that whenever I catch myself losing patience with my dog it’s my problem, not his.

Maybe it’s because I’m tired and rushed - that means it’s the perfect time to have a game in the garden with the dogs. That’ll relax me, please them, and get things back in proportion.

“There are no pockets in shrouds,” my grandmother would recite serenely, as she nodded slowly and sucked her teeth. And there are no prizes in heaven (where all our dogs are waiting for us) for having a beautifully clean house and a snapped-at pooch; or a flourishing business and a dejected dog.

What’s more, getting short with my dogs is a sure sign that my teaching has flagged and they have been left without guidance. So I need to up my game and re-teach with crystal clarity the things that are sure to please me. (These things may be incomprehensible to your dog, by the way, but they’ll do them - for you.)

Shouting at a dog is not only unfair, it damages the trust your dog has in you. You have suddenly become unreliable. 

Dogs (and children!) need to know that you have feelings too and they can only push you so far. But shifting the blame onto them is never the answer.

 

And for all those things which your dog does which frustrate you beyond measure, have a look at the many “recipes” for changing them to things that you’d like him to do, with our free 8-part email course - all force-free, of course. Jumping up, Barking, Digging, Chewing, Nipping - they’re all there!

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