Teaching Bad Habits Without Realizing It
Do you find yourself grabbing a handful of treats just to get your beloved dog to move? Are you puzzled by your pets inability to act on command while kicking old habits? Humans have great difficulty understanding how dogs view the world. Unfortunately, do to this misunderstanding we tend to find ourselves rewarding unwanted behaviors. Sure, he’s your best friend. But even your best friend has some habits you could live without. You try to get him to stop, but your efforts may encourage your dog’s bad behavior, not curb it. We get frustrated at times, but don’t understand that we are the cause of the problem. Before you contact that expensive trainer, read this.
How Dogs View The World
Before we talk about how people teach bad habits without realizing it, we must understand how and why this happens. If you understand how dogs learn, it gives you the ability to teach your dog how to fit harmoniously into your life. A dog learns from the consequences of his actions. Whether the action pays off for the dog or whether it doesn’t, something will still be learned. This education will occur regardless of our involvement! Like humans they learn from experiences. If you were getting yelled at by a gentleman speaking in a different language you would not understand the content of his speech, but had the idea that he was upset. There is a massive language and culture barrier between you and the dog. Simple overlooked things can be significant to your dog.
What Goes On In Their Head?
- Rewarding System: If you dog is barking out of control and you want them to stop by distracting with a treat, BIG MISTAKE! Anytime a toy, praise, food, or any other likable commodity surfaces during unwanted behavior, to a dog this means good job! I once saw a Chihuahua at the local pet store growling at another dog while the owner was saying “Stop It” while petting it…
- Language: Your pet does not understand what “sit” means. They only understand that if they do the “sit” thing a treat might come. Every owners will talk to their dog without translating the words they use. In the Chihuahua example, “Stop It” was just random gibberish followed by affection. So in the dogs eyes he was getting rewarded for growling.
- Primitive Mindset: If you were to drastically reduce calories to get in shape for the summer, the body would not understand. The body will send signals to the brain to conserve as much energy (fat) as possible because the food supply must be limited or winter is coming. Similarly, dogs think like a wild animal. Who walks through the doors first? Who leads the way on the leash? Who controls the food supply? Who’s the leader here?
Jumping On Strangers
We’ve all had that embarrassing moment when our dog jumps all over a stranger with their dirty paws. They are filled with excitement, eager to say hello, and get adored. Dogs don’t see why this is a bad thing. Think about it, you’ve been rewarding this behavior every single time they greeted you after a long day of work. You’ve had a rough day at the office to later return home with a puppy that’s eager to greet you in the most enthusiastic way possible. When is the last time you said “bad dog” after their jumped to say hello? Disciplining them for an allowed behavior will only confuse the dog. If you want them to stop jumping on people you must make it a new rule for everyone, including you.
How To Address Jumping
- Stop The Praises: Whey they greet you, do not pet them while making high pitched praises. This only rewards the behavior and amps up their excitement. We don’t mean stop it all together, just not when they are jumping.
- Look Away: The minute they begin to jump all over you, turn your body away and ignore them. When they have all fours on the floor, then you can turn back and give them pets and praise.
- Teach Something New: You can use the jumping to your advantage with the right timing. Teach them a command to stop jumping. As they jump and you sense that they will begin to go back down say a command like “Back” or “Off”. Quickly reward and repeat. This will allow you to have more control when they jump all over strangers. You can just say the command so they know its time ti stop.
Yelling The Dogs Name When Naughty
Can you imagine being rewarded for something at work and penalized financially for the same thing? That’s exactly how your dog feels when your yell his/her name when misbehaving. Dog owners say their dogs names so often and for so many different reasons that dogs can become uncertain what to do when they hear their names. Some dogs start ignoring their names entirely. Keep in mind that dogs learn through experiences that they file in the back of their little heads. If you yell at your dog with their name in the same sentence like a child, they will begin to attribute that sound(name) with being punished even when we are praising them.
Why Is This Bad?
- You could be petting your dog or engaging in play but every time you say their name, the animal will think its misbehaving.
- Training will become extremely difficult and only cause confusion.
- Your dog can run off into traffic when you call their name due to fear.
Aggression Around Newborn Babies
Dogs are social pack animals. They protect babies because they have an instinctual desire to protect the pack, which is the family taking care of them. Think of it like this. Wolves in the wild will work together to protect the pups. We have taken one of these wolves and put it into a family, where it recognizes that the people are it’s pack. When the baby is born, it recognizes that this is a new addition to the pack. Unfortunately, some overprotective dogs will display clear signs of aggression towards strangers. All of our attention is focused on the newborn and simply do not understand the damaging behaviors we are promoting.
Are You Promoting Aggression?
