Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Behavior modification - how you should be training your dog

The Polite Puppies at Happy Paws
This past Sunday marked the sixth month of Polite Puppy classes we have held at Happy Paws.  After speaking about behavior modification with the new puppy owners I thought I would repost this article to remind everyone how they should be training their dogs.  I initially wrote this post after attending a lecture given by veterinary behavior guru Dr. Karen Overall. Though Dr. Overall is clearly an expert in behavioral medicine, what truly struck me was her obvious love of dogs and commitment to strengthening the relationship we have with our pets.

Unlike some currently popular dog trainers, Dr. Overall does not believe in asserting dominance over our dogs or creating an “alpha dog” scenario. Rather, we should learn to listen to what our pets are telling us through their actions and body language. By working with them in this way, we can show our dogs how we would like them to behave, while strengthening our relationship at the same time.
Chunk the English bulldog
The basic principle behind the behavior modification techniques Dr. Overall teaches is to constantly and consistently reward your dog for appropriate behavior while ignoring the undesirable behavior. Ignoring undesirable behavior does not mean looking the other way while your dog chews up the couch. Instead, when this behavior occurs, you give your dog an appropriate toy to play with and praise him when he uses it. Screaming at your dog and punishing him is neither productive nor humane, and can negatively affect your relationship.
August is busy learning "stay"

Another important aspect of behavior modification is teaching your dog to defer to you, so that he learns he must sit quietly for something he wants. This is not “dominating” your dog, but rather teaching your dog to look to you when he needs something, be it attention, food or how to act when someone enters the house.

Here’s an example from my own life: often when I am sitting on my couch, one (or all) of my dogs will run up and leap on me for attention. When I start petting them, this reinforces their idea that any time they want something they can jump on me to get it. What should happen instead is that the dog that wants attention will come up to me and sit waiting for an invitation to come closer for affection.
Einstein and Chunk
Remember, the basic rule of behavior modification is: your dog must sit quietly to earn anything and everything he wants--for the rest of his life. (If you are thinking that sounds difficult to execute, let me tell you it absolutely is!)

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