Dr. Patrica McConnell and Dr. Stanley Coren are distinguished dog experts and award winning writers who share their lifelong love of and knowledge about canines in their many published works. I first ran across Dr. McConnell in the late 1990s while channel surfing; a program on Animal Planet called “PetLine” grabbed my attention. McConnell was co-hosting the show, which dealt with animal behavior. Some of you may be familiar with her from a radio show she co-hosted for fourteen years called “Calling All Pets.” Dr. Coren is someone I came across online several years ago while researching aggressive dog behavior.
Dr. Patricia McConnell is an expert on human/animal relationships. She earned a PhD in zoology in 1988 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and has been teaching a popular course since 1991 called “The Biology and Philosophy of Human/Animal Relationships” at her alma mater as an adjunct professor. McConnell is a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB). She gives lectures and conducts seminars throughout the world, has been a dog trainer since 1988 working with canines that have serious behavioral issues, is an expert on canine and feline behavior, and author of fourteen books about animal behavior (ethology).
Her first published book in 2002, “The Other End of the Leash,” is read worldwide and published in 14 different languages. She also finds time to appear regularly on several radio shows and an occasional TV appearance. She writes articles for major magazines and participates in fundraisers to benefit animal shelters – most recently in the Midwest and Texas.
Our two dogs are sweet, lovable, and have completely bonded with us. Those are some of the traits they share. A trait they do not share is intelligence. I have had the great good fortune of sharing my life with a menagerie of animals with a wide range of behaviors and characteristics. Of all the animals I’ve ever lived with, however, the big boy I have now is, well, he’s the least smart of the bunch. That’s right, he’s just not that bright.
Not bright, but so willing to please. We call him “the little gentleman” (even though nothing about him is little) because he’ll come and sit down right in front of you as if to say “what do you want me to do now?” If there’s a group of us standing around talking, he’ll walk into the middle of the group and sit properly with his ears and eyes alert, just waiting for someone to tell him what to do. This dog will do anything you ask of him, if only you can get him to understand the request. That’s where things start to break down. He just doesn’t get it. In fact, he doesn’t get much.
I know this is just his nature because we have another dog that is bright. She understands our requests, responds well to training and commands, and clearly exhibits thinking characteristics. She makes wise decisions and seems to know what is expected of her with minimal urging. She has a large vocabulary. I would classify her as a smart dog.
What we say and what we do can be two different things. We’re only human after all, but if we fail to match our words with our actions when training our dogs, we risk creating a credibility gap that can be frustrating, and cause confusion and a loss of trust. During training, it’s important to be aware of not only how you say a command but what your body language is saying to your dog. You may not notice a subtle difference in visual cues, but your dog can clearly see them. What you’re showing your dog could be why he’s confused by what you’re trying to teach him with your voice.
Some canines learn commands faster than others, and some willfully try your patience with their stubbornness. Nevertheless, all dogs are intelligent and can learn basic commands once you understand what motivates him and that he’s more likely paying attention to your body language and hand gestures than listening to your voice. What your dog observes in body language and what he hears could be puzzling to him if they differ. For example, if you hold your hand up with the palm facing your dog and lean towards him as you tell him to stay, your visual cue is saying to come and your voice is commanding him to stay.
People seem to make the same dog training mistakes over and over, me included. It’s easy to get into a rut and continue doing what you’ve been doing. For the best results, however, it’s good to take a step back. Every once in a while, it’s important to reconsider how you’ve been training your dog and evaluate if things are progressing the way you hoped they would.
To that end, I’ve listed the most common training mistakes dog owners make—along with some easy adjustments—so you and Rover will have a clear and easy line of communication open. This list is not in any particular order. You may need to brush up on some or all of these. I’ll refrain from telling you how many I need to brush up on but I will say this, I need to take my own advice in a big way on some of these!
Dogs understand consistency, and if you vary your approach too often, your dog’s ability to learn will be compromised. For example, if you are tolerant with a stubborn dog one day but become impatient with him the next, he won’t understand you. Over time, inconsistency can damage your dog’s trust and confidence in you. Establish specific training methods and consistent expectations and stay the course.
A consistent timeframe is also helpful. Be careful not to let the training session go on too long or your dog will become disinterested. Likewise, make sure the sessions are not so short that the dog doesn’t understand what you are asking of him. Learn the length of time that works best for your dog and stick to it.
We went to the animal shelter last weekend to visit with the shelter pets and give them some one-on-one attention. We do this fairly often and it always pulls on my heart strings; I want to bring carloads of the sweet, homeless animals home with us, but I know it’s not feasible so I stay strong and do what we’re there to do.
On this visit, however, my heart strings were nearly ripped out of my chest. The puppies! Our local shelters are bursting with loveable little puppies. When I got over the initial cuteness-overload response, this made perfect sense. One of the most common reasons dogs are taken to animal shelters is because of excessive barking. This time of year, many puppies that were given as gifts over the holidays are now being relinquished to shelters for things like barking and biting and generally being a puppy. It’s reported that one-fifth of all the dogs adopted from shelters are returned within a few months. What a sad statistic.
Our recent shelter visit compelled me to review my previous article on Tips to Curb Puppy Biting and Aggression and expand the subject to include excessive puppy barking. My goal is to educate new puppy owners on what to expect from young, precocious pups and offer suggestions to curb or even prevent these unwanted behaviors.
Why does my puppy bark so much?
Dogs bark for a variety of reasons, but it usually boils down to some form of communication, boredom, a request for attention, or a response to a perceived threat. Your dog wants to be a contributing member of the family and they often assign themselves the role of the protector. Everything is new to a puppy, so his barking may be a warning that a garbage truck is nearby or a neighbor is walking past the house or your hat is on crooked.
Working with your dog to teach him how you want him to behave is a fun and exciting part of dog ownership. It helps to build a tighter bond while you spend quality time with your pet. However, some dogs are grabbers and the fun ends when you offer him a treat as a reward. For most dogs a treat is the best motivator, but you don’t want to have to count your fingers each time you offer a treat. It is possible – and not that difficult – to teach your furry friend to be gentle and not grab treats.
There are various reasons why a dog will grab treats or toys from your hand, and it’s important to figure out if the behavior is due to fear, frustration, anxiety or aggression. Anytime a dog that is usually good about not grabbing treats suddenly begins to snatch a treat from your hand, it’s a sign something could be bothering him. You may need to figure out what’s causing him to be anxious or fearful. Any sudden change in a dog’s behavior indicates you may need to talk to your vet or get help from a professional trainer or animal behaviorist. Some dogs may grab the treats because they’re afraid that another dog, or even the cat, will take it first. A dog that’s overly excited is also more apt to snatch a treat.
As with all training, you need to stay calm, be patient and use positive reinforcement. It’s important to be consistent and keep reinforcing a “gentle” command each time you give a treat. Understanding who your dog is as an individual is also a plus. Don’t give your dog a treat if he’s pawing at your hand, mouthing or trying to snatch it.
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