I get it! You’ve done everything. You’ve watched all the TV shows about dog training, and practiced all the techniques you saw on YouTube. You’ve asked friends what to do, and even found a Facebook support group of people who like dogs and tried their suggested tips, but nothing you do helps your dog with that unwanted behavior. Yelling never works, and keeping them outside to “exercise” has only made the problem worse. So, what is there to for a pet parent to do with a dog that is portraying stubborn behavior?
Consider that stubbornness doesn’t exist in dogs. Just as much as cows don’t fly, dogs aren’t stubborn. As much as we want to keep this philosophy around, we first have to understand that what looks like stubbornness, is often just under-trained or maybe even distracted with something more exciting. So, understanding that a dog that isn’t listening to your cues is just not fully trained is your first step to accomplishing success. Check out our blog Building Household Structure for more on this.
Secondly, we must minimize distractions as much as possible to help get your dog’s undivided attention. Dogs learn best with consistent repetition starting with a low intensive environment. This can be in the house, in the hall way, or in the bathroom. And, overtime, lift the bar to where you practice in slightly more distracting environments. However, you must not take that leap to the next level in your dog’s training unless he shows reliable behavior at least 8 out of 10 times.
Think of this as learning how to dance for the first time. Of course, the first few times of standing in your living room with your partner you may step on their toes and aren’t too sure where to hold your hands. Overtime, however, you start to really learn the steps and even get faster with the moves. Of course, this would be hard to initially learn if you just practice on the dance floor. In fact, you may end up getting slightly embarrassed. So, learning in an environment where you and the dog feel comfortable in, is one of the essential building blocks in making the difference.
So, let’s apply this to canine behavior. What is there to do to do for a dog that barks uncontrollably at other dogs or other people? Or jumps on every guest that walks through the door? To further drive in the concept of distraction-less environment, I’d like to introduce you to a concept called management. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines management as “The act or art of managing: the conducting or supervising of something.” Management in the training world refers to preventing your dog from making mistakes. This means closing the blinds before the mailman gets to the door, or taking a different route that other dogs and people normally don’t take, or having your dog crated or on leash before guests arrive. Simply, keep your dog away from things that may make him reactive in any sense.
You may restrict him by a baby gate, exercise pen, any visual barrier, or a tether. All of these tools have their pros and cons that you’ll want to do your research in for your dog’s specific behavior. Sure, you’ll restrict a lot of access for your dog right now, but this doesn’t have to last forever. The goal is to rely on the behavior that he’s learning. You’ll want to slightly expose your dog overtime in a controlled manner. This may start with your dog’s scary item on the other side of a football field length while you practice your dog’s sits and downs, and walking closer and further from the stimulus on leash.
Any surprise pop ups from the stimulus or without putting proper management in place may force your dog to revert back to his normal reactive/unwanted behavior. Instead, reinforce the desired behavior in a comfortable setting for your dog while he’s able to practice what he knows. The best way to set your dog up for success is being very aware of his environment first.