Tag Archives: dog training

Picture of a small white dog with large ears to illustrate get your dog to listen

Get your dog to listen

If you’ve ever said “my dog doesn’t listen” you’re not alone. We saw it over and over again in the comments sections of our videos. This one is for everyone who has a failure to communicate with your dog.

It’s a common experience for both dog owners and parents. Sometimes you feel like you’re repeating yourself endlessly and the object of your attention isn’t paying any. While we can’t offer much help with your offspring, we can suggest ways to get your dog to listen up.

Universal truth

Picture of a small white dog with large ears to illustrate get your dog to listen

The absolute truth about dogs is that they always, every single time, do what’s most rewarding for them. This makes them selfish, but not necessarily in a bad way. It makes dogs absolutely predictable. If your dog isn’t listening to you it’s because you haven’t made it sufficiently rewarding. “Because I said so” doesn’t work with dogs any better than it works with most people.

Nobody just blindly does what they’re told. People need a reason to do something, either to prevent something bad or realize something beneficial. It doesn’t have to be a huge difference-maker, but it does have to further the objective. Dogs need a reason, too. 

Why should they?

If you want your dog to look at you when you say their name, give them some motivation. We’re setting a challenge for everyone who says “My dog doesn’t pay attention.” For the next three days, randomly and often, say your dog’s name and immediately give them a treat. That’s all. Do it at least 10 times a day. For three days. 

At the end of those three days, we can practically guarantee that when you say your dog’s name, their head will whip around to look at you. They may even come running from the other room. They’ll have a reason to pay attention.

Enjoy it while it lasts

As long as you maintain the habit of rewarding your dog for attention, you’ll get the attention. You can even start randomizing the treats – give one every second or third time instead of every time. It’s still motivating to the dog.

But if you slack off and just go back to calling your dog’s name with no reason for them to listen, your dog will quickly revert to ignoring you. Think of it as a scale with two sides. If your dog has been generously rewarded for attention, that side of the scale is much heavier than the “ignore” side. When you really need your dog to pay attention, even if you don’t have a treat on you, the chances are that they’ll do it. We learned that back in the day when our Brussels Griffon Razzmatazz was heading toward the skunk that got into our yard one night. We shrieked his name “Razzy, Come!” and he did. Even though we didn’t have a treat. It worked, because of that heavy side of the scale.

When you do something like we did, and ask for your dog’s attention without reinforcement, realize that you’re lightening that side of the scale. Compensate for that by going back to heavy reinforcement. That way the scales will always be balanced in your favor.

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Picture of a brindle French Bulldog to illustrate dogs aren't in charge

Dogs aren’t in charge

Into every life, a little rain must fall. That includes dogs. No matter how much you love your dog and want to do right by them, something’s bound to happen that your dog doesn’t like. Whether that’s actually having to walk in the rain, get their nails trimmed, putting on their collar, or going to the veterinarian, there’s going to be something they don’t like. 

And you know what? They can suck it up and deal with it, just like you have to. 

There. We said it. Dogs aren’t in charge. They can’t have everything their own way all the time. Any more than we can. Both you and your dogs can handle it. 

Going too far 

As you’d suppose, we’re involved in lots of different dog groups, for trainers and for owners, in real life and online. Lately there’s been a lot of discussion where people feel horrible about having to do something their dog doesn’t like. Like dosing them with medication. Or trimming their nails. Or taking them out in the car.

Ideally, we could explain to our dogs what’s happening. We’d get them used to the procedure, and forge ahead at a pace comfortable for the dog. Frankly, we haven’t usually got the time or patience to cope with that. If the dog has to go to the vet, they’re getting in the car. Period. If the dog won’t take the medicine voluntarily, it’s still getting swallowed. Would we like to give it as a cheese-covered treat? Yes. But after spitting out the pill a couple of times, we’re done. We don’t want to shove it down their throat, but we will.

Drawing a line 

Cooperative care and positive-reinforcement training are protocols we believe in and practice. If we’re asking our dogs to do something we want, rather than something they need, we take our time and demonstrate all the patience in the world. We recognize that our dogs do tricks and play dog sports because we want them to. They couldn’t care less about ribbons, placements, and qualifying. The dogs just want to have fun.

That part of their lives is completely voluntary on their part. If they don’t want to play “Put Your Toys Away” today, that’s fine. We’ll do it another time. And when we teach them something new, all the training steps come with lots of rewards. There’s never any corrections or punishment for optional activities.

LIMA for the rest

The stuff that is necessary, like grooming, we can’t give our dogs the choice of opting out. Just like people, there are some things in life that may not be fun or pleasant, but still have to get done. For these, the protocol we follow is LIMA: Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive. 

That doesn’t mean delivering corrections or punishment for non-compliance. That’s never an option. When our dogs hammer at our last nerve, we walk away. Or they all get their special crate treats and get sent to their rooms. 

Picture of a brindle French Bulldog to illustrate dogs aren't in charge

When we do have to accomplish something the dog doesn’t like, we plan what to do for maximum efficiency and comfort. Most of our dogs are fine with being held while we do their nails. One of us holds, the other trims. Torque, Hope’s French Bulldog, was unhappy and stressed with that arrangement. Instead, he goes up on a grooming table and gets a peanut-butter-slathered lick mat during the procedure. We found a way to make a hated procedure more tolerable. He still doesn’t love it. But he’ll do it.

Be creative

When you’re faced with a similar situation, something that has to get done that your dog dislikes, think of ways to make it easier for both of you. Think of ways you can make life easier on yourself and your dog. Ask other people how they’ve dealt with similar situations. We can absolutely guarantee that somebody else has been there, done that. 

