Look, there is no magical secret. That is the first and foremost misconception. I am not a magic man wielding my power over dogs. I simply, yes simply, understand their language because I have studied it for 20 years. Anyone can do this, yes even you! Sure, some people have a "gift" for it like myself, but really that "gift" is just a love for it. Not a special ability. The "gift" just keeps me motivated, and if you have enough motivation, why… you can do anything!
So, to those who want to know how I do it, I’ll tell you. Earn the dog’s respect. That simple. Really. "Well, how do you earn the dog’s respect?" I’ll tell you. In a few simple steps below.
1.) Refrain from getting frustrated. Stay calm. This is the number one most important rule if you want to gain your dog’s or any dog’s respect. If you try to get the dog to do something, and he won’t budge, then there is a reason. Flying off the handle and yelling, screaming, hitting things, making loud noises, cussing, and jerking at his collar will NOT work. And if it does work, your dog has learned to fear you, and is not truly happy. Fear, is not respect. Dogs obey out of fear, for fear of harm. Dogs act out of respect, because they trust you and choose to listen and act. If you don’t stay calm, you will be seen as unbalanced by the dog. Dogs do not listen to unbalanced people, or dogs. Those dogs, and people will often be ignored, or attacked depending on the situation. But a calm person or dog is seen as balanced, and the dogs know that the calm ones mean business. Even the slightest bit of frustration can cause some dogs to lock up, avoid, or even attack.
2.) Set a goal and follow through. No matter how big, or small, you must have a goal in mind. Say the goal is to get your dog in the tub. No matter what happens, you MUST accomplish your goal every single time. One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they give in too soon. Some people say, "Well, he just doesn’t feel like it right now." or "He’s just not ready yet." The facts are that he may not feel like it, and he may not be ready, but he still needs to do it when you ask or he’ll learn he doesn’t have to listen to you. In the wild he could get killed for not honoring the pack leader. So when he doesn’t honor you, and nothing happens, guess who becomes the pack leader? Not you. Accomplish your goal every single time, and your dog will begin to respect you. All of the dogs at the daycare I work for know that when I tell them to go into the ring, they are going in the ring. There is no fight, or struggle to get them in. And I average about 20 dogs a day. If the dog is being stubborn, I will block and herd that dog where I need him to be. I rarely have to grab the collar and drag a dog to where I need him. This is because my goal is to get the pack into that ring, and I make sure I accomplish it.
3.) If the dog is hesitant, figure out why. Some dogs are less confident than others. If they are afraid of something, they will often avoid or flee from it. So in example, if you are trying to get your dog in the tub and she hesitates, take a moment to study her body language. What is she saying to you? Is she curved over with her tail tucked and ears laid flat? If so, this means she is feeling afraid. If she is licking her lips while curved, then she is saying that she is afraid and stressed about the situation. If she is nipping at you when you reach for her, it is out of fear, not aggression. You job is to accomplish your goal, so you need to figure out how to make your dog feel differently about the situation. This is where having some training experience is very handy. Because you may have to break down the process to get her to even go close to the offending object. If your dog is showing signs of stress and fear as mentioned above, either seek a trainer or behaviorist in your area to help, or look for one of my blog entries on dog training for help. Do not force a fearful or stressed dog to do something, because you can cause the dog to develop a phobia or squeeze out a bite.
If your dog is just resisting because she doesn’t want to get in the tub, she won’t curve herself. Instead, she will keep her posture straight. She may play keep away from you, she may bark, she may put the brakes on when you try to pull her, or all three. The key to knowing that she is simply being stubborn is her body posture. Figure out why she is being so stubborn. Does she hate water? Does she associate the tub as a negative thing for any reason? If so, change this by making it a game. Stubborn dogs are often easily lured by simply changing your tactics. It could just be that the goal you set is boring and there is no real reward in it for the dog. If you offer a treat, but the dog seems like she could care less, then the treat does not equal the motivation and energy needed to complete the task. Or put simply, it may not be worth it. Try upping the anti.
4.) Reward when the task is complete. Once you have followed through and the dog has completed the goal, reward the dog with something that the dog sees as rewarding. Often people will reward the dog with something they see as rewarding, and not with what the dog sees as rewarding. You can tell what the dog finds rewarding simply by watching them. Do they like to chase things? Do they like to take naps? Do they like to go for walks? Toys? Balls? What is the dog actively pursuing a lot of the time? Is what they are pursuing healthy for them? Ask these questions to find a reward for your dog. Some dogs are very simple and a nice scratch behind the ears, or above the tail is sufficient reward. Other dogs require more and would rather chase a ball, play with a toy, or take a nap on their owner’s lap. Most dogs are happy with something to chew on, like a bone or rawhide. Only let your dog have these with supervision. Rawhides can be dangerous. Treats are great, but too often people get stuck on treats and so do the dogs. Obesity becomes an issue, and the dogs’ diet becomes unhealthy. Some treats aren’t fully digested by dogs and this can cause coprophagia (eating poo). Use treats in moderation.
5.) Set up some rules and remain steadfast. Once you set up a rule, then you must enforce it every time. Dogs will test the rules often. If they find that they can break it with no consequence, then they will continue to break it. Dogs learn by repetition, so you may have to enforce the rules more than once. You will also need to determine what the consequence for breaking the rules should be. It could be time alone, which a lot of dogs don’t like, or a squirt from the squirt bottle (doesn’t work that well on water loving breeds like Labs and Newfies) or you can block and muzzle. Block and muzzle is where you block the dog until they submit to you (lower their head or roll over on their back) and then put your hand around their muzzle. WARNING: Don’t try it with dogs that show ANY signs of aggression! You may get bitten! Or you can leg bump, which is where you walk into the dog and gently bumb them with your shin. DO NOT KICK! Don’t leg bump small dogs, because you could accidently injure them. The same is true with very tall dogs, like skinny Great Danes. You could injure their hips and/or legs. You must stand up straight when leg bumping. What you are doing is mimicing an alpha dog’s butt bump. This is where an alpha dog will turn himself and litterally bumb another dog with his butt. It’s a way for the alpha to say "I’m boss, knock it off." While doing the butt bump, the alpha dog will stand erect and proud, so you must do the same for it to work. Sometimes it helps to say "Hey!" or something short when leg bumping.
6.) Stay consistent! This is really important. Lack of consistency is a leading reason why people fail with their dogs. By staying consistent, you are showing your dog that you are the boss. Consistency is a very important ingredient when trying to earn your dog’s respect. Dogs thrive on it, and with out it they often panic. You can not let your dog do something one time, and then not the other. The reverse is true as well. Once a dog learns a rewarding behavior, that behavior tends to stick. So if every time your dog barks at the mailman and the mailman goes away, that is a reward to your dog. Because your dog successfully defended his and your territory from an intruder. The mailman is usually consistent and comes and goes at the same time everyday. Your dog picks up on this, and will be ready when the mailman comes. This example can be applied to anything, but the point is that dogs need, count on, thrive on, learn from, and down right live on consistency.
If you put all of these things together, you will earn your dog’s respect. It really is a lot simpler than it sounds. Keep in mind that dogs learn by trial and error. They do something, and if no one disagrees with it, and it’s rewarding, they will do it again. If someone stronger disagrees with it, then they will usually move on. Dogs do not think like people, so don’t feel bad about enforcing the rules. Your dog will respect you for making the rules and then enforcing them. They are a lot like kids in that way. Push them too hard, and they rebel; don’t push hard enough and they will become uncontrollable.