I was in Canton yesterday at an initial Home Dog Training session with a new client and his Puggle named Sasha.  As we were proceeding through the lesson it became evident that most of Sasha’s problems were not based on the fact that she didn’t know how to sit, jumped on people, or wouldn’t listen.  These were all external ramifications of a deeper issue. 

Over the last several months I have been thinking about the fact that Robin and I call ourselves “Dog Trainers”.  If you think about it, “Dog Trainers” implies that our main purpose is to get a dog to walk on a leash, sit when asked, etc.  Although these are often the talking points of our initial conversation with our clients, they really aren’t getting to the heart of the matter.

The most important question that any dog owner needs to honestly answer is “Why did I get a dog?”  I hope that the answer includes reasons that include companionship, love, trust, bonding, etc.  The reason that I mention this is that these are the same reasons why our dogs want to be with us.  These are the things that need to come first in our human/canine relationship.  After we have achieved these goals, the coming, sitting, not jumping, etc. will easily come and naturally be achieved.

Next, we need to ask ourselves, “How do I get the “companionship, love, trust, bonding” stuff to take hold?  The answer comes with how our dog perceives us.  This is the starting point that allows him to continue the relationship.

The one thing that all dogs need is the feeling of safety.  They need to be assured that “someone has their back”.  Remember, long ago they were wild, pack animals.  They had a leader that they respected because that leader kept them safe and provided for their needs.  That allowed them to build and maintain their social nature.  With this said; the one thing that we need to provide our dog is safety and security.  Once this is achieved, we will have their natural trust and focus.

So how do we build the trust and focus with our dog?

Know what our dog is telling us:

Believe it or not, our dog is constantly talking to us.  He does not use a spoken language like we use.  In most instances, he uses his body language.  When we see him with his tail up, his mouth loose, and giving us focus, that is a good thing.  He is telling us that he feels confident, calm, and assured that we are directing him in the right direction.

If we see our dog highly distracted on something else, not paying attention to us, overly barking, pulling away (if on a leash), and/or having his tail between his legs; that is not a good thing.  He is fearful of the situation, does not believe that we can help to keep him safe, and trying to do his best to retreat.  We are not building a trusting or protective relationship.

The most important aspect of watching our dog for his communication signs is to follow his lead.  If he is focused on us, we can continue what we are doing because he is giving se the “green light”.  If he is pulling away and not paying attention, we should back off.  Whatever is happening, we are not his leader.  We need to move back until he feels safe again.

If we put our dog in too many fearful situations or constantly push him into fearful situations, it will become increasingly difficult to build the proper relationship.

Know how to assure our dog:

In the same way that we can watch our dog for his communication, our dog is watching us for our communication.  We must constantly and consistently communicate that we are in control and that everything is alright.  This, again, is best accomplished through our body language.

  • First, we need to stay calm and quiet in our actions. Our dog perceives fast or darting movements as inappropriate signs of aggression and will adrenalize and react because of that.
  • Next, we need to stand tall at all times. Height is a natural sign of dominance and assertive strength.  When our dog sees this, it naturally tells him that we are in charge and that everything is under control.
  • Next, we always need to face our dog or whatever the inappropriate distraction may be. Facing an object is a natural sign of assertiveness.  When we turn your backs on something, it is a natural sign of fearful flight.
  • Finally, confidence is critical. Everyone has their own way of “feeling confident”.  We must be sure we use ours when interacting with our dog.  Remember the old adage, “Never show fear”.

This step will take a little practice because we rely on our verbal communication for just about everything we are trying to portray.  Dogs rely on visual communication.

Let our dog know he is with us:

Sometimes a little physical assistance can build the needed bond and focus that can help our dog focus back to us.  In the same way that we felt safer when we held our parent’s hand when we walked down the street, we can emulate that with our dog.

We should attach a leash to our dog.  We don’t always have to hold it.  Let him wander around with it dragging on the ground.  If we see him getting a little nervous, we step on the leash, pick it up, give it a slight tug, and have him come to us.  Once he is by our side and focused on us, we praise him for being a good dog.

If we are out walking with the leash, we should keep an eye out for anything that might frighten or adrenalize our dog.  Give the leash a slight tug and have him focus back to us.  He will see our strength and safety instead of “the bad thing”.

Socialize our dog like our parents did with us:

We now need to introduce our dog to all his normal, daily experiences.  These could include walks, car rides, trips to the Vet, friends at the house, etc.  We will use our tools of (1) watching what he is telling us, (2) talk to him to let him know we are in charge, and (3) maintain his focus on us as his protector.

We must also understand that we can never “push” him into any situation.  Watch him to see if we have gone too far in any situation.  For example, if we are on a walk and we see him starting to lose focus and confidence in us, back off and end the walk for now.  We can take another walk later in the day.  If we see him getting nervous when we have a lot of friends over, we may take him in the other room for a while to allow him to “chill out” and then slowly reintroduce him later.

Remember, through all of these activities, our goal is to show resolute leadership and constant control of the situation.  This builds the needed environment of safety and security our dog needs in order to trust and respect us.  Once we have this, we have a great dog.

When we can focus on one goal, that creates the learning environment that our dogs understand.  When we understand what that goal must be, our dogs are more than ready and willing to learn.

Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704  if you are in need of any dog training help.  Find all our phone numbers, text addresses and email contacts at Dog Training Help Center Canton Georgia.