Are You the Center of Your Dog's World?
by Robin MacFarlane
All he has to do to get what he wants is to listen to you first.The topic of a recent class I was teaching was 'Impulse Control'. It is typically the biggest challenge that dog owners have. Being able to have reliable obedience and a dog that listens in the midst of sudden and exciting circumstances seems to be the one thing that the majority of dog owners struggle with.
The dogs are never a problem when there is nothing going on. It is when the doorbell rings or when the loose dog approaches or when a squirrel crosses your path that the challenges begin.
There are two ways to go about gaining better control in these situations.
First is to be better prepared for the unexpected. I never totally tune out when I'm walking my dogs. I look ahead, much in the same way that we are taught when we learn to drive a car. I want to notice any upcoming potential changes in the environment before my dog does. If I am looking ahead and being observant, I'll notice the dog behind the fence that is likely to lunge and bark as we pass. I'll notice the squirrels playing at the base of the tree 50 yards ahead. I'll notice the other dog owner approaching me with their dog out at the end of a 20-foot flexi lead who appears to have no control.
Noticing things earlier than my dog means I can stay ahead of her adrenaline rush when sudden excitement pops up. By being prepared, I can intervene in a variety of ways that allow me to maintain control over her behavior before chaos breaks loose.
The other way to improve impulse control is teaching the dog that all good things come through you.
The starting point is using toys, treats, food, and affection as rewards doled out for listening and following through in the beginning stages of your obedience training. But when you learn to add in permission to participate in the activities that typically challenge your dog's reliability you'll really begin to gain control over those situations.
For instance; if the sight of a squirrel sends your dog into orbit, you train in the vicinity of squirrels and release your dog to chase them AFTER he obeys the command(s) you told him to do. Then you call him back, do a bit more obedience, and then release again. The Achilles heel of his tolerance levels becomes the reward he gets when he follows through.
The same goes for the super social canine that wants to run and play with every dog he sees. You practice outside the dog park, or near his doggie daycare, and you only allow him to go play AFTER he listens.
Of course the challenge in all of this is being able to get the dog to listen first before you ever issue permission to go chase or go play. For that you need to understand how to set the situations up for success.
Setting up for success means knowing how to incrementally increase the level of difficulty of the situation so you can build up to a very realistic scenario, when a correction may be necessary and when to walk away if you are not getting what you want.
The last thing you want to do is allow the dog to get to the object of his desire without having your permission first. If your dog breaks away without consequence, the bad behaviors can quickly become self-rewarding.
By making yourself the center of focus and distributor of all good things, you become the person your dog adores. He comes to believe that all the best stuff and fun experiences originates from you.
All he has to do to get what he wants is to listen to you first.
Robin MacFarlane is a professional dog trainer and owner of Thatís My Dog in Dubuque, Iowa. Her best-selling dog training DVDs, JUST RIGHT and JUST RIGHT 2 have helped thousands of dog owners teach their dogs basic obedience and fix problem behaviors through a system of training that you can easily work into your daily routine.
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