One of, if not THE biggest issue in problematic dog behaviors, is caused by overly permissive dog owners. This happens for a variety of reasons, most not knowing or understanding the adverse effects of too much unearned affection and spoiling, without balancing that attention with exercise and a job to do, on their dog. Most owners give it freely assuming that is all their dog needs to be a good family member.
As dog trainers, we get the opportunity to experience a LOT of issues between owners and their dogs that suck the joy out of owning a dog. Very few owners bring a dog into their family life only to knowingly end up struggling with that dog’s behaviors, or even worse, creating a safety risk for their family.
Helping owners work through these situations, we see the real life experiments play out for what works, and what has failed, for both owner and dog.
One of the most glaring failures between a dog and their owner is that of the overly permissive owner.
You know the type…”just let the dog be a dog”, the dog that jumps on visitors, the dog that chases the cat, runs the fenceline barking, terrorizing and growling at anyone that walks by, that dog that just gives “love bites” to the kids, the owner who has scratch or “nip” marks up their arms and legs and has “dog pants” that are ripped and dirty, the owner who may eventually declare their house a dog war zone, or a least being run by the dog.
This type of owner generally makes excuses for the dog’s behaviors, “he’s just being a puppy!,” “she’s only trying to say hello,” “stand over there so we can walk past you,” “turn your back on her if she jumps (i.e. I don’t want to say “no” to her but I don’t care if she scratches you or knocks you over!), “she will outgrow it sometime soon.“
These are commonly the same owners and families that drown their dogs in kisses, indulgences and treats and allow them to jump all over the furniture like a jungle gym set, are always carrying their dog or picking it up when it won’t respond to commands, never put their pups in crates, allow them to continuously strain at the end of the leash, taking their owner for a walk, those that practically “spoon” with their dog on the floor and hang all over them, and pet them into submission for barking and growling at other dogs or people.
These are just observations after years of working with clients and their dogs, listening to stories when dogs get turned into shelters and from spending time at parks observing people with their dogs.
Hopefully we aren’t offending anyone if you are THIS OWNER or if you have THAT DOG! The intent is to raise awareness and educate, not offend.
These owners (and their family and friends) often put up with the behaviors, maybe they teach the dog to sit, shake, roll over…the cute, fun stuff, but often they have not valued teaching their dog an ON/OFF switch, how to be calm, how to hold a sit, not to refrain from using their teeth on humans, how to stay quiet and calm around other dogs and people, how to walk without pulling on the leash…that is until an egregious event occurs…the dog chases down the elderly neighbor, bolts through the front door and almost gets hit by a car, kills a neighbor’s chicken, tears up their new leather sofa, or a child gets “snagged by a tooth” when the dog “was playing and would never mean to harm my child, he loves her.”
Dogs are social, pack animals. In a pack, there is always a leader and there are always followers. Some are motivated to move up in rank, some are not. If you fail to provide your dog with structure and guidance, they
will make their own structure and rules and we know they don’t always make the best decisions…kind of like a toddler, they are doing to do what feels good to them at the time.
Dogs are NOT humans and we shouldn’t try to degrade them into treating them as if they are…they are dogs. Respect and honor them for what they are. It is not fair to the dog if we try to turn them into substitutes for what lacks in our human life…again they are dogs and have their role as a dog, so we should give them dog jobs to carry out…yes, they can be wonderful companions when we take the time and energy to teach them how to live in the human world, under human spoken and unspoken rules. They are puzzle pieces in the intricate puzzle we call life. They don’t substitute out for another piece in the puzzle, they are their own unique and individual piece to completing our lives.
Love your dog enough to discipline them and address the small stuff they do so you can avoid having to deal with the BIGGER, more serious stuff later on. Here are some things to start with:
- Be consistent and repetitively practice skills with our dog in a variety of locations and circumstances.
- Learn how to properly use “NO” with your dog. Don’t get confused….a well time “NO” or “NOPE” is NOT synonymous with, or anything like, hitting your dog (which you should never do by the way!). A correction is guidance that is fair, well timed and has meaning to your pup, but is not over the top or harmful.
- Reward your pup when they do good behaviors, whether by command or on their own. Remember that real, meaningful rewards go much deeper than just a treat constantly shoved in their mouth as a lure or distraction. Teach them skills, give them the opportunity to demonstrate the skill and then reward them for doing the skill.
- Learn how to warn your dog when there is an obvious intent to misbehave…learn to use interrupters to misbehaving if you miss the opportunity to warn them of an impending misbehavior.
- Avoid “after the fact” disciplining (when the pee on the floor is cold and you never saw them do it)…discipline in the moment since your dog lives in the moment.
- Seek out the cause and understanding of misbehaviors (did you really teach it, generalize it and proof it?) rather than just correcting the symptoms (why your dog doesn’t listen to you in the first place rather than why they didn’t return to you that time you called them to come back while chasing after a squirrel)
- Balance the time and energy you spend working with your dog, with the time and energy you spend giving your dog love and affection. The recipe for a good dog does not call for one or the other, it requires BOTH.
- Give love and affection meaning by using it as an earned reward for a job well done and good behaviors rather than an entitlement.
Building trust with your dog will lead to mutual respect between you and your dog in lieu of encouraging bratty behaviors. When your dog trusts, you have earned their respect. When you have earned their respect, you will have a dog that puts you at the center of their universe. When you have that respect you will find they are engaging with you and listen to you, because you have finally earned the role of a benevolent leader, trusted companion and favorite guide to help your dog maneuver this thing called LIFE.