- Using Treats To Make Them Move: Friends and family come over to meet the newborn baby. They quickly find your dog laying next to the crib growling and showing teeth towards the non-pack members. You grab a treat, throw it in the other room to get the dog to leave. Without realizing it, you’ve been rewarding the aggression for months and now your cute dog is a danger to others.
- Ignoring The Obvious: If your dog is even remotely aggressive towards others, CORRECT IT! Too many owners lock their dogs in the other room, further promoting aggression. They are pacing back and forth waiting for the opportunity to attack the threat.
- Know Your Place: As stated before, dogs are pack animals and must know their place. Newborn babes can threaten their status in the pack. Its imperative that your dog understands the importance of safety. Do not physically harm your pet. Use positive reinforcement to reward good behavior.
Introducing Your Dog To Your Baby:
- Training Starts Before Birth: Nine months is more than enough time for you and your pet to work through most issues and smooth out any unwanted habits, and for you to establish yourself as the unwavering pack leader. Loyal dog is essential to a smooth and safe addition to the pack.
- That Smells Familiar: Bring an item that contains your baby’s scent, such as a burp cloth, from the hospital before bringing home the baby. During this exercise, it is crucial that you set clear boundaries. Challenge the dog to sniff from a distance, while you are holding the item. By doing so, you are communicating to your dog that the item is yours and then giving permission for the dog to sniff. “This new item belongs to me, and you will need to follow my rules when around it.” This helps start the process of creating respect for the baby.
- Get Them Tired: Take your pet for a long hike to train them of excess energy. Last thing you want is a dog jumping on an infant or excessively barking near their gentle ears.
- Bring People Over: Make it clear to your dog that its okay to be around others when the baby is in the room. Have regular company if possible so your dog does not get over protective.
Tug Of War At The Wrong Time
Playing tug of war is some of the most fun we can have with our dogs. Played by the rules, tug will strengthen your dog’s self-control and teach her to respond to you even when she’s amped. Have you ever found yourself trying to retrieve your shoes back from your dog? You grab the shoe while your puppy pulls the other way. Most of us would say “Bad Dog” or “Stop” but don’t understand that in their mind it’s play time. Every time you let go of the item your dog feels victorious. You should never engage in the game with personal belongings as this will lead to more permission to destroy personal belongings. You can yell all you want, but in the dogs eyes you’re just having fun.
How To Play Tug of War:
- The Tug Toy: Designate one toy that is long enough that your dog won’t accidentally grab your hand with his teeth when he is readjusting his grip. Use the chosen toy ONLY for tug-of-war, and put it away when the game is done. This way, your dog knows that he is only allowed to play tug when that toy is out.
- Teach “Drop It”: This is huge! They must understand that you are always in control. Furthermore, this will ease the headaches when they grab your personal belongings.
- You Start and End: You need to offer the toy to your dog and start the game, and he needs to sit calmly, without lunging, until you do. If your dog lunges for the toy, put it away for a minute before getting it out again.
Giving Stuff To Stop Barking
I fell victim to this trap. Sasha, my German Shepherd, loves to bark in our apartment when the neighbors dogs pass in the hallway. We live in a small apartment so this happens quite often. Shes not an aggressive dog, but she does view that the hallway is part of her territory (we were the first tenants). The minute one of the dogs were in the hallway Sasha would charge to the door and bark like a maniac. Because I was tired and fed up with this loud behavior, I’d make her fetch a tennis ball across the house (her favorite thing in the world). Without realizing it I was rewarding this obnoxious behavior with every ball that I threw. Sasha’s barking got louder and louder each month and turned vicious towards the other dogs.
How Do I Stop It?
- Don’t Yell: Making noise is not an effective way to convince a dog to stop making noise. Your dog might think that you’re joining in on the fun. Stay calm and follow the next steps.
- Time Out: If your dog begins to misbehave put them in timeout. We never crate our dog so we use the crate if necessary. She knows that if we put her in there its for a reason. DO USE THE CRATE IF YOU PLAN TO USE IT FOR NORMAL ACTIVITIES. You can also use the corner of a room and stand there with your finger out.
- Enough Is Enough: We curbed this annoying barking at the door by getting in front of the door and telling the dog to walk away. If she walked away when we told her to she got a treat.
Sometimes it may be difficult to view the world through the dogs eyes. They see the world with their noses first as we do with our eyes. Developing a deep understanding of dog behavior can truly transform your relationship and maximize training results. We tend to treat out beloved pets just like our human counterparts, but these small mistakes can add up to massive problems in the future. Dogs are wild domesticated animals and require a different approach to fully understand what they truly need or want. Next time you want to discipline or train your beloved pet be sure to understand their side of things.
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