Should You Push Your Dog Away?

Most of the time you want your dog to gravitate towards you. But there are some times when you should ignore or push your dog away, and sometimes you must not. What do I mean by that and what is the right answer?

Sometimes you will encounter a behavior that won’t terminate. For example, I remember a Labrador retriever I met years ago that would jump on guests. Persistently. So, I wore a long-sleeved shirt and long pants. I came over and let the dog jump on me. And jump. And jump. Without any attention from me or the owner. After about 20 minutes of that circus, he gave up. It wasn’t any fun anymore. And that solved it. Someone had to be the punching bag, the owner was a little old lady, so I had to be it.

I don’t do this with every dog since you should size up each dog before applying any training solution. You then make a probability bet: this is probably the right answer here. Some puppies need a small nudge, a push away, when they jump up and shortly that solves it. For other puppies, this approach is intimidating, and the puppy starts losing trust in you. For other puppies, pushing them away is a fun challenge, and they will jump on you even more.

In another similar case, I worked with a French Bulldog that did the same thing, but only when you were seated. Then he’d not only jump on you but try and grab either clothing or hair and pull on it. This little muscle was also extremely persistent. However, the ignoring just intensified the jumping, since to him it looked like weakness. Pushing him away, which works for some dogs, just worked him up even more. Wrong strategy for this dog. Part of the problem here was that the dog was given way too much attention for misbehavior and any kind of reaction, which in this case was unavoidable when seated; it just rewarded the behavior. it wasn’t possible to just ignore the behavior or push him away. He also had learned if he kept at whatever he wanted, eventually his owner would give in. Getting the owner to stop spoiling him was the next approach; to begin by quitting feeding him attention for misbehaviors and then we’d apply a Plan B. French Bulldogs are too smart for their own good and will take advantage of your attention mistakes. That one lesson of testing ignoring and pushing away demonstrated that a different approach was warranted.

In all training, I always start with a least restrictive plan when it comes to corrections. You must test a dog with one method, and if that fails, try something else. In the above cases, Plan A was to use negative punishment: to not reward the undesired behavior. it worked in the first case because the behavior could be ignored. It didn’t work in the second case because of having to sit on the couch and his ability to grab at your clothes and hair. This is also sometimes the case with puppies that won’t stop mouthing or dogs that will grab the leash and not let go. A lot of the time you can ignore the dog and walk away, essentially pushing the dog away. Sometimes that won’t work, and you must go onto Plan B.

Mothers do this kind of things with young children. There is a fine balance between attending to a child’s requests but not giving into unreasonable demands. Sometimes a parent must walk away, push the child away for the good of the child and their relationship. The same is true with a dog. Sometimes it is best to ignore the dog. Sometimes to push them away. Sometimes you need a Plan B.

Not all Plan B’s are the same. I just mean that when the ignoring or pushing away fails, then you should have a different strategy for that dog. You often can’t know the right answer until you’ve tried Plan A and see how the dog responds. The results will then help inform you as to what is probably the best Plan B.

I have several approaches for dealing with jumping. Ignoring and pushing away are sometimes effective, sometimes not. Ignoring is sometimes a good approach to try with people who don’t know how to apply other ways. Pushing away isn’t always a good solution. With some dogs it is intimidating, for others it stimulates them more because they like to wrestle, and for a handful of dogs it can be downright dangerous since it can provoke them to bite. There is never a 100% safe way to work a problem with every dog. Even ignoring could provoke a handful of dogs to bite because you are frustrating them. I’ve encountered dogs that became aggressive when ignored or pushed away. This is why I don’t like cookbook dog training methods. Dogs must be evaluated in real time to monitor how the solution is working or not working.

So, yes, sometimes it is a good idea to use some kind of negative punishment (ignoring) or precise positive punishment (pushing away physically or psychologically). Sometimes it will work, and sometimes it won’t. If you are not sure of the right approach for your dog, it is best to get some professional advice.

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