Training the unruly dog

By Donna G. Adams, D.V.M. Ivy Hill Animal Hospital, P.C.

Help! My dog is out of control.  He barks all the time, jumps on people – what can I do?

All dogs need to know their manners, and if we don’t teach them the correct way to behave, can we be surprised if they don’t know the rules? Of course this is easier when they are young, so I always recommend that even the smallest dog go to obedience classes.

But what can we do if we did not teach them their manners as a puppy? We just use the same methods of teaching, and realize that it may take a little more patience on our part.

I am a big proponent of positive behavior management, and I love clicker training. Basically that means we reward the behaviors we want and ignore (or don’t reward) unwanted behaviors. Owners need a strategy to tell their dog when they have done something right. This is where the clicker comes in. We use the clicker to “mark” the exact moment when your dog does the correct thing.

First, we need to teach the dog that the clicker means something very good is coming. To do that you make the clicking sound with the clicker and then give your dog a small but yummy treat. You do this over and over and when your dog hears the click, he expects a treat.

So if we were teaching your dog to sit, we hold a treat over his head and a little behind him so that he sits naturally to look at the treat. The exact moment his bottom touches the ground we click to mark the behavior. The dog then gets a treat. This lets the dog know that what he was doing when he heard the click was a good thing! This is a simple example but it shows we have to click right when he is doing the desired behavior.

Now to the dog that barks and jumps on visitors. You will need a friend to help you with this. When your friend comes in, ask your dog to sit. The trick is he has to learn he has to stay seated until your friend comes over and greets him. As long as your dog stays seated, your friend may slowly approach him. If your dog gets up, your friend must move back or even turn away from the dog. Then you tell your dog to sit again and your friend can try again.

Sometimes having your dog on a leash so you can prevent your dog from running to your friend can be helpful. As long as your dog stays seated you may click, treat your dog and let your friend approach. This will take some patience, but eventually your dog will realize that to get the reward of greeting your friend he has to stay seated.

Another thing to teach your dog for basic manners is to have a “place” they go to when told. It may be a mat or a pillow or his bed. We start by clicking and rewarding him when he is on the mat. Then we start linking the word “place” to the mat, eventually telling him to go to his place, and when he does click and treat him. We gradually extend the time he stays there and with patience we can tell him to go to his place when a visitor is in the house. Once again you need a friend to help you with this task.

We have to make sure that our dog always follows the rules, and our rules are consistent. If we let him jump on some friends and not others, he will just be confused. ■


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