Disclaimer: I am not a professional dog trainer. I talk from my own experience and what works for me might not work for others at all. Please visit a good professional dog trainer if you are seeking serious advice.
I’m writing this blog in the hope that it will help other dog owners, as well as future ones. I find that they are great companions and make lifelong friends, loyal to the very end. A lot of people can’t find the perfect balance and it takes both time and character to find it, but it’s possible. And when you understand dogs, it’s not even that hard.
A Dark Past
Even though I’ve been a dog lover for as long as I can remember, I have had some bad experiences. Somewhere from age 4 to 6, I was bitten by my then neighbor’s dog. This was a dog that always slept outside in a doghouse, wasn’t allowed to walk around freely and was rarely petted. Either this or maltreatment of the dog somewhere in the past (I don’t know if it had a previous owner) caused the dog to attack me when I approached the dog. To this day, I still have a slight scar from the bite in my face. You’d think I’d be afraid of dogs now, but truth be told, I don’t even recall any of it. At a later age, somewhere from age 12 to 14, I was attacked again, but this time it was my own fault for playing too rough with our own dog. We had 2 dogs at the time; I grew up with the older one, which wouldn’t attack you no matter what. I pulled her hairs in my early days, but she never bit me… heck, she didn’t even growl.
It’s important to understand that any issue with a dog’s behavior is the fault of the owner. Sometimes, a panicky owner is all it takes for a dog to go haywire. It’s not always maltreatment of a dog (both physical and verbal) that makes it act scared, aggressive or otherwise unpredictable. Note that owners may not even be aware what they are doing wrong, but for goodness sake, please don’t blame the dogs for their behavior. Once you understand the psychology of a dog, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. It doesn’t hurt to pick up a good book on training dogs or to watch a show like The Dog Whisperer (despite some controversy).
Pet, Companion or Slave?
It’s important to know what your dog is to you. If your dog is a slave, only there to listen to you and you don’t get any pleasure from living with your dog, a dog is not for you. If you do enjoy the company of your dog, but your dog doesn’t listen well, consider it a pet. However, if your dog listens well, is happy, has freedom and you enjoy its company, it’s your companion. But what is the path to companionship? Obviously, being too strict with your dog is a no-no, but so is being too lenient. The first will result in your dog to cower or become aggressive and the second will result in your dog not listening at all and taking over the job of the pack leader. But how do you convince your dog that you are the leader, while still allowing it plenty of freedom?
Becoming the Pack Leader
Sadly for your convenience, the answer isn’t straight-forward. It takes a lot of patience, but most of all, it takes awareness. You have to keep an eye on your dog’s behavior as much as you can. Everyone loves a dog that can do tricks, but more important is that you live together in harmony. It can be very helpful to watch programs or read Internet articles or books on dogs and their behavior. The most important thing I learned was to take the lead. This can mean small things like entering your home first and walking in front of your dog in certain cases. Another thing I learned is that snapping your finger is extremely effective and can be used for multiple purposes. As for teaching your dog what it’s not allowed to do: it is not that hard at all. In my experience, saying ‘bad dog’ in a disapproving tone is usually enough, but in cases that it isn’t, holding your dog’s head and looking it straight in the eyes for about 10 seconds should be enough. Although this is not advised by professionals, it has proven effective in my experience and hasn’t lead to any complications. However, use this technique at your own risk. Something I can advise you without any uncertainty involved, though, is to use proper intonation. If you want to tell your dog that what it did was wrong, you can’t sound jolly or uncertain. Instead, you should be assertive, yet calm. Intonation can also be a reward for your dog, so unless you are being playful or wish to encourage your dog’s behavior, be mindful how you speak to it.
In the end, unless you have adopted a dog or you haven’t been a good boss to your dog (this can easily happen unintentionally), teaching your dog that you’re the leader shouldn’t prove a difficult task. Treats go a long way; especially in the beginning, reward your dog every time it does what you want it to do. However, some dogs prefer physical rewards. Rubbing their ears can actually work better than treats. And as mentioned before, talking to your dog with a positive intonation can work too. Learn what your dog likes best to teach it things the fastest way possible.
Walking Without a Leash
Ever dreamed of walking your dog carefree? Me too! So, I tried to train 2 dogs to walk without a leash. You’ll have to be patient, because it takes time. And if someone else can’t walk a dog without a leash, that doesn’t mean you can’t. I’ve walked a dog without a leash without any problems, while its owner had some difficulties doing that. The trick is to be consistent, aware and a good leader. Every behavioral tick can be a sign to correct your dog.
