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Training before Behaving

Put a dog in its element, practice and it’ll excel. Put a dog in a stressful environment without practice and people start to think their dog is naughty and unruly.

Managing expectations and working on training foundations is so important. The fixing of behaviour -the emotionally-charged body language and unwanted issues - comes after. Without one, you can't help the other, because they both involve the brain and they both rely on your communication. This is especially true as most dogs were originally bred to do a job and are usually pouring their unused excess energy into all manner of behavioural problems.

Dog's don't display 'naughty' behaviour because it's fun to do so. Lunging and barking at dogs isn't 'naughty', neither is chewing the corners of the skirting board when you are out, or growling at a dog for approaching their toy. It may seen naughty to you and it's easy to express this human concept when you are frustrated and on your last nerve. However, more likely there is some fear or frustration behind it. Maybe some anxiety, or boredom. Unfortunately, usually these behaviours have moulded into an ingrained association and habit by the time I see the dog. Trying to undo that learned coping mechanism can sometimes feel like you’re running up a downhill escalator, but it is possible. Ethically.

However, what most people lack first and foremost, and what delays the behavioural process tenfold, is actual training. Does your dog focus on you without distraction? Does your dog walk on a loose lead without distraction? Do they have any impulse control in other areas of life? How much obedience work do you do? Are you in to any dog sports? How much training history do you have together? Do they ENJOY training with you? Are you skilled at training?

I can always tell who’s spent adequate time training their dog previously, because there is something there that is missing in others. A connection. An understanding of training, of reward, of hand signals, of expectations. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, I’ll meet a dog that understands Shaping... which is my favourite kind of training, but this is rare.

But more often than not, dogs come to me with severe behavioural issues and not even a hint of basic obedience or learning history. Imagine someone coming to you asking for you to make them a body builder with absolutely no previous history of weight training, nutrition or self-control. You've got to start at the beginning.

How can your dog lie quietly at the pub if they don't even know how to lie down for longer than 3 seconds on a walk? How can your dog walk calmly past a dog if they don't walk calmly anywhere? How will your dog ever recall from distraction if they won't even come back from a sock you've just dropped on the floor? Instead of getting hung up on your dog's behavioural issue, take some time out of your day and T-R-A-I-N. Believe me, they'll thank you!

Play the Shaping Game

Dogs will gravitate to owners who are clear and confident. Sometimes people mistake this for needing to be dominant, but you can absolutely be clear and confident without being dominant. You two, after all, are speaking two entirely different languages.

Find a partner and train them to turn in a circle without using your body language or saying anything but "Yes!" or "Good!" when they are on the right track. This could start as them turning a bit, then a bit more, until they realise you want them to turn all the way around.

Congratulations, you've just shaped your partner. Time how long it takes you and comment below. You'll realise from this exercise just how clear or not you are with your timing.

The other person is your dog, struggling to respond to your signals and relying on concise signals to understand what on earth you want them to do.

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