You have taken the time to train your dog and diligently practiced your homework, and now you are convinced that you are on the way to having a well-behaved best friend. But did you know that some of your daily interactions could inadvertently train your dog?
It doesn’t take much for the hard work you’ve put in to unravel, and usually it’s because we don’t know how quickly unwanted dog behaviour can take root. For example, when you pet your dog, when he jumps on you, when you go for a walk on the leash, or when you slip something off your plate when he demands it’s easily overlooked reactions that can later lead to behavioural problems for the dog.
The key to avoiding undertraining is to stay alert when interacting with your dog. Think about whether you like your dog’s behaviour. If you don’t, consider how you might inadvertently reinforce it and keep it alive. And remember that some things that your dog thinks are reinforcements may not make sense to you. You might think that it’s a viable training strategy to push your dog off when he’s jumping, while he might think you’re giving him an inviting pat!
Below are some common methods we use to train our dogs, which can lead to behavioural problems in dogs, and advice on how to avoid them.
Training dogs not to jump
To react to a jumping dog is almost reflex-like, and that is exactly how jumping up becomes a habit. Whether it’s to make a dog scold or to give a few strokes before pushing him off, this is an example of an almost universal undertraining.
Jumping on people is worthwhile for dogs because it works ; your excited dog contacts you and is usually recognized when he does it. Even angry recognition is enough to keep the behaviour alive. The secret to curbing a jumping habit is to teach your dog that he is invisible unless he has four paws on the ground.
Instead of telling your dog to get out or push him, turn your body away as soon as his front feet lift off the ground. Don’t acknowledge your dog as he jumps, and as soon as he manages to keep four on the ground, turn back to him and say hello.
If he jumps again, repeat the process. It will take some time to train dogs to not jump, especially if they have been doing it for a while. You can also teach them to sit with their arms crossed to speed up the process.
Dog behavior that happens gradually: pulling leashes
This is an untraining process that literally runs several steps at once. In the training course you have probably learned that your dog’s leash should always be loose, but the reality is that you will probably let your dog pull you occasionally, for example when you are in a hurry or when the weather is bad.
The problem is that a pulling habit is a mixture of muscle memory and your dog’s recognition that pulling works for him. Over time, this is a powerful combination without training.
Dogs can quickly learn that a tight dog leash means forward movement (this is the muscle memory aspect), so in combination with the ability to get where he wants to go, the way your dog walks on the leash will change over time.
To prevent your dog from pulling all his life, make sure that you are always present when he walks on the lead. Notice the moment when your dog’s leash becomes tight and stop walking so he realizes that a tight leash no longer means forward movement.
If your dog pulls in habit always entrenched, bring dog treats with you and attend the basic lessons you learned in dog training class. Remember, polite leash walking is a “marathon” behavior that requires constant effort until it becomes a habit.
Dealing with begging dogs
It is natural that you want to share treats with your dog, but this can change from something you do occasionally to something your dog demands every time you have a plate. Dogs quickly learn that your food is theirs too with the right combination of puppy eyes and barking, and in no time this dog problem can turn eating time into a test of willpower.
Begging is worthwhile for dogs because it pays for them with a powerful double booster – food and your attention. Whether you’re preparing a meal at the counter or sitting at the kitchen table enjoying your dinner, giving your dog an occasional treat will quickly associate these two scenarios with shared food.
If your dog begs for food at every meal, divert his attention by giving him something to do at mealtimes. Dog food toys such as the West Paw Zogoflex Tux toy will ensure that your dog gets a tasty payout that focuses his attention on getting the treat, not your food.
If your dog is always begging when you have food, avoid giving in no matter how hard he tries. You’ll probably see begging get worse before it gets better, but if you don’t give in, your dog will find that his puppy eyes won’t work.