If you enjoy reading parenting blogs and you have both kids and pets in your home you will appreciate the sentiments of Kara Carrero in her blog post “Parenting Without Saying No”. There are some interesting parallels you can draw between parenting your children and raising your pet. A graphic she shares includes a list of alternatives to “no” and addresses negative parenting language. Some statements of course are purely child-centered but as a dog and family trainer I can draw a connector between some of what she suggests is negative language, its alternative and some of the language practices we have with our pets.
Beyond just the way we hear, it’s also important for all of us to have clear directions. If we are given vague instructions, it leaves a lot of gray area. This is because there are a thousand alternatives to “not” doing something, but only one course of action that should be done when told specifically what to do. – Kara Carrero
“No” all day, every day
From the moment you bring your pup home you have the tendency and often the necessity to tell him “no”. Saying no is a natural and fluid part of our language and so at the onset of naughty behavior that is the very first thing Fido will hear and it often follows with some consequences. The word no can very easily get worn out. Hearing it repeatedly your dog will quickly tune it out as it becomes white noise. Dogs live in the present moment. They do best with clear, black and white direction. They do not do well with gray. When the expectations aren’t clear and we have not taught them what we would rather them do they begin to make their own choices, ones we often are not pleased with.
Fail …Quit it, stop it, no, don’t do that!
Pet owners after falter at a common place and unfortunately become frustrated and some move onto some very inhumane means of gaining control of their pet that actually becomes quite damaging to their pet’s emotional and physical health along with the fallout in the relationship between the pet and the owner. There is never, ever a reason to use dominate, forceful, hurtful or shocking methods to get results or control of a pet. A pet is just that, a companion that you have give and take with; a loving, reciprocal relationship that should never be about commanding the other being. If for you that is your philosophy, might I suggest you get a pet rock instead?
Winner …Choice and management
To make your pet successful simply make sure there is a clear choice for your pet to make. With that, make the good and polite choice the one that is most attractive, positive and fun. Finally, make the bad or wrong choice that is available to your dog one that comes with absolutely no bells and whistles, no fun, no treats, and to mean no meaningful contact with you.
You get what you feed
For example say you have a dog that is jumping up and snapping at your clothes. Which behaviors do you choose to feed with attention? Which do you choose to extinguish? Does your dog learn from these consequences?
- The good, polite choice for the dog is to settle with 4 paws on the floor. No exceptions, four calm paws planted firmly on the floor. What does he get? Eye contact, your sweet voice talking to you, petting and love, your undivided attention and maybe even a tennis ball tossed for him to chase!
- The bad, wrong choice for the dog is to continue to jump, nip and be a nuisance. What does he get? No happy voice, no loving touch, no adoring eye contact. Definitely no treats or play can follow up such bad behavior. You may even walk back out the door or into another room so he doesn’t get access to you at all.
- The thinking dog’s choice is to jump up a few times, remember the consequences for the bad, jumping dog, decide he did not want that to happen again. He needs you, loves you to pay attention to him and finds that four paws on the floor makes you light up like a bulb, smile and greet him with pets and play. Success!
Fido, Fido, Fido … blah, blah, blah
The same can be said for saying Fido’s name repeatedly and failing to get the proper reaction of him looking up to your face. All dogs can and should be trained to hear his name and have his immediate reaction be to look at you with the happy consequence of treats, petting, or play for choosing you over everything else in the room. A dog’s name as well as cues for behaviors can be poisoned without careful training. Name recognition is the basis for recall and other cue that should be in your dog’s toolbox. Contact a Pet Professional Guild member if you need assistance.