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Families In Training Series

Dog training and behavior modification often is not just about the dog. It is about the family. This article will address two things, what families do to cause behavior problems, and when families are in training, what they can do to solve behavioral problems in their dogs. All of this is under the assumption everyone in the family is working together and using the same methods. In fact, it is critical, if the dog’s behavior is to change, that all family members are on board and committed to the process.

The top ten things families do to cause behavior problems are:

  1. Allowing the dog full access to the household without teaching the dog or puppy to earn this freedom. This can be a problem if the dog doesn’t know the boundaries and rules of said household. That being the case, they will make up their own rules. Families who allow full access to household from day one are families who are not supervising the puppy or dog and are just as responsible for the dog’s bad habits as the dog.
  2. Thinking and/or hoping the dog will train itself.  It will, but it won’t have the same social standards that you do.
  3. Thinking a basic obedience course is all the training the dog will need in its lifetime. Training up a good canine citizen is in the very least a three year process and if you want a really reliable companion, you will be doing a lifetime of training.
  4. Viewing a dog as a “thing” rather than a “feeling being”. The dog becomes a project for instance, or was gotten for the kids or because I never had a dog when I was young. When in reality, a dog is a commitment and communicates, feels pain, eats, goes to the bathroom, has sickness and gets into trouble, very similar to humans without of course, the same degree of human intelligence.
  5. Don’t give the dog a job to do.  That being the case, your dog will choose its own job – barking too much because no one is paying attention; or getting into things they shouldn’t be such as your 200 dollar shoes or the garbage or even the refrigerator. An unsupervised dog is a recipe for disaster. Dogs are social animals and need guidance and routines.
  6. Not keeping their dog safe.  This means allowing dog to run without boundaries, giving freedom too soon, thinking a dog should like all people and all dogs; or not shielding them from things, people or other dogs that could cause harm.
  7. Lack of prevention and management in raising canine.  Prevention and management are the best cures for behavioral problems.  They don’t solve the behavior or modify it, but they “manage” the problem through making it ineffective and inefficient.  To make a behavior irrelevant more commitment to training will be needed from family members, because the dog has developed a “habit”.
  8. Several different styles of dealing with the dog within the household. Dogs are smart enough to know who the soft touch is, the disciplinarian, the play thing etc.
  9. Punishment, meaning a huge focus on punishing the dog for doing something wrong, rather than teaching the dog through rewarding the dog when they are doing something RIGHT.
  10. Easy way out solutions. Quick fixes equal long term problems. Learning for a dog is a process.

Ten ways Families-In-Training can Stop Behavioral Problems

  1. Assess the dog’s environment. Do they have a place they can call their own (a safe place away from children, adults for at least one hour per day)? Do they have quality time with you and the entire family (play sessions where YOU say when they start, and YOU say when they end)? Do they get enough exercise (tongue hanging out daily exercise)? Do they have the best food you can afford meeting their nutritional needs? Do they have a job in the household? Do they have mental stimulation through toys and creative games? Is the environment dog safe (garbage put away, nothing the dog can eat such as small toys or parts, nothing out that the dog can get hurt on)?
  2. Making sure your dog has proper bathroom facilities outdoors. This means no laziness on your part. Proper housebreaking takes time and several outings a day until the dog understands where his potty area is and it takes commitment on your part to not leave the dog unsupervised in the house during this critical training period.
  3. Allow the dog to “earn” access to rooms.  Room number 1 is the starting room which is blocked off by an xpen, or a baby gate.  The dog learns where to properly potty, learns what their chew toys are and to respect them, and they learn to respect the household rules and boundaries. Not to mention, dogs who are earning access (freedom) are never left unsupervised to invent their own rules. They easily acclimate to family life because they know the rules, and routines.
  4. Socializing your dog to at least 100 different types of people in varying environments in their first four weeks with you. That equates to at least three people a day and is a technique used by Dr. Ian Dunbar in his books “Before and After You Get Your Puppy”. Reading these books is highly recommended, not only for when you bring home a puppy, but when you bring home a rescue dog or an adult dog.  Moderate acclimation to the household and proper socialization and familiarization is very important.
  5. Socializing your dog to a variety of dogs off and on leash during the first two months they are with you.  This does not include other “family dogs”.  Four and five mean you need to get your dog out in the world but if they come to you with problems, you must consult a behavioral consultant so you can introduce and socialize or re-socialize your dog properly and without incident.
  6. Being consistent, persistent, patient and committed to showing your dog the household rules. This will make for a happier, healthier dog.  Make sure you aren’t making a big deal about coming and going (this avoids separation anxiety problems which cause household destruction and too much bonding to your person). Make sure you are in charge of play time and all toys. Toys should be in a toy box and not left out for free access. Pick two different toys each day to leave out, after a 15 minute QUALITY play period. Your dog will learn that you will come back when you leave, and that his contact needs will be met through positive play interactions.
  7. Taking control of the walk from the beginning.  This will lead to a dog that is a joy to walk on or off lead. Taking control means getting proper equipment, a harness to take the pressure off the neck area – there are several types. Some like the Easy Walk Harness and Sensation Harness have a ring at the front of the chest. Also your dog may need a head harness, if so ideally two points of contact should be your walking style, a Tellington Touch technique which uses a lead with two clasps, one at either end of the lead. One, the heavier, is placed at the top ring of a harness on the shoulders, and the other either around the chest and to harness side ring, OR attached to the head harness or collar. This takes the pressure away, keeps you in control and teaches your dog to walk at your side or slightly behind.  There is no water skiing as there would be with one point of contact lead that most people use.  While the dog is learning to respect WHERE he walks with one point of contact, you are teaching him with two points, which I call “training wheels” to be balanced and work as a team. Well worth the effort. Once you gain voice control, you can enjoy off lead jaunts. 
  8. Get rid of all aversive training and discover the world or positive reward-based methods.  By rewarding your dog for what they are doing right, you will eliminate the need to punish them for what they are doing wrong.
  9. Understanding what your dog is communicating to you through proper understanding of canine body language, calming signals, distance increasing and decreasing signals and stress signals.
  10. Training your dog for the life of your dog.

A dog is a valuable member of the family, whether they are a working dog or a companion dog. They should be treated with the respect they deserve from each and every family member. If they are, there will be many years of enjoyment and memories. If not, you will simply erode trust, and cause unnecessary behavioral problems. Your dog will have a less than exemplary quality of life.  Get your family-in-training today if you are thinking about getting a dog OR if you already have a dog with behavioral issues.  It is never too late to lay out the boundaries and make sure everyone is on the same page. A good trainer will make the process fun for the kids as well as the adults, and make training for the dog an easy integration and lifestyle.

The changes I’ve seen so far in Leo are more than I expected in the three weeks. Can’t wait for more changes.

- T.B.
Langley, Washington

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Nitza<br />Lyndon, Washington

Lyndon, Washington

Nitza is a beautiful German Shepherd from Schutzhund stock. Her owner, Brianna was using traditional methods to train her and knew there had to be a better way.

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