Designer dog breeds are nothing new: Puggles, Pomapoos and every imaginable Doodle you can think of. Recently however, I’ve begun to notice a new breed of dog owner. Their complaints are typical—their dog or puppy is nipping, jumping, soiling, running through the fence line—but their expectation of me as their “trainer” is not.
When I lay out how I work with them, how we work together and I help them understand, translate and modify their dog’s reaction or behavior, there is a pause.
“But I want you to come to my house and train my dog.”
When I explain that I cannot resolve behavior problems without their participation, that the dog is not an appliance to be fixed, the conversation usually ends there. I worry about these dogs and puppies; their stories stay with me. In each of their behaviors—whether it is the 9-week old puppy who is relentlessly biting his owner, or the 7-month old dog who is destroying the furnishings, or the 2-year old dog that strains and barks at his leash…each of the dogs are communicating their desperation loud and clear.
They cannot be simply trained: they must be understood. Give me an owner who wants to “listen” to their dog’s behavior, and modify their actions to accommodate to their dog’s concern through training, and I’ll give you a content, calm dog who looks forward to the days ahead of them.
When an owner hands a trainer the leash and tells her to do the job for them, guess what? The dog will listen to the trainer but become more reactive with the poorly prepared family members.
In my last installment of my series, , I’ve created a list of common behaviors and what they may be communicating. Of course, as with children, each situation is specific to household, but this general list will—I hope, provide you with some understanding of what dogs are communicating and why. (Keep your comments and communication coming: I get inspiration from your emails and notes- thanks!)
. Dogs chew for many reasons. It soothes the discomfort of teething, it’s enjoyable, and it relieves tension. Tension may be caused by boredom, isolation, or excitement. A dog cannot be taught to stop chewing. Provide appropriate chew toys and take steps to relieve the tension.
. Young puppies nip as a form of attachment and interaction. They also nip to communicate a need: if misunderstood or harshly corrected, it can lead to a host of other frustrating behaviors. As a puppy matures, nipping may be used to posture for rank, and can quickly cross over to aggression with puppies or dogs with a confrontational nature. Assertive techniques that are used to just “stop” the behavior often backfire as the puppy either perceives these actions as confrontation and amps their reactivity, or avoids the owner approach in fear.
Dogs jump for a whole host of reasons. In excitement or greeting, they jump to get near the face, eyeballing playfully, assertively, or submissively. Attempts to just correct the behavior often fail as negative attention is still interactive and gets perceived as confrontational play.
So how do you I wish there was one answer or some fairy dust I could package to sprinkle over dogs so their communications could be better understood. The solution depends on so many variables: a dog’s breed and personality, its daily schedule, and the attempts already made to resolve the situation, which by the time I come in have generally exacerbated the problem.
Surprisingly, dog training and puppy training is neither time consuming or difficult. When an owner realizes that the biggest variable in their dog’s behavior is their reaction to it, the pieces fall into place quickly. The first step isn’t handing the leash over to me. The first step in good dog training is to stop and listen.