At Man's Side
Dogs are such a familiar part of our world that most people simply take them for granted and forget about the extraordinary bond that exists between dog and owner, a bond that has made us want to domesticate and share our homes with this unique creature for as long as we can remember.
Picture the scene -- owner and dog may be playing a game on the living room floor. Upon hearing the doorbell, owner and dog sit up alertly -- both want to investigate who might be at the door. If the visitor is invited inside, while the owner is busy being a good host, the dog is often excited and keen to meet the guest. Both dog and owner greet a known visitor very differently from a casual one, and this in itself demonstrates how this animal not only fits into the human family pack, but takes such an active part in the lifestyle of the family.
What other domesticated animal behaves in this way? What other animal takes such an interest in us and to such a great degree? What other animal responds to our physical and vocal language, and our mood changes with such sensitivity and understanding? None. The dog is King in fitting snugly into our lives no matter what circumstances we may live in. Whether you are rich or live a very humble existence, a dog accepts who you are and makes the best of it. Of course, like recalcitrant children in even the most close-knit of families, sometimes dogs will disobey, and this is the reason for 21 Days to Train Your Dog.
A Marriage Made in Heaven
Dogs provide much for so many people in modern society. I feel that it is important that an owner understands a bit about their dog's mind and appreciates how it perceives and functions in our world. The fact that we can communicate as much as we do with dogs is probably the main reason that the wolf was invited into our homes in the first place.
What human have you met who is always welcoming when you arrive home, is never critical of you or your behavior, is always willing to be in your company whatever your mood, does not hold a grudge and can be so attentive so often? In truth, the virtues we look for in other people appear to be more reliably available in dogs. That may be the secret of their success in being accepted into the human fold.
Dogs don't try to put you down. Dogs are reliable, consistent and display excellent guarding skills, even if it is just an alert bark when someone approaches the home. Dogs are tactile creatures and this is also a powerful attraction -- people get so much pleasure from stroking and playing with a dog. And, like raising a child, watching it grow, develop and learn new ideas, dogs seem to invoke the inner parent in us all and bring our nurturing instincts into play.
Unlike most humans, dogs appear instinctively prepared to stay by our sides whatever happens in our complicated lives. It goes without saying our brains are so big and complex that dogs cannot possibly understand the world as we do, but they certainly manage very well to fit into our lives right beside us.
Dogs have characteristics that flatter and appeal to us and this is another crucial factor in why we develop such close relationships with them. Of course dogs themselves also have instinctive drives that they follow, and so an element of conflict is inevitable in the canine-human relationship.
Though we share sufficient in common to live together amicably, just as in human relationships, domestic disputes do arise and need to be addressed. This is why understanding and training your dog is so important.
There has been quite a change recently in what I might call the philosophy of dog training. Emphasis has swung away from what is termed compulsion training toward reward-only-based training. In simple terms, the latter is when you make a dog obey you with a reward instead of forcing it to obey you. A dog is encouraged to sit because you offer it a treat above its nose, rather than by physically pushing the dog into the sit position.
I don't take sides in this debate, although I do know that few dogs can be trained effectively by the average pet owner without there being some compulsion in their training methods. I apologize if this upsets the zealots but that's the way it is. Dog owners want results, not belief systems. Disciples of different training styles all too often become totally fixated on their approach to dog training to such a degree that, head in the sand, they only use positive reinforcement methods of dog training, which simply do not work with all animals -- especially difficult dogs.
The best illustration of this is the Recall -- getting your dog to come to you in the park when it ignores you. Because these trainers have thrown out compulsive training methods, they may use a food treat, praise or toys to encourage the dog to come back to them. For example, I remember a real case with which I was involved. A dog called Spangle did not wish to come when he was having a terrific time in the park with his canine friends, chasing and pouncing upon other dogs that didn't relish his amorous intentions. The end result was that Spangle simply did not come when he was busy, despite the lure of chicken treats. The problem with dogs such as Spangle is that if the motivation to come to you is less appealing than the activity he is focused on, then obviously the dog will not come to you. Compelling the dog to come with actions that he doesn't like is now the only option. To look at it another way, you must interrupt what he is doing by making his current actions unpleasant or less fun.
As you progress through this book and follow the training program, you will see that we always use positive rewards in dog training; the trick is to use them in conjunction with other successful dog training techniques. If I thought juggling while standing on one leg would get dogs to successfully come on command, I would certainly give it a try! I will entertain any dog training method that is fair to both dog and owner.
Why Are Some Dogs Difficult to Train?
Dogs, like people, are a combination of many factors: their inheritance, their intelligence, their upbringing and breed-specific behaviors. Dogs that have learned the wrong behavior, or behavior that we find upsetting, will probably be more difficult to turn around than a young dog or puppy that's essentially a clean slate ready to learn good behavior. Whichever type or breed you own, don't worry -- all dogs can be trained. I believe that most dogs are easy to train, and the rest just need extra tuition and instruction to bring them around. It's just a matter of how you perceive the dog and the amount of time you are prepared to devote to training it.
The Dog and its Innate Drives
In the wild, dogs have no naturally evolved instincts that encourage them to live with man or to be trained in obedience. None. The fact that by some quirk of history dogs have been domesticated and become our favorite companion is just fate. Like all wild animals, dogs need food, warmth and a stable environment to live in. Once these basic needs have been met, dogs --like us -- are essentially content. A dog has a natural desire to stay with its pack. For a domesticated dog, this means you and your family. When you are outside together, a dog will stay within a certain distance of you. For most dog owners who live in suburbs or cities crisscrossed by roads, traffic and many other dangers, the distance from you that a dog needs to keep for safety is less than it would be in the wild. Even if you live in the country, the no-go areas are often just as plentiful. Farm livestock and crops pose different hazards for a country dog, but owners still have to keep their dogs away from them. So town and country dogs have different landscapes to traverse, but training is needed for both types of dog to control the pet and keep it out of danger.
