Telling dogs off, telling them no, and generally punishing their behaviour is still seen by many as what dog training is about.
We actually never tell our dogs off, for anything. And we recommend you don’t either.
That can be a huge leap for some people, and the traditional punitive, aversive training can be hard to shake. But it is so worth it!
When you and your dog stop seeing each other as adversaries, constantly battling each other, and instead as friends working on a team for the same outcome, magical things can happen!
Your stress is instantly reduced when you take yourself out of the role of punisher. Who wants to be the bad guy?!
Your dog gets to relax in their own home. No longer scared of consequences from the person who should be their protector.
And your relationship will bloom, communication increases and you can both have more fun together!
Sounds great, but…
You’re still worried your dog will do behaviours you don’t like. That’s completely natural. And they definitely will! Especially to begin with.
But that doesn’t mean we leave it there. People often think force-free training (where we don’t hurt or scare dogs) is the same as being permissive (where we let the dog do anything they like).
That would be awful for everyone! Both our dogs would have killed themselves eating toxic foods, or at least be morbidly obese if they did everything they wanted all the time!
But we do develop a relationship whereby the dog has a say in interactions. We stop if they are uncomfortable and practice consent just like with other humans. We treat them with respect but also have a basic level of acceptable behaviour.
Firstly we can manage our expectations. Write down a list of your ideal day with your dog. What would they spend their time doing? No write down your dog’s ideal day. There usually isn’t much overlap at this point.
People often have unrealistic goals, not giving their dogs the enrichment that they need. And expecting them to sit still and be quiet for a lot of the day.
Try and merge the two ideal days together. Increasing your dogs mental enrichment is the usually the first step. Trying to aim for 3 – 4 hours of sniffing, chewing and licking activities a day. These can be really passive with your dog occupying themselves which still gives you the peace and quiet you crave.
Also focus on increasing true sleep and rest. Many dogs are chronically sleep deprived and, just like us, get cranky when their tired! So make sure your dog is getting a good 18 hours of rest a day.
Then comes the management. Your dogs behaviour won’t change overnight and so they will still make mistakes. The more they practice these unwanted behaviours the more ingrained they get.
Some of these behaviours will be unsafe, or unacceptable for you. So instead of punishing your dog (saying “no”, shouting at them, hitting them) we manage them in order to prevent them from happening.
This can mean keeping your dog out of the situation entirely. Or using a lead, even inside the home sometimes, to prevent access. It could mean changing how you do somethings such as eating at the table instead of on the sofa to help your dog make better choices.
The more you can manage your dog, whilst training, the quicker you will get there. You aren’t just “avoiding the problem” with your head in the sand. You are actively treating the issue, but there is no point trying to stitch a wound you are constantly opening. You need to give it time to heal.
Reinforce wanted behaviours
So alongside all of this you then work really hard to actively reinforce all the great choices your dog makes!
It’s easy to see all the bad decisions they make so we often miss the good ones. But
Your dog will make so many great decisions today, and if they are reinforced such as with some food, even more will happen tomorrow!
Good decisions might include: not barking at that dog/person/cat. Choosing to lie down. Picking up their toy to play on their own. Keeping their feet on the floor when greeting.
Watch your dog closely and you’ll see all the good, and realise that you don’t need to hurt or scare your dog to get rid of the unwanted behaviours!