Why reward based training is not enough to completely train your dog

Reward based training, which is ‘positive’ reinforcement training, usually done with the use of treats, is a very useful thing when you are training your dog. It has become a very popular method in recent years and I get many people asking me for help but saying that they only wish to use this type of training with their dog as they don’t approve of ‘negative’ reinforcement. 


In my years of dog training, I have found that it is necessary to use both to give your dog a proper education. 


I need to clarify here that by ‘negative’ reinforcement I am not talking about aggressive, violent behavior towards your dog. I am talking about appropriate corrections using body language, voice commands or leash pressure during training. You should always aim to develop a trusting and fair relationship between you and your dog. 


One of the reasons that negative reinforcement is important is because if you only use positive reinforcement you are always protecting your dog from stress. There have been studies done where very young pups were taken away from their mother for short periods of time and exposed to low levels of stress. It was then discovered that as adults, these dogs were calmer in high stress situation than the pups that were not exposed. They had learnt to cope with different levels of stress. Pups that are always protected and only experience positive rewards find it extremely stressful when eventually exposed to something negative as they grow up. 


You are actually being much kinder to your dog by teaching him these coping skills early in life, rather than trying to protect him constantly by only using positive reinforcement. It is therefore a vital part of your training to teach your dog to learn to cope with stress, by using negative reinforcement. The combination of both types of training, both positive and negative, will make him a much calmer, happier and more respectful dog.

How can I stop separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is basically when you put your dog somewhere, eg in the laundry to sleep for the night, and he carries on, making lots of noise and sometimes destroying your property and possessions. He doesn’t like it when he is separated from you 😩

To understand how to fix this issue you need to first understand why your dog is behaving in this way. The reason is based on fear. He is worried about his safety and yours because you are showing submissive body language when you are with him, which he interprets as you not being capable of taking care of things. 


Most people get this mixed up and think that the reason that their dog gets upset is because he loves them and wants to be with them. This is how humans think, it is not how your dog thinks. If he truly loves you, he would behave in a respectful manner and not carry on like an idiot. 
Dogs look for leadership. In their world it is really about safety and survival. If you show with your body language that you are a firm and fair leader it will make a huge difference to the level of your dog’s anxiety. Similar to a situation where your house is burning down, you are panicking, and a fireman turns up and takes control. You would probably calm down and he would take care of you and the house.

I do believe dogs love their owners but they love the owner that shows strong leadership. The owner that doesn’t show strong leadership actually creates the separation anxiety and causes the problem in the first place. A dog that creates a fuss when you leave them is simply a panicked dog, not one that loves you.

Is a dog attacking a person the dog's fault?

Is a dog attacking a person the dog's fault?

I get asked this question often in my dog travels and I was reminded of this reading about another dog attack involving two Staffys in today's news. My answer is no, I don't think it is the dog's fault. I think it is always a case of mishandling. That is not to say that sometimes the appropriate response is to have the dog put down.

Dogs are very honest. They communicate what they are going to do and how they feel continually. It is up to us as dog owners to be fair to them and understand what is happening and how they are responding. We can then treat them appropriately and fairly. When this is not done, you have an out-of-control dog. In a submissive breed it is annoying, in a dominant breed it is dangerous. Many people don't understand the dynamics of their relationship with their dog.

If you want to get a dog and are not prepared to take the time to learn how to train it properly, you shouldn't get a dog, or at least you should get a submissive breed. Don't get a dominant breed, you are asking for trouble.

My Dad always knew that I would be a dog trainer

My Dad was a very special man and he taught me to be kind to animals.  

 

I fully trained my first dog, Sandy, a lovely Golden Retriever, when I was 12 years old. Nobody showed me. I just spent  the time with him and did it. From then on I think my Dad knew I was destined to be a dog trainer.

Being a good trainer is about firmness, consistency, fairness and integrity. If you are all those things, then you are also being kind to your dog.

My dogs fight when I feed them. What should I do?

I had a lady phone me recently with a problem. She owned a female Labrador. Her daughter had come to stay with her female Staffy. The two dogs were friends and happily played and slept together until mealtimes and then there would be trouble.

I have found that food and toys are some of the biggest causes of fighting between dogs. If you have this problem the best solution is the advice I gave this lady. Take any toys away and separate the dogs for mealtimes. Even give bones separately and if they haven't finished them when you want to put the dogs back together, remove the bones. Even the best of friends can have trouble over food.

