How to Survive Your Dog’s Behavior Problems

I wrote the following article which was recently featured in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald Outdoor Magazine.

How to SURVIVE your dog’s behavior problems.

It’s that time of year again, you know, the “back to the new television season” time of year. When we all anxiously await our favorite shows to air each week so that we can find out “what happens next”

As a dog trainer I certainly advocate not getting too caught up in couch potato behavior, it doesn’t help Fido get his much needed exercise. However, I too have my personal favorites and enjoy curling up with my pack for some down time. I love SURVIVOR and it dawned on me the attraction is probably because it is so similar to the profession of dog training.

How so? Well take a look at the tag line for the show; OUTWIT, OUTPLAY, OUTLAST

That mantra sums up who wins the Survivor game but it also sums up the keys to training your dog and winning the battle against behavior problems. If you can Outwit, Outplay, and Outlast you can pretty much teach your dog to have impeccable manners in any situation.

Let’s measure this concept in regard to a common dog problem. The Door Charger. You know, the overly friendly; bundle of muscle and hair that hears every footfall as it turns up your sidewalk and enthusiastically begins the process of peeling the paint from your front door. You wrangle him away as your guests step in and next thing you know he breaks free to accost them with slobber and a tail capable of clearing small children from the room! A seventy-pound bundle of joy but a bit over the top when your friends try to visit. Let’s call him Crash and see how we might be able to solve this problem

We’ll begin with OUTWIT
Devise a strategy. You need a plan if you expect to win against Crash’s desire to propel himself into all the action. One possibility would be to teach him to perform an incompatible behavior to the jumping up. What does this mean? Simply put, your dog can’t do two things at once. So if we teach him to do something else when visitors arrive, he can’t be at the door going crazy. Consider having him lie down and stay in the kitchen or perhaps have him go to his bed and remain there until you tell him he is free.

Next we must OUTPLAY
Your strategy must be effective. If what you are practicing is NOT working, then it is not effective in changing his habits. If Crash won’t go to his bed when told and certainly won’t stay there, then you must find an effective way to make that happen. Consider a leash as the simplest way of enforcing what you expect. With a leash on him you can escort him to his bed, restrain him until he settles in and then reward him for the good behavior. And yes, he is going to try to get up as soon as you move away. Your responsibility is to put him back and enforce your new expectation each time he moves.

And finally you must OUTLAST.
This is probably where most people fall short in their dog training efforts. You must be consistent and expect repetition if you want to get solid results. How much repetition, well that depends on the dog. Some are certainly more biddable than others. It is reasonable to expect you will need to repeat your efforts every time someone comes to the door for a least a few weeks and perhaps a few months. And you must be absolutely consistent with each visitor that arrives. If not, Crash will simply outlast you. He will persist in his self-rewarding behavior if you allow it. Stay vigilant and practice having him do the right thing each and every time some one comes to the door. And remember to praise him for it so that this new habit can be equally as rewarding for him.

So the next time you tune into Survivor think about the similarity between your dog training efforts and the top competitors in the game. If you are playing like a pro you will get to the end and reap the prize; a great dog who makes you proud of his good manners. Oh and you might also notice both the cast-a-ways and your dog are capable of consuming some pretty nasty entrees!

Happy Training.