Dog training is strongly facilitated by the fact that a dog’s highest desire is to have life be predictable and safe.
It’s a stronger desire than food or affection. (For example: If your dog is extremely stressed they won’t eat the super yummy treat that you’re offering them, even if they’re very food driven. Your touch isn’t totally calming when they’re shivering because of fireworks.) The only way to help them to overcome their natural stress reaction is through helping them to learn that they can look to you for leadership If they view you as the one who’s on the hook to deal with the bad, scary things then they can relax because they’re no longer worried that *they* will have to somehow deal with it.
While they may never completely overcome the fear (depending on their temperament, the source, the amount of reinforcement they’ve had of the fear, age, etc) they will find comfort in your presence and learn to relax more during the fearful happening if you are around. That only comes with the opening of the lines of communication, which is what training is all about. It’s about creating a new language as a team, both of you creating and learning its nuances together and thus also strengthening your bond at the same time.
The top things affecting how easy it is to open those lines of communication between our two species are the strength of the dog’s instinct for pack (Shiba Inu, I’m looking at you!), and the intelligence of both parties.
Your dog *wants* to understand, it *wants* to know what to expect. Training really comes down to the simplest of terms. It can be summed up in two golden rules:
- Be consistent.
- If you don’t say “no”, your dog hears “yes”.
That’s really it, it’s that simple.
Of course then you’ve got human nature to contend with, which makes problems where there don’t need to be any.
You’ve decided that there’s a rule that the dog’s not allowed on the couch. You always tell him no when he does it. Well, except when you get home from a long day and you’re exhausted and cranky and you just couldn’t be bothered to make him get off when he doesn’t respond to your command. Or when you’ve got friends over and you don’t want to get into a training session with him. Or when you’re running out the door and, you know, it’ll be fine….
Congratulations, you’ve just broken both of the golden rules! If you decide on a rule (no jumping up unless you tell them to, no barking, no getting on the furniture, no going up/down the stairs unless instructed to, etc) you MUST reinforce it *every* time. If you let it slide “just this once” you’ve set it up in your dog’s mind that maybe there’s some wiggle room. “Maybe *this* is one of those times when it’s allowed. Can I do it now? What about now?”
This is very much shooting yourself in the foot. You are prolonging the amount of time it will take to have this be an unquestioned rule in your dog’s mind.
To address the second golden rule, it’s really what it sounds like. Anything (no really, anything) that your dog does, they are finding out if it’s allowed. If you laugh and say: “Oh, isn’t that cute!” when your Great Dane puppy does something when they’re little, recognize that they will still believe that you are ok with it when they are a 200lb adult. You can probably imagine ways that could go horribly wrong.
People seem to feel like giving rules to dogs is cruel, but it is very important for them, in multiple ways. An untrained dog is an unhappy and stressed dog. That can manifest itself in behaviours such as barking, biting, jumping, overly physical play, aggression, possessiveness, inappropriate chewing, etc. At that point, not only is your dog stressed but so are you! You’ve got this unruly “monster” that you don’t know how you ended up with, after having such a sweet, adorable puppy, which leads to a huge number of dogs being given up to shelters. In the US alone, literally *millions* of dogs are surrendered annually to shelters because of issues with the dog (as opposed to family issues). Issues that could have been prevented by simply being consistent and clear in the owner’s expectations.
People also need to realize that while we may feel like we’re “imposing our will” or something on the dog, and view that as an unkind thing, they need to recognize that to the dog, knowing what is expected is intensely comforting.
“If I do this, this happens.”
“If she does that, I do this.”
It seems so simple, but that will give your dog a sense of safety. The unknown is frightening to all of us, but you and I can Google what that weird noise was and learn some logical and rational things about it that alleviate our stress. Your dog is looking to *you* to tell it that all is well. If you haven’t established that bond of communication, then they cannot take their comfort from you.
If you keep those two rules in mind, you can have years of happy, fulfilling relationship with your dog.