You may not want to admit it, but you are living with an alien. That furry, cuddly little creature at your feet mighty as well be from Mars. What is normal for a dog to do is NOT normal for a person to do. This is why dog training is so important.
Dog Norms v. People Norms
Last time I checked, people do not greet one another by smelling each other's hind end, nor do they enjoy rolling around in bird poop or licking any part of their own bodies.
Yet these are just a few of the things that are completely 100% normal for a dog to do, and if they didn't do these things, you may even be slightly concerned.
We have to recognize that our human world and norms are drastically different from those of our dogs. It is expecting quite a lot if you want your dog to come into your home for the very first time and immediately know what to do and what not to do...especially when some of those expectations fly straight in the face of what your dog would naturally want to do.
I'll give you an example: chewing of shoes. To dogs, chewing of familiar items is completely normal. Not only can doing so be soothing to the dog, it can relieve stress and work out the muscles in the dog's head and neck. Obviously, as human beings, we view shoes as something that we put on our feet, not in our mouths.
So how do you bridge this massive gap? To a dog, a smelly leather shoe is prime chewing material! To a person, that designer shoe may have cost more than they care to admit and therefore they do NOT appreciate it being chewed on.
The solution is a combination of management and training: set the dog up to succeed where they do not have access to your expensive leather shoes, provide them with appropriate chew items instead, use play and training sessions to work them out both mentally and physically and lastly, train a solid Leave It when it comes to shoes.
Why NO Isn't Enough
Let's say I invited you over to my house. When you arrived, I opened the door but didn't say anything else. You may be just slightly confused. After some awkward silence, maybe you tentatively enter and upon seeing a bunch of cold bottles of water near the door, you grab one and then head to the couch. You look around, wondering what you should be doing. All I'm doing is standing in the doorway, glaring at you. Thoroughly confused and uncomfortable, you decide to take a seat on the couch, take a sip from your water bottle and then place it down on the coffee table. As you sit back, hoping the tension will subside, I suddenly begin screaming "NO!" at you!
That sounds more than slightly stressful, right?
What am I upset about? Was it your taking of the water bottle? Maybe it was when you put it on the coffee table? Perhaps it was when you leaned back...maybe there was something going on with couch...?
The fact of the matter is, you have no idea what you did wrong and are hopelessly grasping at straws.
Now, let's use the same exact scenario, only this time I am going to communicate to you like a normal host:
I open the door and say, "Hey there, thanks for coming over! Come on in and have a seat. Oh, are you thirsty? We have some cold water bottles here, feel free to grab one. If you could just save the seat closest to the door that would be great, oh, and there are some coasters for the coffee table, we just refinished it last weekend."
How much nicer is that?! Not only is it not as stressful, look at all this information you now have:
- You are indeed invited to come in.
- You may grab a water bottle if you are thirsty.
- You're invited to sit on the couch as long as it is not the seat closest to the door.
- Use a coaster if you are going to put the water bottle on the newly refinished coffee table.
Easy. Clear. Straight to the point.
By taking the time to outline what I am looking for, I am avoiding a situation where I need to go off the handle. Basically, I am taking the time to be a good host.
We should be good hosts when we are training our dogs too. We should take the time time to tell our dogs what we want them to do. "NO" doesn't accomplish this. All it does is leave your dog confused and potentially scared. Remember, they are not furry people. Our dogs are a completely different species. This means they may not make the same associations that you do. So while it may be clear to you when you say "NO" you do not want the dog to chew on your shoes, your dog may perceive you being upset with them coming to you. You then find that not only is your dog still chewing your shoes, they are no longer coming to you when call them.
It's always better to showcase to our dogs what we WANT them to do, in effect being proactive with our training, as opposed to telling them we DON'T want them to do or being REACTIVE in our training.
Training is a way to help your dog be successful in a human world. It also gives you the tools to better communicate with your dog. Most importantly, proper training shifts the entire dynamic between you and your dog. No longer will you be in a confrontational relationship with your dog. Instead, you will develop a bond based off of trust and understanding, which is what every dog owner longs to have.
Author: Dianna L. Santos, KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, CNWI
Dianna has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.
Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Pet Dog U, Dog Sport University and Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined PDU, DSU and SWU and she looks forward to the continued growth of PDU, DSU and SWU and increased learning opportunities all of these online dog training platforms can provide.
In June 2021, Dianna and her business partner, Sean McMurray launched Cyber Scent Work, Inc., an organization that operates in the gray space between training and trialing in Scent Work. With Cyber Scent Work, Inc., handlers have the opportunity to earn Qs, titles and ribbons while also receiving helpful training advice regardless of whether they qualify or not! Be sure to check out Cyber Scent Work, Inc., you will be happy you did!