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Picture of a Boston Terrier in a box to illustrate trouble makers are great dogs

Trouble maker dogs are favorites

Trouble maker dogs are the ones you want. Most people tend to think that dog trainers’ dogs are model citizens. Polite, well-behaved, little robots with four legs. It’s a lie. Most of the dog trainers we know, including us, have naughty dogs. Trouble makers are our favorites. Both in our own dogs, and in our training classes.

The reason’s simple. Smart dogs cause way more trouble than stupid ones. They’re problem-solvers who create chaos trying to get what they want. They figure stuff out. That’s why they’re so much fun. 

All positive-reinforcement trainers know that once dogs understand how to learn, they can do it at rapid-fire pace. The hardest part, when you have a dog who loves playing training games, is coming up with new games/tricks to teach.

Challenge your trouble maker dog

There are lots of ways to measure dog intelligence. The breed most-often touted as brilliant is the Border Collie. There’s no question they’re highly trainable, motivated-to-work dogs. But measured with different criteria, like independent action, or problem solving, they’re not the top prospects.

It makes sense. Dog breeds were developed to do certain jobs. Some breeds excel at working closely with and being directed by people. Other breeds, like terriers, work independently since their job was to catch vermin. Most small dogs have at least a bit of terrier in them – that’s why they get a reputation (we think undeserved) for being stubborn. Playing training games with you has to be more interesting than whatever else is around.

Luckily, that’s not hard. Small dogs tend to catch on quickly, especially when ample treats are involved. There are few dogs who can resist the temptation of cheese!

So much fun

Picture of a Boston Terrier in a box to illustrate trouble makers are great dogs

This post is a big, fat commercial to try to get you to start playing training games with your dog. The first game we’re recommending is “Boxey!” and there’s no excuse for you not to try it with your dog. All you need to play is a box big enough for your dog to sit in, short enough for them to get in, and some treats. This game will clue you in on how creative your dog can be. 

It can also show you that your dog is dependent on you for instructions. The whole point of this game is to expand your dog’s horizons. If you think your dog is sometimes bored, this cures it. They get to try new stuff, have your complete attention, and get lots of treats. Playing training games with you is probably as close to dog paradise as you can get.

Don’t get discouraged

If your dog, like many, has been told what to do all its life, it may take a while for them to understand they can make decisions on their own. Granted, once they catch on, they’ll be even more trouble than they were before. They’ll also understand more of the rules of the house, make better decisions more of the time, and be more responsive to what you want them to do.

Dogs are capable of understanding hundreds of words. They just need us to teach them. If you’re skeptical, start small. Teach your dog “Off!”  Grow your dog’s vocabulary, and build a better partnership at the same time. 

Once you start with training games, you’ll enjoy your dog even more. If that’s possible. And you’ll come to appreciate your trouble maker dogs, too.

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Picture of a brown dog curling its lip to illustrate resource guarding.

A different take on dog resource guarding

Resource guarding is a big deal. But most people’s first instinct on what to do about it is exactly the opposite of the answer. If you take away the resource the dog is guarding, the dog’s fears come true. It doesn’t solve the problem. It convinces the dog it was right.

This week we saw some advice on a dog training social media group that made us cringe. Somebody was asking what to do about their little Shih Tzu who was suddenly “guarding” her from other people in the family. Even growling when their family’s toddler child ran into their bedroom and approached the bed. The dog apparently even snapped and lunged at the child. The woman was asking what to do.

That’s not  the bad part. The bad part is the advice some old-school people were giving. Comment after comment saying “Don’t let the dog on the bed until it learns better.”

That’s absolutely the worst way to address the situation. And luckily, someone else pointed it out before we had the opportunity. If you take away the “resource” the dog is guarding, the dog’s worst fears come true. They have even more reason to protect what they think is theirs!

Times have changed

People used to use the adage “let sleeping dogs lie.” It’s no longer used, because society seems to have decided that dogs can’t object to harassment. Apparently dogs can’t object to anything being taken away from them, or done to them.

We don’t think that’s right. And it’s certainly not fair. But it’s all over, including supposedly “cute” videos showing toddlers climbing on dogs, getting in dogs’ faces, even playing with their flews. The dogs in many videos are giving clear signs they’re not comfortable, and yet people are shocked when dogs finally react.

Picture of a brown dog curling its lip to illustrate resource guarding.

Most dogs give signals when they’re not happy in a situation. They’ll look sideways, or their eyes will get large (whale eye). Licking their lips is also a sign of discomfort, as is turning their head away. Pushed further, most dogs may curl a lip, or emit a warning growl.

If you see any of these dog signals, it’s time to stop whatever it is that’s happening. When people persist despite the dog’s indicators, that’s when bad things can happen. And good dogs can be labeled aggressive, or reactive.

What’s the answer?

For resource guarding, the person’s first instinct is to take away whatever it is that triggers the dog’s possessiveness. Which convinces the dog they were right – that precious object/person/food is under threat. 

A teaching approach changes the dynamic. Instead of taking away the food bowl, drop more food in it as you go by. Rather than ban the dog from the person’s lap, give the dog incredibly yummy treats as you approach. Instead of removing the dog from the bed, designate a special place (blanket/mat) on the bed where they’re always safe. 

Children should be taught to respect dogs, including their best friend, the family dog. Everybody, including the dog, should be allowed to have limits. Watching and learning to read a dog’s body language can go a long way to solving many dog issues.

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