Seize the (good) moment!

April 17, 2016 at 7:23 pm

One of my many jobs is to listen to people talk about all the things they don’t want their dog to do. I often hear ‘Buddy is a great dog, BUT…’ and the story goes on that he barks at night, growls at other dogs and won’t sit at the curb when on a walk.

It is in our nature to control those around us, including our dogs and most people always look for someone to blame when things go wrong. Unfortunately most of the time, our dogs draw the short end of the proverbial stick.

The art of dog training is to acknowledge everything we don’t want, but at the same time, analyse why it is happening. 99% of the time, our dogs behave in ways we don’t like because they are trying to communicate their emotions to us. Have a look at the following behaviours and see if you can identify key causes linked to all of these:

  • barking at the fence
  • growling at other dogs
  • crying at the back door
  • panicking when left alone
  • chasing their tail.

They are very different behaviours aren’t they!? The cause isn’t all that different however.

Most of the issues we encounter with our dog’s behaviour is from an underlying anxiety, uncertainty of control and need to feel safe. If you asked me how to fix this, I’d say ‘sure, but it starts with you!’

For me in my line of work, I want people to stop focusing on the bad stuff. Write down everything good that your dog does and celebrate it every time they offer it. When your dog sits and waits, ‘capture’ the moment and reward. When your dog sees another dog in the distance ‘capture’ it before they growl, reward and move away from that dog. When your dog shows calm relaxed behaviours instead of chasing their tail, ‘capture’ it and reinforce that affective state.

By capturing the moment and reinforcing the right behaviours, we empower our dogs to think positively, we teach them how to work for what they want and we give them purpose. The more confident and purposeful our dog, the less behaviour issues we see. This is more than simply reinforcing good behaviours and ignoring bad ones, this is a different way of thinking, a different way of observing your dog.

So, write down a list of things you want from your dog, observe your dog and look out for those behaviours and when they do them, capture and reward.

Remember your dog can only offer good stuff if you set them up for success. i.e. if your dog is anxious around other dogs and you don’t want him to growl, don’t start this training in the middle of an off lead dog park. Start at the edge of the park, across the road or if necessary at the end of the street where the park is. It doesn’t matter where you start, it only matters how you both feel at the end of it.

Always think… from your dog’s point of view. Show empathy.

Give them a chance to do what’s right and watch them blossom under your new training approach!

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