Best Way to Correct Your Dog’s Problems

When I was a little kid, no one ever hired a dog trainer. In the morning, after breakfast, we opened the door and let the dog out. In the evening, before dinner, someone would stand out front and call the dog to come home. In between, we might meet up with him as he checked out the neighborhood and visited his friends. Sometimes he’d follow our bikes as we rode to the beach. Other times he’d be too busy. There was much less traffic back then, and we lived on a dead-end street. Still, one of our dogs was hit by a car and killed.

It wasn’t a great system. But it was what everyone did. Now we know better. Now we know that we are responsible for the safety of our pets, and that includes providing a secure way for them to exer­cise, not letting them run loose.

Dog’s Problems Best Way to Correct Your Dog’s Problems

Now we know that dogs are think­ing beings and love a chance to use their minds. Now we know, too, that if help is needed, it is available. Professionals abound who can teach us how to correct the disturbing or dangerous behavior that sometimes spoils the fun of living with a dog or two. People teach seminars and dog obedience classes now, give private training con­sultations in the home, even write books. If you need help, it’s there. Take advantage of it. Although the occasional dog is beyond repair, with a little work, most hooligans can become model canine citizens.

The following secrets are yours to use. In many cases, they are all you’ll need to keep things copacetic in your mixed-species family.

Don’t be afraid to say no.

The word no is out of fashion. In our current everyone-is-a-victim culture, people want everything to be “positive” or “nice.” It always amazes me to watch otherwise intelligent humans allow their pet dogs to do things they’d never allow another human being to do— urinate in the living room, walk all over the furniture, steal food off of their plates, tug on and even tear their clothes, mouth off non­stop while they are speaking, bite them. I can never figure out why they don’t just say no.

In a world full of danger, in a family where others, not just the dog, have rights, this is unrealistic. Balanced with all the caring and fun things you do with your dog, the word no is not only a perfectly fine part of your communication with your dog, it’s a necessary part. It will not damage your dog’s psyche if he can’t get his way every minute. Saying no is part of the way you communicate your stan­dards, house rules, even your feelings, to your dog. There is noth­ing wrong with saying no. It can help you to raise a sound, healthy, appropriate dog. And amen to that.

If your dog is aggressive, keep him moving.

Aggression, as we have said, is linked to tension. Movement can help your dog blow off the tension he’s feeling. So if your dog gets uptight, growly, stiff or still, get him outside and move him around. Run with him, heel him, do some quick recalls, take a hike, toss a ball, have him retrieve a stick.

Was it a temporary glitch, such as the presence of another dog, that made your dog tense? Then moving him elsewhere will do the trick. Was it your attempt to gain the upper hand that did it, such as asking your dog, God forbid, to obey a command? In that case, take your dog to obedience school or call in a trainer with a good reputation who will help your dog understand the appropriate hier­archy for your family.

Have your dog work for petting.

If your dog is a problem dog, or you anticipate that he’s on the way to becoming one—he’s too cheeky, rude, disobedient, bossy or stubborn—don’t give in every time he insists you pet him.

In a pack, only the leader gets adoration on demand. Perhaps the constant reassurance your dog asks for is reassurance that he’s top dog. In that case, when he comes and puts a paw on your thigh or puts his fine, big head under your hand, ask him to sit, ask him to lie down, ask him to retrieve a toy and only after he has obeyed should you pet him. Don’t do it for ages, either. If he’s a prob­lem, don’t prolong the petting sessions until after your dog’s behavior has improved.

Make sure your expectations are appropriate.

I would have guessed that most people expected too much of their dogs. This happens, of course. A young dog is given run of the house. A begin­ning student is expected to work off leash when he barely does his commands on leash. A pup is expected to wait too many hours between walks.

More often, I have found, people expect too little of their dogs. They fail to get what they are after—instant Lassie—and so think their dogs are dumb. They give up without really trying.

Dog’s Problems 1 Best Way to Correct Your Dog’s Problems

If you have some sort of problem, or don’t want one, you need to examine your expectations. Perhaps sometimes they are too high, other times too low. That is, you expect your untrained dog to come when called, but you haven’t taught him to do so because you thought he wasn’t capable of learning.

I always have high hopes but take small steps in order to get where I want to go. That is, I have short- and long-term goals, and I edit my expectations as my dog learns, matures and catches on. Expecting more, but being realistic, can help you help your dog become the very best, smartest dog he is capable of being.

Always begin and end a training session with something your dog does well.

Old-fashioned common sense dictates that when training sessions start and end with something your dog does easily and well, for which he earns praise, both teacher and student will feel enthusias­tic about lessons to come. So when you are struggling with the “Down/stay” and your ten-minute session is almost over, end with a cheerful recall, a nifty minute of heeling and lots of praise. It will help you both get back to work next time.

Use the silent treatment.

The silent treatment isn’t the cold shoulder. Once a week, practice everything your dog knows with hand signals only. It will force your dog to pay attention. It will really make him think. At the end of ten minutes of working this way, your dog will seem hours and hours better trained. Working quietly is peaceful, too. You’ll both like it.

Use it or lose it.

If you never practice what you have taught your dog, he’ll forget it. So if you have use for the commands you have taught, review them once in a while to keep them sharp.

Use it or lose it is also true about your dog’s socialization. He needs to mix with people of all ages and with other nice dogs so that he maintains his social skills.

You’ll need to groom him reg­ularly in order for him to accept necessary nail clipping, ear clean­ing, dental care and brushing with equanimity. And no, that wasn’t a joke—busy or not, you should be brushing your dog’s teeth. It only takes a minute.

DO not give your dog more freedom than he can handle.

If you know your dog tends to be destructive when left alone, don’t give him run of the house. If his house training still slips and slides, use a crate when you have to. If he’s a thief, don’t leave him alone with your steak.

When it comes to giving your dog freedom, proceed slowly, monitoring his run of your castle when you are able to and keeping him in a puppyproof place when there’s no one to watch over him. Eventually, with training and time, he should be a reliable fellow, able to nap anywhere in the house without causing damage.

DO not share your bed with a problem dog.

Sleeping with you, on the same surface, implies equality. The dog who feels he is your equal is less than a day away from feeling sure he’s your superior. He’s a pack animal. Without clear leadership he assumes there’s a job opening, and this sort of equal opportunity employment does not bode well in a mixed-species household.

It’s a real plus for your dog if he can sleep in your room. As a pack animal, he craves companionship. But sharing sleeping space makes many a dog bossy. This is something you don’t need. Your dog should have his own mat or bed. And he should use it. However, if your dog is not aggressive, and you want to invite him up on the bed to cuddle sometimes, there’s no harm in doing so. But be sure you can evict him without an argument when it’s time for lights out.

Dog’s Problems 2 Best Way to Correct Your Dog’s Problems

If your dog has a problem, increase his exercise.

It is rare to find a problem dog who is get­ting enough exercise. Here’s an obvious fact: A tired dog is a good dog. So if you are having a problem of any kind, figure your dog isn’t getting enough exercise. If your dynamo doesn’t get the oppor­tunity to use his energy in a constructive way, he’s apt to use it destructively.

As you have seen by now, you can educate your dog quite well using ten-minute lessons. But ten minutes will not do the trick when it comes to exercise. Unless you have a little peanut who can get pooped running around the house, someone will have to get your dog out for a swim, a run or a romp in the park every day. In addition to your dog’s outdoor exercise, you can use the tricks and games coming up next to exercise both his mind and body, indoors or out. As you will soon see, some of these can even be done while you also do other things.

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