Many clients I work with have no rules for their dog. None. Some have too many where the structure is so rigid the dog is depressed and acting out. I suggest at least 5 rules where you’re asking for cooperation from this delightful member of the family. Puppyhood is where to start right with setting rules and enforcing them.
My 12-week year old has a good grasp of the word ‘no’, meaning she knows when I am asking her ‘not’ to do something. That does not mean she always obeys - hah! She is finding her own ways of doing things and unfortunately, the consequences. As a force-free behaviourist my role is to bring ‘Sunshine’ into this world as a good citizen in our community. Also, that Sunshine is independent, able to make good choice for herself and others, and self-reliant.
You may think, “Hold-up. What? Does that sound too much like a Human?” Well it does on purpose. Dogs have the same capabilities emotionally and cognitively as a 2-yr. old child - scientifically proven, and it makes sense to modernise our obedience training and include ways and means to enable sound mental and emotional reasoning in our dogs.
Back to ‘No’.
To reinforce ‘No,’ I first have to be asking her to stop doing something - like Biting. She needs to understand this. This is important. She needs to truly understand and practice self-control. These are very hard things to grasp for a puppy - patience is mandatory. All dogs learn from testing what a request means, meaning, if I say ‘no’ to jumping on the table, I can count on the fact she will need to jump on it several more times and in several more situations before she understands and cooperates.
Once I am positive she understands what I am asking her to stop doing something when I say ‘no’, and she still does it, then she is disciplined. Biting is the same concept. One of my key rules for Sunshine - no painful biting. Once I have provided every opportunity to chew anything but me, make my hands very still, and have said ‘no’ only then does discipline follow. I provide two strike-outs, allowing the dog to rethink if they want to continue. If the dog decides not to continued they are praised because I want to positively reinforce the behaviour I want.
Force-free discipline looks just like a time-out for kids. Proactively you know which room in your house is suitable, especially for a Puppy who chews anything. Ours is our bathroom. I always have a timer on hand. I put my puppy in the bathroom away from the family. To put ‘Sunshine’ into the bathroom, I pick her up, but you can lead a dog in as well. I do not yell, and picking her up is done calmly and lovingly. My ‘Sunshine’ is placed in the bathroom, the door is shut, and I set the timer for 2 mins. Not 1 and not 3, but 2 minutes. One minute is too short, three minutes is too long and ineffective. To a dog, being away from you is tough. Sunshine will whine and even howl a little. In 2 minutes, we open the door, no fuss, no drama. Sunshine comes out. Has she learned? Not necessarily, but I have started to provide good information to help her make good choices in the future when I say ‘no’. For sure she will try again because she is learning. I love when they try again. It means I am on the right track. The dog is figuring out what is acceptable and what is not.
There are nuances to this method, so feel free to message me about your particular puppy and I will help you out.
All the best,
Whether it is your dog who needs protection or your dog who is causing the problems, knowing how to read what is ‘play’ and what is not may make all the difference. Never truer than a dog park environment where dog-strangers meet, and ‘play’ is often misunderstood by new or misguided dog owners.. By reading signals during play means you can turn a potentially lethal situation into a simple intervention.
Take this quiz and see how savvy you are about these situations that can occur between dogs in a dog park:
1. You observe your dog is chasing another dog, and the dog in the lead has its tail between its legs and is running low to the ground. You decide to direct the lead dog to you to protect it (Right or Wrong).
2. A yelp is heard but neither dog stops their activity. You decide not to stop their play (Right or Wrong).
3. Dogs are playing when one steps away from the play and gives a full body shake. The other dog does not notice and starts a playful charge. You decide to intervene to stop the charge (Right or Wrong).
4. One dog is playing with another dog, when suddenly it sits or lies down. The other dog jumps on top of her and begins tugging her fur to get her back into play. You decide to stop their play (Right or Wrong).
5. One dog growls and moves away from another dog who is play-bowing. You decide not to intervene and let them work it out (Right or Wrong).
6. You observe your dog looking at you, with its head angled away from a dog trying to engage in play. You decide to encourage your dog to make friends (Right or Wrong).
7. Two dogs have been playing well. Then you notice one dog is actively biting the legs of another dog, full teeth exposed and snarling, and the other dog has it head turned facing the other dog, air-snapping and trying to bite the other dog. Vocalization of growling can be heard loudly. You encourage the play to continue (Right or Wrong).
8. One dog is on its back and another dog is on top. The dog on the bottom is air-snapping (meaning snapping its teeth together but not biting anything) and grabbing onto the top one’s harness, with its back legs flailing in the air. The dog on the top is biting the cheek of the dog on the ground. There is no noise, outside of panting and soft growls. You decide to stop their play (Right or Wrong).
9. Two large dogs, who are part of a sibling group, are chasing a small dog they have just met. You decide to remove the small dog and stop their play (Right or Wrong).
10. Two dogs are meeting, and one dog will not allow other dogs to sniff it’s back-end (doggie-polite greeting), has its ears back and a low growl can be heard. You decide to intervene and stop the introduction (Right or Wrong).
There are many more situations like this that must be monitored at the dog park. Staying attentive and being knowledgeable on dog signals at play can save the life of your dog and others. Never let a good conversation, or listening to music, stop your attention to dogs at ‘play.’ Your dog is counting on you to see and understand what is happening and to protect him/her.
Here are the answers: 1. R, 2. W, 3. R, 4. R, 5. W, 6. W, 7. R, 8. W, 9. R, 10. R.
Please let me know how many you got right, and which surprised you. I will respond with the details and why the answers are the way they are.
All the best,
'Sparky' Smith is a Canine Behaviorist and Practioner, educated through the International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour, earning her ISCP.DIP.CANINE.PRAC.