Here are some really easy ways to communicate effectively with your dog

Its really easy to get frustrated with a dog and wonder why they dont understand, or why they keep doing a behaviour that you dont like… Commonly dogs that steal things and run off with them, jump up, lunge and bark and other dogs, pull on lead, have poor off lead skills and so on.

Remember the behaviours that are reinforced (you give the dog something they like) will increase the likelihood of the behaviour happening again. Reinforcers are anything that your dog likes – delicious treats (like chicken, sausage or cheese), playing with toys, greeting dogs/people, going into the garden, petting, getting on the sofa etc.

Here are some effective ways to improve communication with your dog:

  1. Decide on how the house rules will work within the family so everyone is clear – its so hard on your dog if you don’t want them on the sofa but someone encourages them to sit on the sofa – or sometimes they are allowed on as you ask them up, but not when they are wet or muddy. Inconsistency is tough for a dog!
  2. Manage behaviour – by that I mean use barriers (such as stair gates) or a pen to contain your puppy when they are not being supervised so they are in an area when everything can be explored by them. It does need a bit of pre-planning (such as stuffing food dispensing toys ready) but its SO much easier to live with as you don’t end up nagging the dog all the time and allow them to make ‘errors’ by grabbing things they shouldn’t have
  3. Get a big handful of really good treats out at the start of the day and put them in a wide, shallow container (like a takeaway container). Your job is to give reinforcers to your dog for everything they do that you want them to repeat again – being calm, coming in from the garden when called, giving up a toy when playing etc etc
  4. Use these methods combined to focus on the positive things your dog does – rather than constantly fire-fighting where it goes wrong. Its a real mind-set change but makes communication much more effective and builds a much improved relationship with the dog
  5. Don’t spend your time saying no to your dog.  As humans we understand what no means – dog’s haven’t got a clue as it gives no information what they should be doing.  Some dogs will actually find you saying ‘no’ punishing (stern voice, pointy finger, raised voice etc) and this will reduce the behaviour but also impact negatively on your relationship with them. Focus on step 3 and 4 to increase all the good behaviours your dog does and this, combined with management in step 2, will reduce the behaviour you don’t want
  6. Every day is a teaching day! Dogs – like people – are constantly learning. Focus on what you want the dog to do, reinforce that with someone the dog values (food, play, access to sniff or play with dogs etc)
  7. Teach FOR the situation and not in the situation – trying to teach walking on a loose lead when you have a limited amount of time to walk for is not ideal. Take 10 minutes off the walk time and practice loose lead skills on your way back from the walk.
  8. Focus on teaching calmness – in all manner of distractions – and use this calmness from your dog to give them access to what they want.  Use sniffing walks every day, teach nose work games, use food dispensing toys to bring calmness
  9. Don’t punish behaviour you don’t like – again, like using ‘no’ it doesn’t teach the dog what you actually want instead.  Teach a behaviour which is incompatible – such as standing calmly and looking at you instead of shortening the lead, telling the dog no and attempting to hang onto them!
  10. Use the clicker – or a marker word – to bring real clarity. Rather than having food in your hands (which causes the dog to focus on the food), use the ‘marker’ to indicate to the dog what behaviour will now result in something they want.  Look at me calmly – now go and sniff… stand still to get your harness on, now we can go out….