Why should you keep your dog's toys outside?

I see many out-of-control dogs in my travels and I see many dog's toys in people's houses, and these two things usually go together.

If you are trying to teach your dog to be respectful and well-behaved you need to make a clear distinction between inside being quiet, respectful time and outside being the fun, energetic playtime place. Dogs will not necessarily see the difference between chewing a soft toy and chewing the soft corner of your couch!! So stop the confusion and make it clear where they can chew and run around. I have seen a big difference in the behaviour of some dogs, simply by putting and keeping their toys outside.

Why is it that a wise old farmer can have ten cattle dogs on the back of his Ute and none of them fight, and my two city dogs can't get along?

Have you ever seen an old farmer with a dozen or so cattle dogs, and they are all just chilling out and relaxing? Usually none of them are desexed, and they all just behave without fighting. This is because each individual dog regards that farmer as the leader, and to show aggression amongst each other in his company, is not acceptable behaviour.

 

Dogs live within a strict hierarchy and code of ethics, and the leader controls the behaviour of all the dogs within that hierarchy. By showing your dogs that you are the leader and by setting clear, consistent, but fair behavioural limits, you will not have problem, no matter how many dogs you own, just like that wise old farmer.

I think raising five strong-minded, energetic kids, including twins, has taught me how to be a good dog trainer

I think being a mother of strong individuals has made me a good dog trainer. It taught me to be assertive, consistent, calm and fair and of course to be organised. Life had to be pretty structured with five energetic kids all born within eight years. But we had fun too.

 

I have found in my dog travels, that mothers of strong children understand how to set strong boundaries. They understand how to set a behavioural limits and let the child work it out. It is the same principle with your dog. 

 

Children and dogs feel secure, happy and safe when there is a clear boundary that is fair and reasonable. Most problems I find with dogs, are when there is inconsistency. Same with your kids.

Devotion, Trust and Loyalty

Devotion, trust and loyalty. Do you want these qualities from your dog? Then you have to convince them that you are worthy. To do this you need to show firmness, fairness, consistency and integrity. Dogs live by a strict code of ethics and they will respect you if you do the same.

My Number One Rule when training your dog - Don't let them jump up on you

My Number One Rule in dog training, 'Do not let your dog jump up on you'.

 

I find in my dog travels, this to be the single most important thing to correct. In 99.9% of cases I see, correcting this fixes most of the behavioural problems happening with dogs in people's homes.

 

I quite often walk into someone's house and their dog will rush towards me and jump up. I push them away maybe two or three times, and then the dog is sitting down looking at me, and the owner tells me that they have never seen their dog so relaxed. It happens time and time again. Such a little thing, but means so much in the dog world.

Dogs live with integrity. If your dog is not behaving for you he does not regard you as his leader

I see this constantly in my dog travels. Dogs live by a strict code of ethics. They recognise boundaries and limits if fairly imposed. To be seen as a leader to your dog you must be firm, fair, consistent and calm. If you are all these things, your dog will see you as a leader and will behave himself in your company. Dogs that misbehave or are out-of-control do not regard their owners as leaders, simple as that.

It is a privilege to be able to have a dog. Respect that.

I spend a lot of time teaching people how to get their dogs to respect them, but it goes both ways. To gain your dog's respect you must treat them with respect as well. This means communicating to them in a way they understand and realising that they value different things to us. You cannot treat a dog the same way you treat a human, it just doesn't work that way.

My Rule No. 3 in dog training - No jumping on the couch uninvited!

Jumping on the couch uninvited is a big issue in the dog world. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly dogs automatically feel more dominant and in control if they are physically higher off the ground. So if Harry, the hairy monster, wants control over you, then he will jump on the couch. This just reinforces in his mind that he can take charge and do whatever he wants. The next important aspect about getting on the couch is if he jumps up uninvited. In the dog world, the lead dog decides when and how other more submissive dogs behave, so when Harry jumps up, he is again telling you very clearly that he thinks that he is the leader, because he can choose when he decides to jump up, and not you. So a simple way to reinforce to Harry that you are the leader and not him, is to chase him off that couch, and you might find him showing you a little more respect.

