As a child I heard my grandmother repeat these words over and over again along with many other old adages. It’s these words that ring out in my head every time I am confronted with a behavioral issue in one of our canine companions.
Most people don’t seek out the help of a professional until a behavior has become a nuisance or even dangerous. As people, we have a hard time understanding that our dogs are not people. Our dogs are in fact dogs. We have a tendency to reinforce certain behaviors without realizing that we are doing it.
For instance, when our cute little puppies jump on us we pick them up and cuddle them. Later when we have a 50 pound dog, this is now a nuisance behavior. When our adorable little fur-baby cries for attention, and we go to them; we are creating a velcro dog, or worse, separation anxiety.
Here are a few tips to help every new owner understand how to create healthy behaviors when taking home a new dog:
Understand that you’re dog doesn’t speak our language. Dogs cue to body language. They are going to understand our body language before they understand the words coming out of our mouths. Establishing a line of communication with our dog is the key to any happy and healthy relationship. If you get mad at your pup, your pup doesn’t know why necessarily. They only know that you’re mad. So rule number one, set rules, boundaries and guidelines. Stick to them. If your dog is allowed on the furniture, keep in mind that he’s allowed on the furniture… even if he’s covered in mud. If you don’t want your dog to counter surf, don’t allow them in the kitchen, and definitely don’t leave any irresistible treats out on the counter. Put up baby-gates, use a crate, and have them drag a leash. These are all effective tools to help your dog understand the rules.
Be aware of what we are reinforcing. Most dogs love attention. If we give them attention when they are frightened, reactive, or in general being naughty; we are in fact, reinforcing that behavior. Try not to give your pup any reinforcement for disobedient behaviors. Again, they cue to our body language. If my dog is reactive to something and when I see it, we tense up, our pup is going to see that we are tense. We are telling them that there is a reason to be concerned.
Last but not least, hands are not toys. We should start at a very early age teaching our dogs to play properly with us. The way that dogs play with each other is not how they should play with people. Anytime my puppy, who desperately wants my attention and to play, puts his mouth on me, I am going to say “OUCH!” in a very loud high pitched voice and remove my attention immediately. Anytime I engage in play with my dog or puppy, I will do so with a toy in my hand.
Playing with our dog should be a bonding experience. It should be a learning experience. It should be rewarding for everyone involved. I also don’t want to win every time. It’s no fun to lose a game every time you play. It’s rewarding to let your dog win when they are being appropriate.