I have watched the dynamics between dog and owner for nearly a decade now and I have seen some amazing interactions, and some truly tragic and embarrassing ones as well. Humans who consider themselves “dog people” often have a magnetic and endearing attraction to almost all dogs. Always wanting to say hello and pet just about any dog they encounter. They put up with barking, jumping, bumping and the occasional growl just to show their affection towards dogs. There are owners alike who want their dog to be greeted by everyone they encounter, but there is often a moment when intentions don’t meet reality.
Even the best and most well trained dogs do bad things. I have hundreds of spots on my carpet to prove it. Most people take bad dog behavior in stride, and move on without too much hassle but it could have been different or even prevented with some simple changes. Over the years I have read about and practiced a lot of dog training, after all I have very cute but at times unruly dogs. Most of the problems that occur with dogs come from a lack of bonding. Humans often expect dogs to “act right” without communicating to their dogs in a way they can understand all these human rules and boundaries. They don’t take the time to understand what their dog is communicating either, and often we miss cues that can give us valuable insight into our dogs. In fact there are many dog behaviorists that know the majority of dogs relinquished each year to shelters are there for behavioral problems rather than things like aggression or medical problems. These dogs were expected to just know how to be a good dog, but were never taught what to do. There is also a lack of awareness by the general public too. Many people still think a waging tail is a happy and friendly dog, they don’t know what the dogs body language is really saying. A waging tail only indicates a stimulated dog. It’s not hard to read a dog’s body language but we are so far removed from reading predators we forget or even ignore our basic animal instincts. Humans need just as much if not more training when it comes to interacting with dogs.
Compounding the problem of the embarrassing dog is there are more and more dogs are being deemed as a medical or emotional necessity so they are places where dogs were never allowed to go before. There has been a 400% increase according to the FAA of dogs that are taken on planes for these reasons over the last 6 years. So there are more opportunities for people to have a bad interaction as well. Dogs are a huge part of American culture and it’s likely that dogs will be further integrated into all parts of society rather than be something over 60% of us enjoy just at home or on neighborhood walks. Even people that don’t have dogs will benefit greatly from knowing what a friendly dog looks like, and how to approach a dog. Training for people is just as important as it is for the dogs, so that is the best place to start.
First suggestion to better understanding of dog behavior is to study. There are some amazing books and even better DVD’s out there that can give insight as to what your dog is trying to say, but even more important is what you are saying to your dog. I lean towards positive reinforcement training, as I have personally had very bad experiences with using negative reinforcement with my dogs. One of my dogs is still fearful of me when I raise my voice, she is so sensitive I have to be mindful it takes just a little no as she gets the point, her sister on the other hand could be screamed at all day long and never bat an eyelash. They are different and require very different approaches to communication. I have found the most valuable information from Dr. Sophia Yin, and animal behaviorist and veterinarian since 1993. Her book “How To Behave So Your Dog Behaves” has some of the best insight to what we are communicating to our dogs and how it influences their ability to learn from us. Dogs are also very compulsive in behavior. If they want something they just take it! Believe me I know, as all the treats on the bottom row of my store have been “stolen” at least once or twice. Dogs want to learn so they can avoid consequences but they also are motivated to get rewards too, and by doing the right things at the right time you not only bond with your dog but help them understand that the habit of good behavior will get them everything they want. This is how you curb the jumping, stealing, barking and anything else that embarrasses their owner.
Second and most important is consistency and investment in training. Most people have good intentions when they adopt a shelter dog, after all rescue means you get to be the hero. Some dogs are grateful for the rescue and if you’re lucky they match your communication style. More often than not a dog you have not had since puppyhood will come with a history of bad training techniques that have done damage emotionally and physically. Even good training techniques don’t work if you do not have some basic bonding with your dog. I found that humans are far too busy with life to observe their dogs and take the time to study. Often we only focus on our dogs when they are behaving badly, so it’s no wonder they will act out to get our attention. We need to take more time and figure out what we want our dogs to be doing, and work towards teaching them good behavior. If you take the time to learn how to teach your dog, do it consistently and invest in the long term goals you will find success and happiness in your relationship with your dog. You will not only impress everyone that sees you with your dog, but you can truly appreciate each other too!
There is no easy answer, and I certainly can’t give enough advice in one article to create a great dog. I will give you more references for positive training techniques, and amazing books about dogs, their behavior and the relationship between us. I know how much it takes to create a good dog, mine are still in the works at 6 years old. Each day there is improvement, more success and happiness. Please check out www.drsophiayin.com for great and insightful information. She has a fantastic blog and many of her books are available in ebook format for quick download. Also for a scientific read about dogs check out “Inside a Dog” by Alexandra Horowitz, and for another great training book read “The Loved Dog” by Tamar Geller. Some dogs naturally behave, have low impulses and are mellow, and then there is the other 99%. If your dog has embarrassed you, you are in the majority and have great resources at hand to change it and live better with your dog!