I’ve had Lucy for over 10 years now and I grew up with dogs and cats so I’m mostly going to speak from my own experience and from what I’ve read. The question came from Kate Jennings again this week about pet care and training.
First off, as I did with her, I’d recommend the following book for more information:
Secondly, I think raising and taking care of a dog is similar to raising a child. Personally, I don’t believe violence really solves anything … so take that into consideration as I describe my thoughts on training a dog. I don’t want to talk about it much but it’s up to you and your philosophies on whether you think you need to get physically violent with your pet. I don’t think it’s ever called for. Beating your dog will cause lasting psychological damage and cannot be undone. If at all possible please avoid it.
That said, I think it’s similar to raising children in that you have to set boundaries for them and adhere to them strictly or they won’t understand and it’ll be hard on both of you.
An example: Early in our career I didn’t let Lucy on my bed. The bed was off limits and she knew it. I started letting her up there with me when I’d been gone awhile and she was wanting more attention once I’d gone to bed and that lead to her think that it was okay … which lead to her sleeping on there while I was gone, but of course nobody likes dog hair on their pillow so I’d tell her to get off when I got home and caught her up there … and after that she never knew whether she was allowed to be up there or not. Dogs don’t have that “It’s okay sometimes but not other times” thing figured out. I’ve given up that fight and she’s allowed up there whenever but she still looks really guilty whenever I walk in and she’s up there. I just protect the bed against the onslaught of hair now and everything’s fine for the most part.
This goes for furniture too. Lucy has never been allowed on couches or armchairs and, as such, has never been on the furniture. That one held firm and as such there is no confusion, in spite of other dogs jumping on couches here and there she never follows suit. Lucy may be the perfect dog though so I don’t know whether this is a trained thing or just a Perfect Dog thing.
Anything you do will set a precedent. If you feed your dog from the table, they then associate that food for them comes from the table and it wouldn’t be outlandish to think that they’d help themselves to what’s on it in the foreseeable future.
Instead of hitting on every example let me just say this: establish boundaries and adhere to them at all times.
Thirdly, set yourself and your pet up for success. Do not set them up to fail. Don’t decide it’s a good time to train them to Come on command when they’re distracted, hyper, or already in trouble. Train them to Come when they’re calm and they already probably want to come to you. Let them know that something is not to be touched before they’ve destroyed it or killed it. Make it very clear to them what you want from them and odds are high that they’ll try really hard to do it for you. As with children there are always the exceptions that are just difficult, but don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that you have a trouble dog just because you’re having issues.
The issues are probably caused by you.
When you issue a command, don’t say it five million times and hope that one of them will stick. Say it once, then help them figure out what you want, or force them to do it. The way it’s worked in my household is as follows:
I make sure the dog is paying attention to me, then I say Come.
Dog ignores me.
I go get dog and bring the dog to where I said Come, and as we go there I repeat the command Come (in my mind it’s so they know what is going on right then and what they failed to do). Whether the repetition there works or not is anyone’s guess.
We get to the point, I have them sit, stay, then walk a few paces off and say Come again.
If nothing, rinse, lather and repeat. If they came, congratulate them and let them know how good they are.
Many dogs have a shit ton of energy and need to be exercised regularly or they basically can’t help themselves. If you have one of these dogs, read up on what breeds need what attention and make sure you get your dog out and do what is necessary. It will help immensely with their training and their behavior.
Positive reinforcement far FAR outweighs negative reinforcement. If the dog is already running to you, call for them to Come and reward them when they get there. Set them up for success.
Do you use treats as incentives? Maybe … but you run the risk of them deciding that you’re only worth listening to if you have treats, or if they’re hungry. Lucy will only “Sit Pretty” or “Roll Over” if I have a treat. This is the only thing that will make these humiliating tricks worthwhile apparently.
The Dog Whisperer used to say that giving love doesn’t always have to mean massages and petting them. They see you providing food and shelter as love as well. Something to keep in mind.
Every dog is different. Dogs have different personalities, some are more outgoing, some are reserved, some are aggressive and others are timid and scared. Dogs also have psychological issues from past experiences. Dogs are like people in this. You need to understand your dog and build trust with them the same as you would with a new friend or family member. They feel the same way about you.
Socialize your pet when they’re young. Introduce them to cats, children, tall people and short people, men and women, people of different ethnic backgrounds. Have them around cities with lots of noises, travel with them in your car, touch their feet often (because invariably you’ll need to trim their nails and having history with their feet helps), show them the vacuum cleaner … do everything you can think of. You’re setting yourself, and them, up for success down the line.
Boundaries. Trust. Set them up for success. Positive reinforcements over negative every day of the week and twice on days ending in Y.