Having a pet dog is an exciting and fun hobby for its owner. Dogs are naturally close to human beings. Lovable pets that dogs are, they show so much loyalty to their owners and in fact, cases are known where dogs save their owners from untoward incidents, sometimes even to the point of sacrificing their own lives. There is a truth to the saying that “A dog is a man’s best friend.”
Raising and caring for your pet dog are in some ways similar to raising your own kid. Your pet needs your time, attention, provision for material needs, and yes, it needs your love, too! You can expect your dog to show emotions such as joy, excitement, and sadness. Your pet is sensitive to its immediate environment just as much as you are!
There are times that it may show an undesirable behavior. It doesn’t mean, however, that it is what your dog wants to show or do. You can actually control your dogs behavior when it shows undesirable traits or do unwanted actions.
In agility trainings, for example, the crowd and the intensity of agility sport can cause your pet so much excitement and stimulation. Such stimulation may cause it to be restless and begin exhibiting undesirable behaviors ranging from being reactive to its handler and being rude to other dogs. In such a case, what steps can you take to control your dog’s behavior?
Here are simple, easy-to-do steps to correct your dog’s attitude:
1. WORK OUT A CONSISTENT PLAN TO AVOID YOUR DOG REPEATING AN UNWANTED BEHAVIOR.
Show your pet that you do not approve of that particular behavior, otherwise, when it repeats the same, it will become more intense. If you are in a crowded agility training and your pet starts to show an unwanted behavior, take your it away from that environment to a calmer place. Sometimes, a training environment can be stressful and ca cause cause your pet to be highly reactive. Before going to such trainings, make sure that you have a place where you can take your it in case its level of stimulation needs to be reduced. A good way of controlling your its behavior is by training it to perform “sit-stay” behind you. In cases of high reactivity, you can then move in front of your dog to manage the situation while your it stays safely behind you.
2. USE THE MARK & REWARD PROCESS.
By using the mark and reward process, you can teach your pet an alternate to its undesirable behavior. The trick is to train your it to keep its mind focused on a task and its consequent reward. A dog that has its mind so focused will not be reactive and can in fact ignore its immediate environment to accomplish its task. For example, if your dogs starts to get irritable and begin growling at nearby dogs settled on their crates, train your dog to heel past the crates while keeping its attention to you.
3. DESENSITIZE YOUR DOG.
In cases where your dog reacts violently to other dogs, hold its leash tightly and abruptly pull away. This action will send your dog a message that you do not approve of its behavior.
4. TRAIN YOUR DOG IN IDENTIFYING STRESS SIGNALS.
Train your dog to take note of your stress signals and to give you automatic eye contact once you give these signals. Examples of such a signal are grabbing your dog’s muzzle or collar, pulling tight the leash, or speaking more loudly. Gradually train your dog to understand the meaning of each signal. Be sure to use the principle of mark and reward process as you teach your dog the meaning of each stress signal. For example, to change the meaning of each stress signal, do it gradually in the company of your dog, clicking and feeding it as you give out your signal.
5. TRAIN YOUR DOG TO REACT CORRECTLY TO YOUR STRESS SIGNALS.
Teach your dog to respond correctly to the stress signals that you give. For example, let’s take the tight leash. Let your dog go to the leash’ end and step backwards a bit. when the leash get’s taut, click and feed your dog. Allow your dog to go to you for its reward and spend about twenty minutes praising your dog. Repeat this training many times. After this step, stand in another place and pull the dog’s leash. Reward your dog by clicking and feeding for making the leash loose by coming towards you. Gradually increase the leash’ tightness and alternate between taking steps and standing still. While doing this training, reinforce every eye contact that occurs. When your dog gets to notice the tightening of its leash, it will look up to you expecting a reward instead of reacting violently to an approaching dog.
However, if you notice signs of anxiety in your dog as you increase its leash’ tightness, stop the session immediately and evaluate your current training techniques. Review past success level and begin from there. If you find that you dog has taken for a stress signal any other behavior of your own to show aggression, apply the same principles discussed above. You can then change the associated behavior by rewarding your dog with clicking and feeding when you show your stress signals.
6. PROVIDE YOUR PET WITH A DOG TO DOG TRAINING ENCOUNTER.
Teaching your pet how to react properly to another dog is the best way to reduce its behavior of aggression towards another dog, so make every dog to dog encounter an opportunity for training. For instance, you can click and feed your pet every time another dog sniffs at your pet. Doing this regularly will teach your dog to expect a reward from you instead of being aggressive every time another dog approaches.
The best way to do this exercise is with another handler with a non-reactive, stable dog. Give your dog its click and feed reward as the other dog approaches it in semi-circular fashion. Avoid a head to head encounter. Such an encounter is unnatural to dogs and can immediately cause a dogfight.
7. AFTER THE BASIC DOG TO DOG ENCOUNTER, TRAIN YOUR PET WITH A NOSE TO NOSE ENCOUNTER.
When your pet has achieved basic level of tolerance, train it to tolerate other dogs approaching straight to its face. Click and feed your dog as another dog sniffs its tail, doing it with a high rate of reinforcement. Do this every time such interaction occurs. However, if the other dog is food possessive, click and pat your dog instead.
Simultaneously, each handler calls his own dog after a number of repetitions, clicking and feeding after every successful session. Both handlers should agree on a cue to end a session.
Each session should last only for about 5-10 seconds or as long as the dogs stay calm, gradually increasing the length of the session over time. If any of the dog shows undesirable behavior, however, stop the session immediately and evaluate the reason for such behavior.
Doing the above la clicker dog training in a consistent manner will prepare your dog to stay calm even in an intense, stimulating environment such as dog obedience la sessions. The trick is to do the training repeatedly until your dog knows how to expect a reward from you instead of showing an aggressive or reactive behavior.
The authors are writers for Mondex Professionals US.
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