Dogs have no sense of time or understanding of their owners' desires and routines. When they are disobedient and you become frustrated or angry, they do detect your change in mood but rarely appreciate the reasons behind it. So if you head out for an early morning walk with your dog, and then lose your temper when you find out that Rover has decided to run off in the opposite direction just when you want to get back home, remember that your rationalization is of little consequence to Rover. He's a dog. Of course, you're a human with your own emotions and this is the reason behind the clash of wills. With this book I will attempt to teach you how to get Rover back to you, but I cannot ever hope to convey to Rover the reasons why he must come, except that there is always a reward from his leader. It is enough that he will recognize the fact that he has to come when called, and respond accordingly.
Some Common Training Problems
This section explores some of the common problems dog owners have to put up with in the real world. I have sat through thousands of consultations with clients listening to stories of their dogs' behavior, and can quickly get a feel for how dogs and owners develop love/hate relationships and how dog owners can be "taken in" by their dog's fawning antics in the evening by the fire. Yes, like children, dogs are nearly always forgiven for their mischievous behavior when tempers have cooled. I often think that dogs that we consider badly behaved probably learn very quickly that we humans blow hot and cold, and can nearly always be won over with a bit of paw offering. By the time you finish this book, this subtle piece of canine blackmail should be history.
When taken out in the car or walked along the street and then released into an open space, many dogs become very excited. Why shouldn't they? For most dogs, this is the highlight of their otherwise uneventful day. A variety of scents, new canine friends to meet and fresh air racing through their lungs -- these are the delights of the outside world in which they evolved. Although the park environment is man-made, dogs instinctively enjoy the short exhilarating high of running free.
Owners also love to see their dogs having a good time, but when the dog begins to sniff around the wrong dogs or to pester other park users, owners are often left looking embarrassingly helpless, trying to get their dog back by firmly voiced demands that inevitably degenerate into pleading gestures and outright begging. Eventually you may see them hauling their dog away from the target of interest, muttering "Bad dog!" or "That's it; you're not coming here again." That is, until evening relaxation time, when all is forgiven.
In the worst cases, dogs that don't come back can cause accidents in traffic and be a danger to one and all. So dogs do need to obey our commands despite their own canine agenda. Ultimately, they have to negotiate our world. The section on teaching the Recall in Chapter 10 will put you firmly in control of this important discipline.
The Pulling Battle
At Berkhamsted's Canine and Feline Behaviour Centre, I have a number of cameras in operation so that when clients arrive I am able to observe them get out of their vehicles along with their exuberant dogs. Just watching this brief episode conveys a good deal of information about the canine-human relationship in this pack.
Often the owner appears to be quite anxious, approaching the moment of letting their dog out of the car like going into battle. Suddenly a door is partially opened and the owner pounces on the dog and in the ensuing struggle a leash is attached. Then wham! -- the dog is flying through the air, with the owner trying to brace themselves as they are hauled toward the consulting rooms.
I shouldn't, but I sometimes laugh at scenes like this, especially at the expressions on the owners' faces as they get dragged into the room muttering comments like "This is what I mean" or "That's it for you, Smokey, this man will sort you out." Then they smile a relieved smile as the dog, delirious with excitement, is gently attached by his leash to one of my wall hooks.
Dogs that pull are the bane of so many peoples' lives. In Chapter 8 I explain why dogs learn to pull -- along with other related behaviors -- and how to stop such pulling. Once this command is understood, the terrible choking sound of a dog frantic to get from A to B will also become a thing of the past.
Jumping Jack and Other Attention Seekers
Few people have not encountered a dog whose desire to get your attention involves launching themselves off the ground at your body and your face. The jumping dog is loved by some, hated by others but overall is an unwelcome pest, however well-intentioned its greetings may seem. Of course, all the reactions to a dog that jumps that I've just mentioned are a part of the problem behavior -- inconsistent signals that confuse the animal. Do you recognize this behavior in your dog?
Your dog may not even jump, just nudge and demand your attention. Dogs are gregarious and, skilled in using wily ways to maintain or improve their position in the pack, quickly learn how to gain attention. This behavior is a form of dominance and is driven by the need to maintain a social position within your pack. Dogs obviously get a lot of pleasure from receiving attention, especially from a family superior -- it demonstrates their own high status. But what about when excessive attention-seeking becomes annoying or the dog won't stop trying to get a response from a visitor who is not particularly dog-friendly or is not keen on a wet tongue lapping at their hands and face?
I shall tackle these problems in the Leadership Program in Chapter 3 and explain how you can control your dog through training and teach it good manners -- well, good from a human perspective at least!
Common Laments of Owners of Untrained or Poorly Trained Dogs
- He's very obedient in the house.
- He's good on a walk -- until he sees another dog or a person.
- He just loves people, but they sometimes get annoyed.
- He only pulls at the beginning of the walk.
- He's mad when I'm trying to put the leash on.
- He gets excited when he sees other animals.
- He can come when dinner's ready.
- He always comes back eventually.
- He doesn't always pull.
- He only jumps up when he first meets you.
What all these statements have in common is the inclination to excuse your dog's disruptive behavior and the fact that it will not obey you. We don't always like admitting our failings, so naturally we try and explain away the dog's bad behavior. Of course, as I often stress, the dog does not view any of its actions as bad. They are simply the sum of what it has learned despite our good intentions. But by using the training program outlined later in the book, these excuses can be laid to rest -- our aim is to produce a well-trained dog that will consistently obey your commands.