Saturday, December 19, 2009
By Ruthie Bently
I grew up with several dogs and got to see training methods first hand. I have seen both well trained and unruly dogs and have found that the old maxim is true: “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” As I get older, my life experiences have taught me that this is true and I have been applying it to my training methods.
Growing up, if a dog had an “accident” in the house they got their nose rubbed in it. In my mind all this resulted in was a dirty nose which had to be cleaned. One of my favorite memories (though probably not for my grandfather) happened on a Sunday morning. Grandpa was reading his paper in the living room, with it spread on the floor in front of the couch. Grandma’s dog Peggy came in, walked right over to the newspaper, and relieved herself. Grandpa started blustering for Grandma to come get her “damn” dog. Grandma picked up Peggy and dutifully carried her outside, praising her the whole time. You see, Peggy had been trained to go on newspaper and though hers was in the kitchen, she probably thought Grandpa’s paper was for her.
Growing up, if a dog chewed something “off limits” they got hit on the butt with it. I remember watching the floor near a dog being hit with the damaged item and the dog cringing. When my dog Katie’s playmate passed, she grieved and took to chewing shoes. I put them behind a closed closet door on a high shelf, and she still got to them. This taught me to take responsibility for my own actions around the house, yard and anywhere else Katie would be. Things she could reach had to be moved out of reach or it was my fault that she got them. This means if you leave your cell phone, glasses or TV remote where your dog can reach them, you have to take responsibility for your dog being able to get to them – and believe me dogs can be very inventive.
When your dog does something wrong they should be disciplined, but while they may know you are angry at them, they may not know why. Catching them in the “naughty” act is easier to discipline because if it is after the fact, they won’t understand what you are mad about. If your dog chews something inappropriate, take it away from them. Tell them “NO” in a strong voice and hand them something that is OK to chew. Using praise to get them to chew their own toy or taking them outside for a game of “catch the chewy” will help.
If you have been away and the dog had an accident in the house, you may have been gone too long. While Skye is housebroken, she does have accidents from time to time. I take any solids outside to her “potty” spot and leave them. If the stain is liquid, I mop it up, carry the paper towels outside and put them in the composter after showing Skye where she is supposed to go.
Several articles I’ve read on discipline agree that you need to take responsibility for your actions, and your dog will react to body language you project when you are angry. An angry scowl, raised voice or hands on your hips is a dead giveaway. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to smile and make nice when the dog has just done something naughty. However, beating, yelling and shouting will only make your dog more fearful of you. It also makes them less likely to come the next time they hear your angry voice. Try to keep your voice quiet and project a sense of calm when calling your dog after a misdeed, and then discipline them.
One of my clients came home one day to find that their Border Collie had torn the fringe off an antique rug in the living room. They liked the rug there and didn’t want to ban the dog from the living room. They respected their dog enough to try and figure out why it was suddenly acting out. We did some research and found that the dog had herded sheep and the rug was made of wool. The dog, trying to herd the “perceived sheep” was nipping the fringe off the rug, much as it would nip the heels of the sheep to get them to move. The rug got repaired and moved to another room.
Respecting your dog is an important aspect of proper discipline. When I trained my first dog, I added several training books to my library. Now almost thirty later I’m reading about a newer concept that makes more sense to me: respect. I’m not trying to humanize my dog but she is a sentient creature and when I treat her with respect, I get better results than if I treat her like a “dumb animal.” This means not overtraining Skye, and making sure there is a balance between training, working time and playtime. I’ve found this to be a happy medium and though we still have issues sometimes, Skye personally likes the “honey” method.
Read more articles by Ruthie Bently