So your social life has been really slow lately, and you feel like it is your dog’s fault. Every time you invite someone over, and he or she rings the doorbell, your dog turns psycho! It won’t stop barking, and when you do get the door open, it jumps all over your visitor. You also feel like you can’t leave the house because every time you do, the dog gets into things it shouldn’t – even if those things are up on your counters. If there is nothing on the counters, your dog finds something else to get into like chewing on our favorite shoes, or destroying a whole roll of toilet paper. Your initial reaction to discovering these damages is that you want to beat the dog senseless. Believe it or not there are better alternatives than that solution.
The main reason owners really should not resort to violence with their dogs is that you really don’t want to damage your relationship. You want to teach your dog to respect you not fear you. The other important aspect of disciplining your dog is timing. If you do not catch your dog in the act of doing something naughty, you cannot punish them for it! The reason is because of a dog’s short attention span; it does not have the ability to understand that what it did 10 minutes ago or 2 hours ago is why it is being punished. Even if you shove the destroyed object in its face, like the chewed up shoe, it will not teach your dog to never do that again. People think it helps because the dog is acting guilty. It bows its head and sulks away, but dogs only act that way because they are very perceptive to your mood. They understand you are angry, they just don’t understand why. Dogs do not have the cognitive ability to make the connection between its actions several minutes ago to your anger now. You have to catch them in the act before you can let them know that what they did was bad.
What do you do when you catch them in the act? You still don’t want to make them afraid of you. Positive reinforcement is what helps build dogs’ respect for you. Positive reinforcement teaches that the two words you want to remember with problem behaviors are interrupt and redirect. You want to interrupt the dog so it stops the problem behavior. Sometimes a simple shout of “Hey” or “No” from you will work as an interrupter, but not when your dog is so focused on what they are doing like barking or jumping on someone. Other interrupters I like are a water bottle, or a loud noise maker like an empty aluminum can with rocks or coins in it. The point of these objects is just to get the dog to stop what it is doing. Then redirect the dog to do something better. Throw a toy across the room so they go get that instead of doing the naughty behavior. Even getting the dog to do simple commands like sit and lie down is better than having them bark and jump on people.
What do you do when you don’t catch them in the act? The best thing there is prevention. Evaluate what you can do differently next time, like not leaving food on the counter, or giving them something better to chew. A Kong filled with peanut butter can do wonders here. Or you should leave your dog in a crate while you are not home. It will keep them out of trouble. The best suggestion is to ensure the dog has plenty of exercise before you leave it alone in your home. A tired dog is much more likely to nap than chew on things.
• Do not punish behaviors you didn’t catch your dog doing.
• Interrupt and redirect bad behaviors
• Prevent bad behaviors in the first place with exercise and chew toys or a crate.