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Be Reasonable — Especially in Dog Training

 

The most frequent dog training question I get asked is, “How do I change this behavior?” The behavior might be pulling on the leash, jumping on people, chewing, digging, aggression, etc. This seems like a reasonable question to ask, but I believe there is a more fundamental question that needs to be answered first.

Before I attempt to change any dog behavior, I always ask: “Is it reasonable to expect this dog to change this behavior? Am I asking this dog to do something he/she is capable of doing?” To answer these questions requires looking at the big picture — examining all the possible drivers of the particular behavior and assessing to what degree each is a contributing factor. I have to determine the underlying drivers of the behavior before I can even think about how I am going to change the behavior. Consider a one year old puppy that jumps on people when greeting. There are many ways to respond to this behavior — some will reinforce the behavior and some will discourage it. Because every dog and owner are different, even two people using the same intervention can get very different results. Similarly, an owner might get different results responding in the same way to two different dogs.
There are always exceptions, but in general, if you push your puppy away or raise your voice and say “NO, OFF” it’s like saying “GAME ON!” to your puppy and he will get even more excited. This reinforces the very behavior you are trying to extinguish! Before I attempt to figure out the appropriate owner response in any situation I start asking questions: The answers to these questions help me determine if it’s reasonable for the owner to expect to change the behavior.
Suppose the dog is an intact male, high-energy, working breed, like a Siberian Husky, and that you walk him three times a day for exercise. If you are like most Siberian Husky owners in the lower 48 states, you probably don’t enter your dog in sled races on a regular basis and train for that daily. That being said, he needs a place he can get all of that “puppy-sled dog-intact male” energy out of his system. Walks just don’t cut it! You could take this dog for 20 walks a day and it wouldn’t tire him out one bit. This dog is bred to pull a sled for 20 miles a day as a member of a team of dogs. He needs to run full speed and chase other dogs and be chased by other dogs every day to get that energy out. Without suitable outlets, that energy doesn’t go away. It builds up over time and then comes out when your dog can no longer control it. Jumping on people when he greets them, chasing the squirrels he sees on your walks, or fighting with your neighbor’s dog through the fence, may be the outlets he has chosen for all that pent up energy.
Be reasonable! Under these circumstances, you wouldn’t want to change this behavior even if you could! You would basically be training your puppy not to be a dog. You might be able to change these behaviors using  extreme methods, but consider the cost — your dog could get a tumor, or cancer, or lose his hair from the daily stress of carrying all that pent up energy. I often tell clients, “This is not a training issue, it’s an energy management issue. Only when you start giving your dog other outlets for the energy he’s putting into these destructive behaviors, will it be a reasonable expectation to change these behaviors.”
There are many ways to view any dog behavior. It is tempting to believe that your dog should do whatever you ask of him/her, using whatever means are necessary to make that happen. I prefer to think of dogs as fellow mammals with fundamental needs — physical, emotional, and psychological — that must be met in order for a dog to be well-adjusted. Dogs are just like us in that regard. A knowledgeable dog behaviorist takes into account these needs in determining the proper course of action to shape dog behavior. Be reasonable!
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Shelley Williams

Thanks, Jaimie. I totally agree with you and I think it’s fairly common for us owners to have unrealistic expectations of our dogs without even realizing it. If we have high energy dogs, and are not providing them with the outlet they need, we simply cannot expect them to adhere to all the “rules”. I needed to read this today and be reminded that my high-energy Boxer needs to play hard and run around and get all of that energy out! Walks are great but they just don’t tire her out!

Jaimie Scott

Thanks for the feedback Shelley! I wish all dog owners were as receptive as you and Kaiah.

Kelly Cohen

Good article. Your having pointed that out to me after observing my interactions with a new member of the pack enabled me to balance my expectations, as well as to be more mindful of the messages I actually send her (as opposed to what I think I am communicating).

Reminders like this article are helpful in that they encourage us to stop for a moment and assess how we are doing and where we may need to tighten it up , make change or get additional help. I’m glad the new blog site is active and I look forward to your articles.

Jaimie Scott

Hi Kelly. I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for the feedback!

Charles Mills

Jaimie,

I have a flat black – we live on an acre ( he essentially has a soccer field area to run in ) and he runs all the time but he digs, barks mean at other dogs at the 3 other homes around use, he digs, if out front he runs barking at neighbours and nips, he jumps up, does not come often, when called,
How can I wear out a dog like this

jscott

Hi Charles. Thanks for your question. I have too many questions for you to answer. Do you hunt with this dog? How old is he? Is he neutered? Plus many more. You can email me or just purchase the Basics videos on the website to get your answers. You might start by watching the free video on Energy Management and reading the blog article titled, “Why Walks Don’t Count As Exercise.” That will point you in the right direction. Be well and stay safe. — Jaimie

Charles Mills

Jaimie,

I have a flat black – we live on an acre ( he essentially has a soccer field area to run in ) and he runs all the time but he digs, barks mean at other dogs at the 3 other homes around use, he digs, if out front he runs barking at neighbours and nips, he jumps up, does not come often, when called,
How can I wear out a dog like this

jscott

Hi Charles. Thanks for your question. I have too many questions for you to answer. Do you hunt with this dog? How old is he? Is he neutered? Plus many more. You can email me or just purchase the Basics videos on the website to get your answers. You might start by watching the free video on Energy Management and reading the blog article titled, “Why Walks Don’t Count As Exercise.” That will point you in the right direction. Be well and stay safe. — Jaimie

[…] your dog to calm down when he sees a squirrel on your walk or when guests come into your house. You’re likely asking your dog to do something he’s not capable of doing under the circumstances. It’s a matter of giving your dog other outlets for the energy […]

[…] you on a loose leash. See my blog articles titled “Treating the Problem” and “Be Reasonable” for more insight into making sure your dog’s fundamental needs are being met before […]

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