Training a dog doesn’t just mean teaching your dog to do this or that in a vacuum. I want my students to select what Manners they want their dogs to obey, to establish a good relationship that fosters good Manners, and then ensure those Manners are consistently rewarded.
It is important to be direct with your dog, making fair rules for your dog which are very black and white. That fairness will be an outgrowth of a good relationship with your dog: the better your relationship, the better the training, the better your dog’s Manners will be over time, and your dog will also become more gentle with you and everyone else.
Young dogs are impulsive, forceful, and unmannerly. We should start teaching some basic Manners from the very first lesson. We then fold in Obedience lessons. Finally, as the all of that learning is absorbed, and we have established a proper and affectionate relationship, we can then apply Advanced Manners and make a dog very pleasant to be around.
I have several students making that transition to Advanced Manners. I know we are ready to make that next step when the relationship is going well and I see the dog become very responsive and gentle with everyone. I help my students make this transition when we start doing emotional control exercises for their dogs.
I was watching two big dogs this morning. These dogs have previously fought in the home. A while back, towards the beginning, the dogs would practically drag you across the field as if you were waterskiing behind a speedboat. Control in those circumstances was impossible without the dogs being on a leash. Today, even though the dogs still need to be leashed around one another, we are starting to see these dogs respond primarily to verbal directions and it isn’t taking much muscle on the part of the owners. These dogs aren’t as quick as they used to be in starting up challenges to one another. We can see evidence of that because they still have some remnant of eyeballing one another in some circumstances, but the frequency and intensity has decreased considerably. Homework for the next 3 weeks or so involves more intense emotional control exercises around one another.
What a lot of trainers deem “emotional control” or “impulse control” is when the owner or trainer shuts the dogs down with significant negative influence, usually some kind of intimidation plus pain stimulation. In other words, they take shortcuts to break a dog’s will by using excessive mental and physical force. I disagree with this inhumane approach. Instead, I train dogs to manage their Manners through emotional control exercises, and to be responsive to their owner’s directions, even if in a highly aroused state. You can’t always shut a dog down. One day, you won’t have a hold of that leash, or other device, the dog will be highly charged, and without proper foundation you are going to completely lose control.
Think of it this way. Let’s say you shadow box with yourself in front of a mirror. You can do that every day for 10 years, but that won’t prepare you for a real fight. Once a real fight is on, and your arousal level is at its very peak, heart rate maybe at 190 beats a minute, all that shadow boxing will not help you deal with that emergency. Unless you learn how to deal with fighting in an aroused state, you will lose all control. Thus, practicing all of your lessons using methods that shut down a dog’s emotional arousal won’t prepare your dog to be Mannerly or obey when their arousal levels are very high. Such situations would be if your dog is running around with a dead bird in their mouth, or being challenged by another dog to a fight, or when chasing a squirrel into the street, or when a stranger enters your yard without your knowledge. If you haven’t taught your dog to exercise emotional control when highly aroused, then it is only a matter of time when you will encounter an emergency you can’t manage.
Most Manners problems happen when dogs are highly aroused… distressed because the owner has left the home; arrival of strangers at your home; encountering other dogs; when you arrive home; when your dog hears strange sounds or when other dogs are barking next door; when playing with other dogs or people; when the dog is chasing something or another animal; when your dog wants attention; or when your dog is in an unfamiliar and strange environment.
People expect too much from their untrained, and unprepared, dogs. If you want a dog with good Manners, without crushing their spirits, and in stressful and highly aroused situations, then settle it in your mind that it is going to take time to gentle your dog and train emotional control. A gentled dog that has mastered emotional control is then receptive to the final steps to obtaining and maintaining a dog that has good Manners.