old-fashioned dog training

Three words to your dog that reveal the wrong attitude

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“She’s stubborn. She doesn’t obey my commands.”

When I hear someone talking about their dog like this, I know just what to expect when I visit them.

There will be a lot of shouting, in an increasingly stern and abrupt voice. There will be finger-wagging, the owner will bend over the dog and stare at him. And the dog will either fly around getting more and more excited (read “stressed”) or shut down completely and opt out. The owner will think his dog is complying, but this is what’s known as Learned Helplessness - “I can’t do anything about this so I’ll give up”. There will be much frustration all round.

This has come about not because the owner is nasty or domineering, but because of how they think they need to act with their dog. 

Old sins have long shadows!

They seem to have got the idea that you have to be firm, authoritarian, dominant - whatever you like to call it - with a dog. While they accept that this is not going to work with people, they blindly accept that this is what you do with dogs. It’s true that dogs - all animals - had a hard time in the past, and still do in many cultures. They were regarded as second-class beings - some people even believe they don’t feel pain as we do. 

These people should open their eyes and look around them! Have they not seen Guide Dogs leading their blind owners safely past street hazards? Assistance Dogs opening washing machines and putting the clothes into a basket? Have they not seen a dog telling his deaf owner that there’s someone at the door? (Yes, mine tell me that there’s someone at the door, but because they’re anxious about the invasion, not because they’ve been trained to quietly indicate to me!)

Then what about the astonishing displays of Dancing with Dogs, where the dog learns an extended routine of actions to perform in harmony with its owner? Here’s a superb example.

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If you see the enthusiasm and joy expressed in that video (do watch it, it's not long and you'll be enchanted), and in the dogs who excel at Agility and Flyball, you’ll realise that this can’t come from being nagged or punished. It’s pure enjoyment, harnessed.

Even the police - who used to claim they had to be hard on their dogs to be confident that they’d protect them - are now finding that working with the dog rather than against him is infinitely more successful and rewarding for both dog and officer.

We don’t treat children, spouses, or employees like this any more, so why do it to our dogs?

Lazy habits and popular tv

There has been so much change in the way we live over the last century. But it seems that animal care and education lag behind the general trend - by a good number of years.

Doing things a certain way, unquestioningly, because that’s how our parents did it, is not going to move us forward. That thinking would have kept us in caves! We have to take the learning available to us and implement it in our lives. So we must question what we are told to do. This is one of the valuable aspects of the teenage years - question, reject, question, reject. Of course you have to replace what you’ve rejected with something better!

And this would mean being picky about what you watch on television. Just because it’s printed in the paper or broadcast on the screen does not mean it’s right! There are plenty of people making good money from programmes indicating that a sharp, quick, fix is what’s needed to solve all dog behaviour problems. If you still think that beating a child for a minor transgression is ok, then you probably believe this twaddle. 

But most of the people I work with are good, kind, people, who wouldn’t dream of abusing their children. Yet somehow they have allowed this dissonant belief - that animals are different and need to be abused to be acceptable - to take root in their heads. 

I recently saw video of one of those tv personality, non-qualified, self-styled “dog trainers” giving a course on teamwork in the workplace. He used his unpleasant practices on their dogs - leaning over them and shouting, sneering, jabbing them, yanking their lead - to demonstrate. I was appalled that the owners were accepting all this! Suppose they were to go back to their office and shout at their staff, belittle them, jab them in the ribs, pull and push them around?! I feel sure this is not something they would countenance - and if they did they’d soon be advertising for more staff! - yet they swallowed all this because this guy had given himself a funny title and been on television.

"My dog is stubborn" No he's not! Find out what really motivates him

"My dog is stubborn" No he's not! Find out what really motivates him

People seem to lose their critical faculties when dealing with their dogs!


Dogs are not “stubborn” 

Dogs are simple souls who try to please. They have fears and anxieties just as we do. They do what works. 

