Stop your dog’s problem behaviors instantly!

Lose weight easily! No diets or exercise necessary! Increase your bust by inches overnight! Clearer skin in minutes! Get longer more luxurious hair!

Gotta face it, we want what we want, fast.

Many of the claims being made about dog training ‘devices’ and training methods remind me of these claims that range from the silly to dangerous.

Trainers who use reward based training techniques to teach dogs new behaviors or change their emotional response to triggers are often faced with a dilemma. An owner comes to them looking for a solution to their dog’s behavior challenge, and the trainer knows that without the owner also changing their behavior, the dog’s behavior is not likely to change either. The dilemma occurs when that owner, unwilling or unable to do things differently, throws up their hands and looks for someone or something that can cure what they believe ails their dog, with a minimum of fuss and bother.

I recently had someone ask me about getting her young dog to stop barking in her crate when left in it for up to 8 hours (or more) a day. As it turns out the dog did pretty well in the crate most of the day, but as the afternoon wore on the dog would begin barking nonstop. The dog was taken out for toileting during the day but had only been provided with leash walks. The dog happily slept in a crate at night. Someone had lent the owner a shock collar to try to deal with the ‘problem’ barking.

Problem barking? I’d be worrying about a young dog that didn’t try to change what they were experiencing in that situation. Here’s a young dog who is not getting enough exercise during the day and several times a week is required to spend what must seem like an eternity, in a cage. Dogs, being crepuscular animals, they have their highest energy levels early and later in the day, rouse from their midday siesta and are ready for action, just about the time this pup had 2 more caged hours ahead of her. Annoying to the owner, but a problem? For the dog there sure was!

The idea that by using punishment we can change a dog’s behavior more efficiently than by using reward based methods is hard to refute when you are seeing only a sound bite of behavior. Scaring, hurting or intimidating a dog into stopping what they are doing isn’t that difficult; shock them, spray them, yank them, choke them, hit them, throw them to the ground, or scream at them. But stopping unwanted behaviors is merely Part 1 of Step 1. We need to replace unwanted behaviors with appropriate ones. In some cases it may be easy and in others, not so easy. It’s harder to move through the steps of change when the first step we’ve taken has caused a dog to worry, become afraid or is hurting. How well do you think and learn new skills if you are nervous, scared, hurting or worried about being hurt? If you say, “Pretty well,” you are among the minority (or lying).

How about a show of hands of those of you who have been trying to change your own ‘problem’ behaviors. Maybe you need to lose a few pounds or get your cholesterol level down. You’ve been thinking about that gym membership which you’ve been meaning to buy, or have already purchased but never get there to take advantage of it. Those after dinner cigarettes still taste pretty good, even though you’ve been meaning to quit. A cold beer is good on a hot summer day but the empties are piling up. That mountain of stuff that’s been collecting on the table, in the closet or spare room is destined for the dumpster or Goodwill, when you finally get around to sorting through it. Every year you pledge not to let so and so bug you with their nasty comments but here you are dreading that family gathering again. OK you can put your hands down now.

It’s not easy to change behaviors, but it can be done, and changing a dog’s behavior often turns out to be easier than changing our own! But if you believe in the claims that some electronic device is going fix all that you find troublesome with your dog, please give me a call, I have this bridge for sale you might be interested in.

This post is written in connection with the Never Shock A Puppy campaign which is raising money to provide shelter dogs with training collars and harnesses that don’t hurt to work. You can donate a few bucks and know that it’s going to a good, and reputable cause. Did I mention that there are lots of great thank you gifts you can receive for you donation? Well there are!

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25 comments so far

  1. Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart on

    Amen. And, yes, my hand is in the air.

  2. Trigger on

    Thank you so much for writing this. What an excellent article!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for saying so. The URL you’ve listed isn’t working. Would love to check you out.

  3. Lizzie on

    I have just been talking about this very thing to a kind lady who is fostering a fearful dog for the Rescue Centre where Gracie came from.

    Err that is she was telling me that in order to change Gracie’s negative behaviour I had to behave in a positive way when faced with her reaction to a trigger outside, if that makes sense.
    I know she’s right of course, but here is my dilema; how do I go about changing my behaviour? I’m reacting to what Gracie is doing. If I can’t help my self then what chance does poor Gracie have 😦

    • fearfuldogs on

      First of all, and I’ve written about this before, the idea that we are the cause of our fearful dogs’ behavior is often misinformed blame. So while, yes, how we respond to a dog’s behavior can affect their continuing response, it doesn’t mean that if only we were ‘better leaders’ or more ‘calm and assertive’ they’d be cured.

      If you really think that your response in situations in which Gracie reacts fearfully are holding her back or making her more afraid, then keep out of those situations until you have come up with a better plan for how you are going to respond when something happens. But if someone tries to tell you that ‘if only’ you were different, your dog would automatically be different too, they’ve never handled a dog with serious behavioral challenges and worked them through the behavior modification process (as opposed to just forcing the dog into doing what they want).

      This is one of the many reasons having a fearful dog is such a growth experience for anyone working with them. We have to think about how we respond and think ahead for what ‘might’ happen, and how we’ll respond to that. Then there’s life that rarely goes as planned. It’s work helping these dogs and we need to learn about management and training practices that point us in the direction we’re trying to go. Having a bail out move with our dog, goes for us as well.

