Oh No, I Taught My Dog …

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We never intend to teach our dogs to be wild animals, but somehow it happens. You bring home this cute little puppy, and when that puppy sees you, it gets so excited and that melts your heart. Now the puppy is literally giving you hugs: “OMG! I can’t stand it, he’s so cute!” The behavior continues until one day you realize this cute little 10-pound puppy is now 80 pounds and is almost knocking you off your feet to give you that hug you loved so much. How about trying to take your dog for a walk, but the dog is so excited that it’s a nightmare just getting out the door? How did this happen? Some other bad behaviors can be learned that aren’t even your fault, like barking at pool cleaners, gardeners, mail carriers and delivery drivers.

This is how it happens: Let’s start with the excited to walk behavior. You start the behavior by thinking it’s important to get the dog excited to go for a walk and you start saying in an excited voice, “Do you want to go for a walk? Do you want to go for a walk???” The dog starts reacting to your excited voice and jumps around and, again, it’s cute, though maybe not as cute as it used to be now that he’s an adult dog. Even little dogs jumping and barking can drive you crazy. Then you take your dog for a walk as a reward for being excited and, voila, you’ve taught your dog that the only way he’s going to go for a walk is to first get crazy.

How do dogs learn to bark at people that come to your home? Around here, the pool cleaners are the favorite targets to bark at, and this happens when the dog is never introduced properly or never outside with the pool cleaner. The pool cleaner comes into the backyard, the dog sees the pool cleaner and is scared of him and starts to bark. As the pool cleaner moves to the far side of the pool, the dog’s confidence level goes up and the dog gets a stronger voice, barking even louder. Then the pool cleaner moves to the side of the pool closest to the house, and that scares the dog, so you get more of a high-pitched, rapid-fire kind of bark. Then the pool cleaner leaves, and the dog believes it successfully chased the pool cleaner away. This behavior gets reinforced twice a week or as regularly as your pool cleaner comes. Mail carriers and delivery drivers work the same way. They come to the door, the dog starts to bark because they are fearful, and then the delivery people leave. Dogs don’t understand that these people are doing their jobs and they never stay more than a minute. They just know that a stranger came to the house, and they scared them away with barking and wild behavior. A job well done!

Another unintentional learned behavior is frantic craziness at the door when people come in. You get a new puppy, and your friends want to come over and meet him. What the puppy understands is that he hears a ringing sound, the door opens, and a person comes in with a high-pitched voice and very excited energy and that person then gives the puppy all kinds of pets, hugs and kisses. This repeats over and over, every time people come over and every time you come home. So for the dog, this is our greeting routine and he’s just doing what he was taught: always be excited at the door and when greeting people.

My advice to my clients is to treat your puppy the way you would an adult dog. This way you won’t let your puppy jump up on you or get your puppy excited to go for a walk. Another important piece of advice is to teach your puppy or dog that calm gets him what he wants, and excited behavior gets him nothing. Think about what you are teaching your puppy or dog with your own behavior. Taking a basic obedience class with your new puppy or dog will also help get you started on the right track.

Valerie Masi, owner of Best Paw Forward, can be reached at 760-885-9450 or visit www.bestpawforwarddogtraining.com.

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