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Have Your Dog Adapt to You

Part 2 of Laying the Foundation for Training

By Guest Blogger Jonathan Klein of I Said Sit! School For Dogs and The Dog Behavior Expert

A very nice woman came to my school to ask me about training for her dog. She described the problems she was having and told me she’d already had training and it wasn’t working.

She had her dog with her so I decided to let her show me how she practiced. When she asked if I wanted to see any particular exercise, I replied, “What about sit?” She turned to her dog and said, “Goldie? Do you think you’d like to be ready for me to ask you to sit yet?”

Something told me that might not have been the way the trainer taught her to “tell” Goldie to sit. She wasn’t heading in the direction of acting like a leader.

As we begin to lay the foundation for training, we need to make our dogs adapt to us rather than the other way around. This has nothing to do with dominating our dogs. The biggest change we can make is to understand that the more we give into our dogs, the less influence we have on them. In this foundation building process we are going to give our dogs everything they need by letting them earn it.

Many dogs have free run of the whole house and maybe even free access to the yard. Often they are fed more food than they can eat or the food is left accessible all day. They have so many toys that none of them are special and their owners give them whatever they want when they whine.

We need to change our dog’s attitude from “I’ll get it anyway” to “I want to do that so I’ll get it.” Stop for a minute and write a list of what your dog likes. It certainly will include being fed, going out, playing with toys, treats, petting, and hopefully much more. Examine the list and take everything on it away.

Our dogs will get their “stuff” back but they’re going to get it as a reward for good behavior. And while you may feel a little guilty at first by taking away your dog’s favorite things, know that if you don’t start in a big way, things will never change.

Limit Access to All Areas of Your Home
Whenever you’re with your dog, he should be on a leash and shouldn’t have free run of the house. You could either hold the leash or have him tethered to you, which will greatly impact his learning to pay attention to you as well as improving his behavior on walks. Also make a place where you tether the dog inside next to his bed where he is not isolated but not in the way either. If you are not able to supervise your dog then he goes in his “safe place,” which is his crate, an exercise pen, a small room or dog run. It’s important to accustom your dog to being in this area while you are at home. It’s not an imprisonment, but a safe quiet comfortable place for your dog to stay and rest, and not be able to practice any of bad behaviors.

Dog Training Tips to Keep in Mind
Instead of leaving the door open to the yard, close it and let your dog out when you choose.

Instead of leaving the toy basket in the den, put the toys away and pull out one when you want to play with your dog.

Instead of letting your dog have free run of the house, get him used to being in one safe area and letting him out for supervised playtime.

Instead of leaving the food down and giving cookies, do a lesson and give him his meal or treats after he actually has been a good dog.

Food As a Training Tool
We know how excited most dogs get around feeding time. What we want to do is transfer that excitement to our training sessions. But to do this effectively we need to take care to make sure our dogs are not fed to the point where food isn’t a motivation.

A portion of the dog’s food each day will be put aside for lessons and used as “between meal snacks” and only given as a reward for doing a lesson or exhibiting some desired behavior.

For finicky eaters keep up this feeding routine for at least 5 days. Don’t feed your dog wet or canned food, and never doctor the food by adding people food. These “high value” foods will be reserved for lessons when your dog is highly distracted or times when a really special reward is in order. High value food in daily meals is a setup for the dog to become more entitled and less trainable.

Over many years I’ve found that incorporating training and hand feeding for good behavior will result in virtually no dog going without eating.

By making the dog adapt to us, rather than the other way around, and by becoming a positive leader who can give or take away the “good stuff” we will have the strongest influence on their behavior.

Editor’s Note
Jonathan Klein has written other articles for Pet News and Views. His most recent post was Part I of these training tips. You can read that post by clicking here.

10 comments to Have Your Dog Adapt to You

  • Ronni Gee

    This page is just what I’ve been waiting for….my newly adopted shih-tzu has very limited understanding of even the most basic of commands.
    Thanks for this, Michelle

  • Phillip Nash

    Great advice Jonathan! I too train dogs and it’s really about training the people–not the dogs.

  • Mary Gray

    This is even more helpful than yesterday’s post. Thanks for the tips Jonathan.

  • Olivia Silver

    I find it funny that people are afraid to be a little tough with their dogs, and their kids, when teaching them to behave properly. Thanks for the post.

  • Thanks everyone for the nice comments. With a little help we can promote training and whats more, positive, non confrontational methods.

  • Mike Seeger

    Thanks Jonathan! Great advice.

  • When I was training Dex and he was training me LOL, we slowly gave him more sections of the house a bit at a time. Great advice here.

  • Jesse Tyler

    I see it with kids and with dogs: parents and pet parents want to please, not instruct, and by doing so harm their children and pets.

  • MaryLu Hefley

    I went to two different trainers. The first used more dominance based controls, and I really hated it. I left after a few classes, and felt fortunate to find someone who used gentle training techniques. We don’t have to bully to get what we want. Remember kindness, it works.

  • Charley Raines

    Very good advice. I see a lot of people adapting to their dogs. I wish they would take your advice. We would have less dogs returned to shelters if they were properly trained.