It is important to take the time to listen to your dog

Did you know that dogs try to talk to you all the time using body language? It is in fact their main form of communication and is a vital part of setting up pack structure, the natural hierarchy that dogs like to live in. As you learn to observe these signals, you realise how important it is in the training process. Using body language as a tool to train your dog, is logical, simple and practical and is also ignored far too often by those who don't understand it. Look at it from your dog's point of view, if someone was trying to train you and they were ignoring what you were trying to tell them, would you be willing to co-operate?

Stand up straight, your dog is watching you

Your dog really does take a lot of notice of your body posture. If you walk around with your shoulders back in a confident, assertive manner, your dog is much more likely to take notice of you and be respectful. If on the other hand, you show submissive posture, presenting a softer energy, your dog will be more likely to be pushy and out-of-control.

Wouldn't it be great to sit outside a cafe with a well-behaved dog at your feet?

Would you like to be able to stroll down to the local cafe with 'Fifi' trotting gently beside you on a loose lead? You order your coffee, grab the newspaper and choose a lovely table in the sun. 'Fifi' follows you over and gently settles down at your feet to have a sleep. Perfect for a Sunday morning. 

In reality, young 'Butch' is so out of control at home, you wouldn't dare take him to a cafe. Would you like have a 'Fifi' or a 'Butch' at your house?

Whenever you are with your dog, you are training him

Did you know that whenever you are with your dog you are training him? Every time you interact with your dog he is taking cues from your body language. How you respond to his behaviour is either encouraging him or discouraging him. This teaches him both good and bad behaviour unless you are aware of what you are doing. Be conscious of what is going on between you and your dog at all times, and remember that their behaviour is a reflection of what you allow.

Doorways can be a dealbreaker in the dog world

Did you know that doorways and gateways can be a dealbreaker when training your dog? In the dog world, a lead dog always goes through doorways first, and the more submissive dogs follow. So if you are allowing Harry to rush through the doorway before you, you are clearly telling him that he is the leader and in charge of you. Teaching your dog to wait and allow you to go through each doorway and gateway first, can have a huge impact on your dog's attitude and training.

Sensitive people understand the sensitivity in dogs

To be a good dog trainer you need to be sensitive. You need to be aware of the subtle body language signals you are giving out that your dog picks up. If you are not aware of these signals or do not understand how it affects your dog, it can be very confusing for them. I see many situations, in my dog travels, where this occurs and in a sensitive dog it can result in extreme anxiety.

What does listening to your dog actually really mean?

It is important to take the time to listen to your dog, but since dogs mainly communicate using body language, 'listening' actually means observing. Understanding and observing what your dog is trying to tell you with their body language, is vital to building a respectful relationship. Wouldn't you respect someone so much more if they listened to you?

Should you brush your dog?

This can be an enjoyable experience if you are careful. Don't use a wire bristled brush. Just think if someone came up to you and brushed your hair with a wire brush it would hurt. Well it hurts your dog too. Don't expect them to stand there patiently if it is hurting them. Be gentle. Dogs respond to gentleness. If your dog has hair that becomes knotted and unruly, you are better booking them in to be groomed rather than doing it yourself. If it is hurting your dog and you do it, it is ruining your relationship. The groomer will have more experience, and if they make it painful for your dog it doesn't matter so much because your dog won't connect the pain with you.

Heaters and dogs

Be careful with heaters and your dog. Most dogs love to sleep near a heater but they can actually be too close and burn themselves, especially if they have a long hairy coat. The outside of the hair can get really hot and burn before they realise what is going on.

Is it ok for my dog to sleep on the bed?

I often get asked if it is ok to have your dog in or on the bed with you. Personally I am not a big fan. If your dog is challenging you for dominance in anyway, that is jumping up on you, showing boisterous, out-of-control behaviour or entering your personal space without being invited then you have problem, and sleeping in or on the bed is going to make it worse.

Stairs are important in the dog world

Did you know that the way you allow you dog to go up and down stairs can have a big influence on how he behaves? In a dog pack, a lead dog will always go up and down stairs first and then the submissive dogs follow. If you put your dog on a leash and teach him that he must follow you up and down the stairs instead of rushing ahead first, you will find that he will become calmer and more focused. The same applies to going through doorways and gates. Always make sure he waits for you to go through first. If you do these things, it can change your dog's attitude enormously.

Is your dog too fat?

