Take the Slow Train

For whatever reason, issues for which people ask my help seem to come in clusters.  Sometimes I’ll have a handful of dogs struggling with OCD issues within just a few weeks of each other.  Other times separation anxiety or difficult house soiling problems show up in groups of 3 or more in short order. Recently though, the trending issue was with clients who want or need their dog’s behavior to change in a hurry.

I guess it’s not surprising. As I write this, the winter holidays are still close in the rear view mirror, and behavior problems that might be tolerable under normal circumstances move up to “DEFCON 5” when visits from family and friends take center stage.  “We can’t have Tank jumping on grandma – can you train him not to jump?”

Usually I can give folks enough help to get by on short notice. Well placed baby gates, leashes, more exercise, thinking ahead, and good family teamwork / communication go a long way toward preventing canine catastrophes. When I run into difficulties, it’s with clients who expect their dog to bear all the responsibility and pull it together on the double. Habits don’t change on a dime with humans or canines. Expecting a dog who has been jumping up for months or years suddenly and forever to sit still politely on cue when someone comes through the door (maybe with a tray of hors d’oeuvres!) just isn’t realistic. Like any behavior it can be taught, but will take consistent reward-based training and good preventive management if the behavior is going to become a habit and not just a clumsy hit-and-miss trick that happens before the dog jumps up anyway. The same would be true for house training, counter surfing, chasing the cats, barking at passersby… etc., etc.

As you and your furry friend move further into a new year, think about what you’d like your dog to learn, plan ahead, and give yourselves time to practice.  Make a game of teaching your dog to do something polite rather than “getting on them” for doing things you don’t like, and ask for the help of a qualified force-free trainer if you need help.  When it comes to changing behavior, the more you can take your time, the faster you get where you want to be.

Happy Training – Bob

Bob Ryder, CSAT, PMCT-4, CPDT-KA

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