      • Lizzie on

        Debbie, thanks for your response. It’s always helpful when you’re on a learning curve, like me.

        Just for the record, I described to this lady just what happens when Gracie has one of her ‘episodes’ outside if we encounter another dog or person. She was merely giving me her opinion, which I asked for. In no way was she trying to apportion blame.

        I think that, yet again, it was my wording that was at fault, sorry.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Just so long as you weren’t feeling at fault. Every one of these dogs is different. I had 100 dogs go through my home when I did rescue and some were shy or timid. None of them came close to having Sunny’s challenges.

  4. Leslie Fisher PMCT CPDT-KA on

    Hey Deb, outdone yourself again, great contribution to the cause and my hand is up, way up!!

  5. Brad Waggoner on

    How true and so well said. Thanks

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for taking the time to say so, appreciate it.

  6. Edie on

    Great post — and now inquiring minds want to know: What happened in this so-called problem barking situation? Someone needs to shock that owner into awareness, though it probably won’t work to solve to her problem (not so called) behavior either.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Lovely owner actually. Didn’t want to use the shock collar and husband balked at cost of spray collar 🙂 so I suggested she come and visit with her dog. We went for a long walk in the woods OFF LEASH and she learned that all the training she had already done with her dog (reward based) had paid off. The dog (a cocker spaniel not typically known for being fussy about food) was very treat motivated and was young enough to not want to be far from her owner for long, and the gang of dogs we were with were a good influence as well. We got lots of checking in behavior and stellar recalls.

      We talked about pup development and that her dog was doing just what dogs do (they bark & pull on leash). Now she is able to give the dog off leash runs that really use up some energy. She got a head halter to help her with their leash walks, which are now not the dog’s main source of exercise and exploration. She also understands that her expectations for crating the dog were unrealistic and admitted that she hadn’t had a pup in awhile and the last one was a pug that happily lazed around all day.

      When I saw her last she thanked me. Whew.

  7. Karin Apfel on

    Whew! Good to hear that this was one problem headed off at the pass. Oh, and my hand is got sore from holding it up so long. :/

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for commenting Karin and good luck with those behavior changes!

  8. usezamzuu on

    Very well put. My hands up! Gonna get that gym membership someday.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Good luck with that gym membership! I find having my ipod for music helps a lot. Drop me a note when you have your first work out.

  9. kat on

    great post, and so true, when I started my own journey with my adolescent fearful dog I wished and wished for a quick cure but I knew in my heart nothing comes that easy in life.

    I think your blog is a great resource for fearful/shy dog owners. thank you

    • fearfuldogs on

      So glad the blog and website have been helpful! How is your dog these days?

  10. georgia little pea on

    what a great and true post! i also liked that your story about the crated dog ended happily. it must have been awful to be in a crate for so many hours a day. i get cranky even with a whole house and little yard to run around in.

    🙂

  11. Donna in VA on

    Another great post. I think one important tool is to decide what behavior “A” is going to substitute for the unwanted behavior “X” as you said. Easy to say “I don’t want my dog barking at a strange dog or a loud noise”. But doing nothing is not an option that makes sense to the dog. So another behavior should be asked for. I would like Max to come & find me instead of a full minute of barking at a strange noise outside the house for example. I would like one or two barks and then come find me. This is something that can reasonably be taught. Just teaching “not barking” isn’t going to work. It sort of applies to us too. Instead of watching TV, get up and push the vacuum cleaner around. Substitute “A” for “X” and you might get somewhere.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Donna! Your comment is ringing very true for me. Instead of watching TV I’m pushing the floor scrubber around after stepping in poop while getting wood and tracking it through the house! Not that I recommend it as a way to get oneself moving.

  12. Quick fixes & cover judging on

    […] recently tweeted that she had gotten a lot of traffic on her Fearful Dogs site for a post titled Stop Your Dog’s Problem Behaviors Instantly! People were, apparently, taking it seriously, driven by the desire for a quick […]

  13. Mel on

    I don’t know how I missed this post Deb, but thank you to Edie for mentioning it in her latest post! I might have missed it otherwise!

    Debbie – I think this may be my favorite post written by you (and you’ve written a lot of really good ones!). In this day of instant gratification it is easy to see how dogs would get caught up in it too. After all, we do.

    Your words “The idea that by using punishment we can change a dog’s behavior more efficiently than by using reward based methods is hard to refute when you are seeing only a sound bite of behavior.” rings true. Sadly, my friend Colleen just wrote about a woman who contacted her for help. She had to tell the woman that euthanization was probably the only option given the dogs unpredictable aggression. The woman had believed another trainer’s “positive training” advice (the trainer seriously advertises herself that way) that included using a prong collar, lots of negative correction and other harsh methods to “quickly” train her dog to behave better. That mistake resulted in the loss of a dog who otherwise might have been fine if only she had chosen someone who knew that “quick” training methods are merely an empty promise.

    I am going to share this post with my clients. Thank you for writing it.

    • fearfuldogs on

      So sorry to hear that dog story. But once again you are more than kind in your response to a post. Thanks so much. I appreciate it.


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