The first step is to walk with a leash, but to make your dog sit down every single time before crossing the street. Once your dog does this without hesitating or at least stops (some dogs just don’t want to sit down, but this isn’t necessarily an issue), check how it behaves when it spots cats and other dogs. If it acts relaxed, you’re good to go. A sniff is fine, but be attentive if it sniffs butts. If butt-sniffing takes longer than a few seconds, be careful. Preferably, don’t allow it in such a case. Another thing is to make your dog walk a tiny bit behind you on the side opposite of which the approaching dog is coming.
When your dog behaves well with the leash on and listens to you, try walking without a leash where it’s less likely to come across other dogs. Check if your dog listens to you when ask it to come to you, sit down or something else you’ve taught it. If you overdo it, it will stop listening. If necessary, put the leash back on. You might have to alternate between walking with and without a leash until your dog understands that you are still in charge when it’s walking without it.
Giving your pet freedom is very important. Don’t give it the idea that it’s your prisoner. If you don’t want it in your bedroom or on the couch, that’s not a problem, but allow your dog to be with you for the majority of the time. Also, letting your dog walk ahead and decide the route is great too, although you do have to keep an eye out for cats and other dogs. When the dogs don’t see each other and won’t meet eyes, let your dog walk freely if you are comfortable with it. In case of eye-contact of any of both dogs (naturally, no worries if a cat spots your dog), let your dog come to you and either sit down until the other dog(s) pass(es) or let your dog walk next to you (slightly behind you). This way, you are taking the lead, which is what your dog needs; otherwise, the dogs might try to fight it out to determine which one is the leader. Still look out for the other dog, though. Any dog owners that haven’t taken a clear leadership role have unpredictable dogs, since dogs naturally live in packs with a pack leader. If the owner isn’t the pack leader, then the dog often decides it has to be, which likely results in undesirable behavior.
There is one more thing concerning freedom: if you walk without a leash, do not force your dog to go where it doesn’t want to go. I had to learn this the hard way. Sometimes, it might not follow you right away and it waits for you to clap your hands or to tap on your thigh. If it still doesn’t come after both, it likely doesn’t want to come. If you decide to go ahead anyway, your dog might just decide to walk or run back home. Just remember that your dog isn’t there to do your bidding; it’s not a slave.
A Quick Summary
I hope all of this helps, but perhaps a list might come in handy. Again, I’m not a professional dog trainer, so please keep this in mind. What worked with my dogs might not work with yours. And in case your dog has serious behavioral problems, please consult a professional.
-Be patient and stay aware of your dog’s behavior.
-A dog is never to blame for its bad behavior.
-Use appropriate intonation, but don’t shout.
-Reading a book/article or watching a TV show on training dogs can prove helpful.
Your dog is your companion:
-Your dog is your pal, so don’t fight or be disrespectful.
-Correct ‘bad’ behavior in an assertive, yet calm way; don’t shout or be physical.
-If your dog acts uncomfortably (aggressive, afraid etc.), reflect what you might be doing wrong (or another owner) or what might’ve caused your dog’s behavior.
-Play with your dog and enjoy each other’s company.
Be the pack leader:
-Encourage good behavior; especially in the beginning. Give treats, rub your dog’s ear or use positive intonation, depending on what your dog responds best to.
-If you don’t take the leadership role, the dog will, which may lead to undesirable behavior.
-Snap your fingers when necessary (or something else non-physical that works best for your dog).
-No matter how cliché, saying ‘bad dog’ often works well or at least well enough.
-If your dog really doesn’t pay attention or doesn’t understand that it did something bad, hold its head (preferably while it’s sitting down) and stare into its eyes for a few seconds. Don’t do this with dogs you don’t have a good standing with and only do this if you’re willing to take a risk.
-Enter your home before your dog until your dog understands it’s your home.
-When a dog sees another dog or your dog sees a cat, tell your dog to walk behind you or to sit down.
Walking without a leash:
-Be consistent, aware and a good leader.
-Start by teaching your dog to listen to you and to behave well with other dogs first while walking it with a leash.
-Every behavioral tick can be a sign to correct your dog (do your research if you’re not sure what’s right or wrong). Don’t be too carefree; eventually, the dog could take the lead.
-Let your dog walk behind you or make it sit down if you see another dog or a cat
-Telling your dog to sit down or stop every time before crossing the street is a good way to .teach your dog obedience. Don’t force it to sit down; if it stops, that suffices.
-If your dog doesn’t listen well enough without the leash, put the leash back on and train it with the leash on again for as long as necessary.
-When your dog is ready to meet other dogs and get acquainted through sniffing, pay attention to any butt-sniffing; it could be a bad sign if it takes a while.
-Don’t be too strict, but allow your dog some freedom too.
-Once your dog listens well, don’t be afraid to let it lead the way, but correct it if necessary.
-If your dog doesn’t want to follow you, don’t persevere; change your route instead.
-Allow your dog to be with you most of the day when you’re at home.
-Allowing your dog in your bed or on the couch helps bonding too, so decide whether or not you wish to allow it.