Your puppy who sits down on the pavement and refuses to move is not being stubborn. 

She’s just afraid.

If you’re not sure whether you’re heading into a swamp or a quicksand, sitting still and pondering is a good survival tactic. And if you’ve only been on the planet a few weeks, sitting still and waiting for Mum to guide you is also a good move.

So if you find yourself describing your little puppy as “stubborn”, “obstinate”, “wilful”, and the rest, try substituting the words “fearful”, “anxious”, “eight weeks old” into what you just said and see if that fits better. You’ll surely treat the situation differently once you look at it differently.

Working with someone is so much more pleasant - and effective - than imposing your will on them. Giving the dog a choice (heavily loading the odds in your favour!) will get the result you want without all the expenditure of effort involved in shouting, repeating yourself, and trying to sound masterful.

Dogs do not arrive with us with a perfect grasp of English, or any understanding of our wavy arm gestures. Before you can expect her to respond to what you’re saying, you need to teach your dog what it is you want. Then you can concentrate on the good things your dog does, and ignore the rest. 

What you focus on is what you get.

If you tell a child he’s a cheat and a liar, that’s what he’ll be. 


Turn your focus to what you do want, rather than what you don’t want. 

Catch your dog doing something you do like - and be very excited about it! Once I’d understood this, life with my dogs became a breeze. Most things I don’t appreciate are ignored - no point in stressing about something that is over.

So if shouting “commands” at your dog is not working, try treating your dog as you would a shy two-year-old, and quietly ask her for what you want. You may be astonished at the response you get!

 

P.S. You’ll have worked it out by now: those three words are “stubborn”, “obey”, and “command”. Banish them from your vocabulary!

 

Check out my new online Dog Training Course teaching new dog  owners to achieve lasting results through six weeks of dog-friendly coaching with daily video lessons

 
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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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Dogs don’t operate through “Pack Theory” .. and the earth isn’t flat either

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There are plenty of people about who perpetuate the myths that

  • dogs are stubborn, 
  • dogs are obstinate, 
  • dogs are trying to rule you/your family/the world, 
  • let them eat before you and they'll turn into a ravening monster,
  • if you give them an inch they’ll take a mile, 
  • and so on and on …

If you’re repeating it because you were told by someone you thought knew what they were talking about, you’ll need to think again (and stop repeating it!)

You may have heard this from a tv personality who sets himself up as a dog trainer; you may have heard it from someone who calls themselves a dog trainer - albeit without any respectable qualifications. You may have heard it from your vet or groomer whom you trust, but who is not qualified in dog behaviour.

The fact is, that whoever you heard it from is talking through their hat.

There was a stage, many, many years ago, when people formulated the Pack Theory model. It was based on erroneous data and has since been completely discredited - even by those who promoted it in the first place! There is no basis in fact for “pack theory”, “dominance”, “rank reduction”, or anything else you may have heard of which works through punishment, pain, or distress.

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You wouldn’t put your child into the hands of an unqualified, self-proclaimed, teacher who came out with all this nonsense. Why do you listen to a so-called dog trainer who says the same stuff?

I get that the internet is a confusing place! There are so many opinions declared to be gospel truth. You have to have your b******t glasses on when you read much of it!

What else is outdated claptrap?

I have actually heard people say “Yes, this new approach must be right, but we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater …” hoping against hope that the things they have been inflicting on their dog will still magically work, despite being disproven and discredited.

Your ancestors could be forgiven for thinking the earth is flat. They didn’t know. They made best guesses based on religious beliefs and the total absence of factual knowledge. But we know now. So anyone who says “I get that the earth is spherical, but maybe some bits of it are still flat,” would be dismissed as deluded.

We know now that our weather happens because of all the events and influences around the globe that affect it. We no longer think that a drought was caused by some sin we had committed. You would laugh at someone who said “Yes, I know about El Nino, but I still think that if we didn’t allow same-sex marriage we wouldn’t be suffering this adverse weather.”

