One of the most impactful learning opportunities for dogs come not from actual “training”, such as obedience commands, but from how we interact with them each and every day. The way we carry ourselves, the amount of attention we give, and how we respond to their actions carry a lot of credence in shaping a dog’s overall confidence and behavior.
Affection and attention may seem trivial, but their influence on a dog’s behavior is staggering. Being cognizant and modifying our use of attention, affection, and body language, will make the greatest “non-training” impact in positively shaping a dog’s confidence, disposition, and behavior. The below concepts will make massive shifts without ever touching a leash or implementing obedience commands:
– Reduce unearned affection by playing “hard to get”. Only give praise/affection when your dog makes the best choices and is in a calm/relaxed state of mind. Eliminate frivolous and incessant petting. Don’t just pet your dog when they come up and rub against you, lay right in front of your feet, nudge for attention, or roll on their back. Affection should be given sparingly. When it is earned, it has greater meaning from your dog’s point of view. Excessive petting/affection is one of the biggest contributors of separation anxiety, pushy behavior, and a poorly behaved dog.
– Respect your space. Your dog does not need to be glued to you. “Clingy” behavior is not healthy for your dog. Do not allow your dog to lay on your feet, rest against you on the couch (dog’s shouldn’t be on furniture anyway), and you should not be tripping over them as you walk around your house. If your dog seems to be in your way when moving around the house, utilize spatial pressure to move them back – walk confidently into your dog’s space so they move out of your way. You are not hitting or kneeing your dog, you are simply claiming your space through the use of your body. Spatial pressure seems foreign to us as a way to communicate, but this is very inherent to dogs. It is a very naturalistic way for them to communicate.
– Do NOT allow/reward pushy or demanding behavior. This is a BIG one! If your dog barks for food/attention/play, nudges or paws at you, etc. make sure to ignore them. If your dog acts pushy and you reward it by providing what they want, petting, talking to them, or even prolonged direct eye contact, you are rewarding their demanding behavior which will get worse.
– Teach impulse control. Have your dog wait during times of high excitement (ex. feeding times, entering/exiting thresholds, before play time, etc.) Tell your dog to “Sit” or “Down”, wait for them to get in a calm state of mind, and then release them from the command. Remember, “Calmness gets rewarded and high excitement gets ignored or corrected”.
– Be a calm confident human for your nervous dog. Do NOT pet, console or nurture a nervous, anxious or frightened dog. This unintentional reinforcement will make it worse. Be the confident, relaxed, and calm human your dog needs; not a weak and insecure partner to be frightened with.
– Emotional neutrality. Dog trainers have an advantage because we are not emotionally attached to every client dog. Therefore we act from a place of objectivity and emotional clarity. However most owners emotionally lean on their dog. I can’t blame you for doing this, and understand why you do. This neediness creates a pushy, nervous, and insecure dog. Your dog can become protective and aggressive if you are not in an emotionally neutral or strong/confident state. The best thing to do is remain calm, confident, and be a strong figure so your dog feels secure that you will protect and advocate for them (not the other way around).
The “non-training” related concepts of sharing affection and attention with your dog will make drastic positive differences in your dog’s overall behavior and quality of life.
Have questions about your puppy or adult dog? Want your dog to stop jumping, pulling on the leash, and always listen to your commands?
I look forward to speaking with you!
– Steve Reid, Owner and Professional Dog Trainer –