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Dog Training Basics: 6 Ways You're Sabotaging Your Dog's Behavior

3 dogs with heads tilted toward owner

With over 20 years of experience in dog training and addressing various canine behaviors, it's rare for me to be surprised by anything one of my clients shares about their furry companion. From dogs having a vendetta against the oven to dealing with poop-eating habits, I've seen it all. Even if your dog is humping the couch (third this week), rest assured, you're not alone - it's a common issue that can be addressed through proper training.

Despite the oh, let's call it, peculiar behaviors exhibited by some dogs (the corgi last week who carried around his own emotional support underwear), the common challenge my

clients encounter when training their pets is learning effectively communicating with them.

“Communication is the solvent of all problems and is the foundation for personal development.”– Peter Shepherd,

Let's explore some of the major communication obstacles that I observe between my clients and their dogs, and ways to overcome them for a calmer, happier dog.

#1 - Not Realizing that Your Dog is Doing The Best They Can With the Information You Provided

dog choking himself on leash

If your dog pulls on the leash and "chokes themselves", as I hear my clients say all the time, ask yourself what information you have provided for them to make better decisions? Merely pulling on the leash, or trying to hold them back most definitely does not give them information to make better choices: it effectively engages their flight (and sometimes fight) response.

Simply put, you aren't giving them better information, namely in the form of an answer to their question: "Should I be pulling on the leash towards that rabbit right now?" Most likely your answer is "no", but you are not giving that answer in a way they can understand. So why is your dog choking themselves on the leash?

To put it simply, always remember:

Your dog isn't giving you a hard time. Your dog is having a hard time.

#2 - Your Dog Training Method is "Stop or I'll Say Stop Again"

Owner scolding dog for chewing shoes

Ahh....the spoken language. It makes complicated instructions so much easier, and has accomplished so much for humanity from science to literature to art, it's opened up so much for our kind.

Unfortunately, not so much for our canine companions.

For example, I had a client last year who was struggling getting his dog to come when he called him. I asked how he handled the situation, and he informed me that he just kept calling him until eventually he came.

Unfortunately, the dog soon learned exactly what the word "come" meant: nothing.

Words aren't magical incantations that resolve your dog's behavioral issues. If your dog's behavioral issues aren't resolved, then training your dog will be unsuccessful. Learn more about the difference between dog training and dog behavior in this article, and why

#3 - You Aren't Telling Your Dog What You Mean

During at the end of my weekly Pack Walks, I always do a short Q&A about dog behavior and dog training. A question came up about retractable leashes. I proceeded to make my thoughts known about the leashes, stating that "more dogs are attacked on retractable leashes due to how little impulse control they display at the end, acting erotically which can be seen as a threat to a reactive dog who otherwise is walking nicely beside it's owner."

Everyone laughed, and I accused them jokingly of hearing what they wanted to hear.

But it brought up an important point: I didn't say what I meant. Of course I meant to say "erratically", but I stumbled over my words. Out of the 20 people listening, I'd say 3/4 knew what I meant, and made the mental adjustment themselves. The rest were wondering what I was going on about a dog being erotic on a leash (except the one guy who was nodding in agreement - to be fair, he wasn't part of our group, though, and was kinda creepy anyway).

Dog can be the same way. You mean to say "come" to your dog, but everything about your body language is screaming "stay away from me". Learn more about how to properly "talk" to your dog and say what you mean in this article.

#4 - Your Dog Knows You Don't Mean What You Say

If you've ever had your dog trained by me, you'll be familiar with an exercise I have all my clients do. First, I use whatever is their dog's favorite thing in the world (usually a type of treat or toy) and put it on the ground, while effectively answering the dog's questions about said object ("Can I have it?" "No.").

Everyone is always amazed that the dog "listens" to me, even though I didn't say anything their dog. But in fact I did. Using my body language.

How it plays out the first time my clients try it is a little different. Yes, they are usually saying "no" with words, but not following through with their body language. Your words are "no", but your body language has the addendum of "if that's okay with you".

Your body language has to match what you are telling your dog to do. This can be even more difficult for women, who for years have heard things like, "Sit like a lady". But men can struggle with this as well, trying to give off "buddy dad" body language because they don't want to appear too intimidating.

You don't need to be "dominant", nor do you need to placate your dog. Simply have your body language match what you're telling your dog.

#5 - Thinking You're Training your Dog Through Domination

A few weeks ago another dog was brought into a local Cleveland emergency vet clinic by a dog trainer located in east Cleveland. The dog had damage to its trachea due to something called helicoptering a dog on the end of the leash. Yes, it's exactly what you think it is, and this trainer uses this method of training quite frequently.

Golden Retriever sleeping

Shock collars and prong collars don't answer a dog's questions. Fear and pain can not take the place of information. As I mentioned earlier, communication is the goal, not domination of your dog.

Just because your dog stops barking when you use a shock collar doesn't meant you've trained your dog to do anything other than feel like they need to walk on eggshells in their own house. Yes, you have effectively stopped that behavior, but now you've introduced anxiety, and that never ends well.

Remember, anxiety is fear of the unknown. Your dog wants more information about the dog walking across the street, and if they're a threat. So you shock them, or stab them with a prong collar. You haven't answered their question, you merely made them more afraid of you than the original thing they were questioning.

Domination tactics do not foster a trusting and mutually respectful relationship. Domination is the opposite of communication.

#5 - Thinking Negotiating with Your Dog is the Same as Communicating

White dog jumping

Your dog jumps. So you give offer them a treat if they stop. Of course they stop...for just a moment before they start back up, expecting another treat.

This is why we don't negotiate with terrorists.

If domination is the opposite of communicating with your dog, negotiating and placating is the absence of communication. Click & treat style of dog training is just that: designed for training. But a jumping dog isn't being trained: you need to address your dog's behavior. And those are two completely different things.

To put it simply, dog behavior is directly linked with impulse control, and negative canine behaviors are a direct response to low impulse control. The amount of impulse control a dog has is dependent upon how much stimuli they are presented with (a normally "well behaved" child may struggle a bit right before opening birthday presence).

Dogs sitting with owner on bench

If you don't like your dog's behavior of jumping, you must first communicate with them that their behavior is unacceptable. Once they've regained their composure, you can then train your dog what is a polite greeting.

Dog training relies heavily on a dog who's behavior has already been shaped and guided through Piloting. A dog who has impulse control can easily be trained to basic commands or housebreaking. Agility and recall are a breeze. But a dog who's behavior is off will struggle with even the most simple dog training such as sitting on command. Make sure you are addressing both your dog's behavior and training.

Dog Training, Differently

Building the bonds of love, respect, and trust with your dog through communication, rather than dominance or bribery, will result in a happier and more fulfilling relationship.

Are you facing challenges with your dog's behavior? Is your puppy behaving like a piranha? Feeling like you're trying to manage your dog rather than enjoy a healthy bond with your pup?

Discover our dog and puppy training services to help your dog to a calmer and happier way of life starting today.

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training and Behavior

Greater Cleveland Area


dog training differently


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