The enormous developments in scientific data-collection have proven what to accept as truth. The science behind the modern view of dog training is just as valid.

If you say, “Yes, I can see the dog’s brain is wired this way, but I still think that if he goes through a doorway before me he is going to take over the house,” you are putting yourself alongside the flat-earth proponent and the mediaeval weather analyst above who we have just dismissed as WRONG.

Dogs do what works

It’s fortunate for us that dogs haven’t read all these crazy theories. Dogs do what works. Dogs have always done what works and they will continue to do so. Their brains are the same as they ever were. 

And like all beings, their life is focussed on gaining pleasure and avoiding pain. If you think any of the weird practices promulgated by those flat-earthers and tv personalities who think they are dog trainers work - then maybe your dog is cleverer than you and has worked out how to please you by complying with your demands, however barmy they may seem to him.

Chickens were used in the last war to spot downed airmen in tiny orange life-rafts - possibly miles below the spotter plane. The chickens were very effective, with their amazing eyesight, at picking a dot of orange out of the churning waves.

Did they do this because they wanted to help the war effort? Did they do it because they disliked Hitler and all he stood for? Did they do it because they didn’t like the colour orange? Of course not! They did it because they had learned that if they pecked at a tiny orange dot they would be given some grain. The chickens were working on the simple system of

Reward what you like and that action is more likely to be repeated

They didn’t need to be threatened, prodded with metal spikes, or given electric shocks if they made a mistake. They just got rewarded when they did the required action. Simple!

So if someone tells you that your dog lying on the sofa is trying to take over your home - rather than that it is just a comfortable place with a good vantage point; or that your dog preceding you down the stairs is going to lead to mayhem and bloodshed - rather than that it’s just safer to let the dog whizz downstairs without tripping you up; or even that feeding your dog before you eat will lead to him exceeding his rank - rather than you simply getting the chores done before you settle down for the evening; then treat these statements with the contempt they deserve.

NOTE: if your dog is guarding the sofa from you, pushing past you on the stairs without consideration, or begging while you eat, these are training issues and can be resolved by simple training. 

Note that the same people who come out with this outdated stuff will often want you to use vicious devices of torture on your dog. Have nothing to do with anyone who suggests a spike/prong collar, or any electronic gadgets which will "instantly change your dog". 

Dogs are not people

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It can be beguiling to ascribe complex motives to your dog when he does something. Because we tend to ascribe human responses to dogs. But dogs are not humans! They are a different species and they don’t have all the hang-ups that we have when it comes to responding to situations.

“Why did she look at me like that? What is she trying to gain? What does she expect me to do? Does she not like me? Is she jealous of me? ….” we may say in our convoluted thought processes of whywhywhy. Your dog is so much simpler: “She looked at me. I looked back. End of story.”

 

“My mind is made up: don’t confuse me with the facts”

We all know intransigent people who will swear that black is white rather than accept they may be mistaken and should have a re-think. They may be repeating the old wives’ tales that have been fed to them all their lives.

But we don’t need to do that! We have plenty of access to well-researched material that shows us how to treat our dogs - with kindness, understanding (understanding of canine thoughts and fears, that is, not thinking that they are small people in fur coats), and effectiveness.

Apart from all the scientifically-proven reasons why this approach works, it makes us feel good too! No-one likes to be a martinet or a sergeant-major when dealing with their family (and if they do, then they have some serious problems) and it’s so much easier to deal with your dog in the same courteous and straightforward way. 

Ensure that you look at what you’ve been doing with your dog, and excise anything that comes under the heading of “rank reduction”, “pack leadership”, “dominance”. Enjoy the new way of getting what you want from your companion. Ask him to do things, don't tell him.

And don’t worry about “the baby being thrown out with the bathwater” - there never was a baby in that particular tub in the first place!

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Pack Theory, Dominance, Rank Reduction - outdated nonsense