If your dog is a fussy eater, you are probably giving him too much food. It is actually quite cruel to have an overweight dog. One meal a day is sufficient for an adult. Allow him 15 minutes to eat his food and then remove it. If he hasn't eaten the food, don't offer it again until the next day. He will eat it then. I always keep my dogs lean and find that they are much fitter, healthier and more focused that way. 

How do you help your dog be confident when there are fireworks?

Did you know that the best way to help your dog cope with fireworks is to ignore them?

When your dog becomes anxious and worried about fireworks he is looking for someone to take charge and keep him safe. If you try to pat or comfort him, like you would with a small child, he will interpret that in dog language to mean that you are not strong, and that you are not taking charge, and therefore you are both going to be in trouble, and that you are as worried as he is. The best way to behave is to be very calm and just pretend the fireworks are not happening. Just direct your dog as you normally would. Perhaps telling him to get in his basket if he tries to cling to you.

If you cuddle and try to soothe him it may be ok at first, but you will find that his behaviour will become increasingly more and more anxious over time, as you are not teaching him that there is nothing to worry about. You are in fact teaching him the reverse, that there is a lot to worry about.

Have you ever noticed that magpies only swoop some people? It is because they are reading your body language. It is the same with dogs.

Did you know that magpies observe your body language in the same way that a dog does? This is why some people don't get swooped by magpies. When a magpie swoops it is protecting its territory. It is essentially a challenge for dominance. If you show strong, assertive, upright posture when you are walking across the park, the magpie will read your body language and assume that you are in charge and will not swoop.

This is the same with your dog. If you show strong, assertive, upright posture when handling your dog, he is much more likely to listen to you and regard you as his leader. Body language is the main form of communication between dogs. They are constantly communicating using this body language and so how you use your body language will make a huge difference to the attitude of your dog. So stand up straight, put your shoulders back and stride across that park.

If your dog won Tattslotto would he choose to stay with you or would he sail away on a multi-million dollar yacht?

Sailing off on a yacht? Winning Tattslotto? This may seem a ridiculous scenario but my message here is simple. If your dog had no restrictions, no lead, no fence, you had no treats and no voice commands would he choose to stay with you or leave? That would be a true test of leadership.

When I teach people how to set up the leadership with their dogs it needs to be done in such a way that your dog regards you as someone worth staying with. Someone who is going to keep them safe and who they can always rely on to make fair, firm and decent decisions.

Do you know how to do this?

Personal space!! Why it is my number one attitude changer in dog training

Protecting your personal space is the number one attitude changer in dog training. I talk about this concept continually in my dog travels and that is because it is always the starting point for setting up leadership and it always changes the mindset of your dog instantly.

When a dog enters your personal space without an invitation he is asking a question. The way you respond answers that question very clearly. If you allow your dog into your personal space uninvited you are very clearly acknowledging that he is the leader. If on the other hand you push him out of your personal space then you are reclaiming your leadership. All dogs understand this concept immediately. They respect it and it always changes their behaviour. Such a powerful message and such a wonderful transformation to experience.

Why I believe taking your dog to doggy daycare can be a mistake

I believe that taking your dog to doggy daycare on a regular basis is not a good idea.

 

When you purchase a dog you ideally begin trying to build a good relationship with that dog. You want him to learn to focus on you, trust you, be obedient to you and love you. To achieve these things you must be the main person having the most influence over your dog. You need to convince your dog that you are a kind, firm, strong leader who will keep him safe at all times. If you hand him over to a variety of strangers for hours at a time during the week, you have no idea how they are going to interact with your dog. Even if the doggy daycare centre is run by knowledgeable trainers, your dog will be forming a relationship with them, not you. How can you then expect him to regard you as his leader? It will confuse your dog and he will not understand who controls his world. This will erode your relationship with him. 

If you take your dog to doggy daycare because he is misbehaving when you leave him at home alone, get the help of a professional trainer to fix these issues. His bad behaviour is telling you that he is suffering from anxiety and he needs to be shown strong leadership by you, not handed around to strangers.

If you are taking your dog to doggy daycare because you think he is lonely or bored during the day while you are at work, this is probably not entirely true. Most dogs, if trained correctly and who've been shown clear leadership, are content to sleep most of the day and are happy with one decent walk.

So next time you take your dog to the park on the weekend and he chooses to ignore you when you call him, have a rethink about your doggy daycare arrangements. It may be having a detrimental influence on your dog.