The Ten Day Rule, or the "Honeymoon Period"
It's a good idea to keep a foster dog for at least two weeks to truly evaluate his temperament (as well as to make sure he isn't harboring any illnesses). It is not unusual for a new dog to be very quiet and timid at first. Don't be surprised if new behavior problems crop up after about 10-14 days. This is actually a welcome sign, because it means that the dog is beginning to feel relaxed and letting his true personality show. Try to withhold judgements of the dog's temperament until this initial period has passed.
Common Behavorial Problems and Solutions
- Rule out medical problems (intestinal problems, bladder infections, etc.)
- Supervise the dog constantly. Don't let him out of sight. (Use doors, gates or leash)
- Confine the dog whenever he can't be supervised (use a crate)
- Reward correct behavior: Give praise and treats when he does it right
- Feed on a set schedule. Don't just leave food in his bowl all day.
- Remove water several hours before bedtime
- Go outside on a schedule. Do not rely on the dog to tell you he needs to go.
- Go out frequently to figure out his schedule. Gradually eliminate unnecessary trips.
- Watch for signs like circling, sniffing, and whining.
- Interrupt the dog if you see him start to go (clap hands, "no, outside!")
- If it's too late, don't punish. The dog probably won't make the connection.
- Clean with enzymatic cleaner to remove odor.
- Neuter the dog
- Keep the dog on a leash tethered to your waist
- Interrupt the dog as he starts to lift his leg
- Crate the dog when you cannot watch him
- Tie a towel or "bellyband" around his waist to catch any leaks
- Spray any marked areas with an enzymatic cleaner
- Supervise the dog constantly
- Confine the dog whenever he can't be supervised (use a crate)
- Use a bitter tasting spray (found at pet supply stores) on inappropriate items
- Puppyproof the house. If you leave your socks on the floor and the dog chews them, whose fault is that?
Dogs bark for different reasons. If the reason is...
- Boredom: Provide exercise and mental stimulation. Teach games like "find it" and provide challenging, food-dispensing toys like buster cubes and kongs.
- Loneliness: Bring the dog into the house with you
- Separation anxiety: Gradually teach the dog to tolerate being alone for longer periods
- To get attention: Ignore the dog. Reward quiet behavior.
- Stress: Ignoring won't work if dog is barking to relieve stress. Refocus the dog with obedience commands (sit, down, watch me, etc.) or move away from the source of stress.
- Guarding the neighborhood: If you can't supervise the dog to correct the behavior, confine him in a quiet area away from windows and doors so he won't be overstimulated by everything going on outside.
- If all else fails, consider a bark collar. Two types: shock and citronella spray. Collar choice depends on dog's temperament. Effectiveness depends on quality of the collar and consistent, correct collar use. Both types are humane and effective if used correctly, but consider the dog's temperament first, and watch for side effects (for example, generalized fear of the place where the collar went off).
- Ignore the dog when it jumps. Instruct every person the dog meets not to reward jumping with *any* attention. Remember, even shouting "no" is a form of attention. No need to kick or knee the dog in the chest; just turn away.
- Train an incompatible behavior: sit or "four on the floor." Dog can't jump and sit (or stand) at the same time.
- Be consistent!
- Teach an incompatible behavior, eg: "wait." Dog must sit (or stand or down or make eye contact with you) before door opens, and must wait to go through the open door until given permission. Start with the leash attached, and practice until you can open the door and the dog doesn't budge.
- Clicker training -- Click and reward (treat) every time the dog is walking beside you with a loose leash
- Be unpredictable -- Abruptly change direction any time the dog stops paying attention to you.
- "Be a tree" -- Don't move forward unless the leash is slack (this has never worked for me, but may work for some)
- "Penalty yards" -- Return to the starting line each time the leash gets tight
- "Walking with a goal" -- Choose a goal that your dog will find rewarding (put some chicken on the ground several feet away, or choose a favorite smelly telephone pole). The dog must keep a loose leash in order to reach the goal.
- Targeting -- Teach the dog to touch your hand for food rewards. He can't pull if he is walking beside you.
- Management -- Use a special collar or harness for short-term management, while also continuing to work on long-term training solutions:
- Gentle Leader headcollar -- Fits around the neck and muzzle, like a horse's halter. Gently and effectively reduces pulling by giving you control of the dog's head. Do not jerk the leash because you could injure the dog's neck. Also make sure you keep the dog on a fairly short lead so that he can't get a running start and hit the end of the lead, twisting his neck. Disadvantages: There is an adjustment period, during which most dogs will try to paw or rub the collar off. Dogs can learn to pull with this type of collar.
- Prong or pinch collar -- Gives immediate, effective control for dogs that object to a headcollar. Some people refer to the pinch collar as "power steering." Collar must be fitted correctly to be effective. Advantage over Gentle Leader is that there is no adjustment period. Some dogs are more sensitive to the pinching sensation than others, so use with caution and consult an experienced trainer for assistance.
- Front-attach harness -- Makes it difficult to pull by putting the attachment point in front of the dog's chest, thus pulling the dog off balance. There are several brands on the market. Very effective if the dog's only issue is pulling. Not a good choice for dogs with other issues (such as lunging and barking at other dogs or people) since you have no control of the dog's head.
- Flexi (retractable lead) -- Most dogs enjoy the extra room to manuever and will trot happily back and forth, rather than running to the end of the lead and continuing to pull. Please practice using your flexi before going out in public. In inexperienced hands, dogs on retractable leashes can be a nuisance or even a hazard. Read the instructions that came with your flexi and practice using the brake and retracting the lead in a quick, fluid motion.
- Management -- Make sure the yard is secure. Keep the dog on leash when outside.
- Neutering -- This can reduce the tendency of a dog to roam, but will take some time to have an effect. Don't expect this to completely cure the problem because running away is already an established behavior.
- Practice recalls -- Start with the dog very close (in the house, on leash, or in a fenced area) and reward the dog every time it comes to you. Gradually increase the distance.
- Choose a special recall cue and make sure the dog is always rewarded for responding to the cue.
- Never call the dog for something unpleasant, like getting a bath.
- Don't call unless you are reasonably sure the dog will respond, or are in a position to enforce the command (dog is on a long line). Don't give him the option of not coming until he is reliably responding to the cue in training sessions. Otherwise, you are just teaching the dog to ignore your recall cue.
- Don't repeat your cue. If the dog fails to come on the first cue, go and get him.
- Do lots of repetitions until the dog responds without hesitation, regardless of distance and distractions.
- Remote training collar or e-collar -- This is a very effective tool to gain off leash control if used under the guidance of an experience trainer. For consistent performance, stick with quality brands (Dogtra, Tritronics). Use the lowest level that your dog can perceive. In general, commands should first be taught via another method (clicker & treats, leash & collar) and only then reinforced with the collar. Remember that the dog must first be taught what the sensation from the collar means and how he can stop the stimulation by complying with your command. The dog should be on a long line to begin this training.
If your "training plan" consists of strapping on a collar, letting the dog run free, and pushing buttons until the dog magically returns to you, PLEASE do not even consider using an ecollar.
Consult with a trainer for help if your dog...
- Bites or snaps
- Growls or snarls when being handled
- Guards food or toys
- Exhibits any other behavior that would make you afraid to have the dog around other people or animals
Manage - Reward - Ignore - Correct
Understanding these basic training concepts will help you turn your unruly foster dog into someone's great companion.
Management prevents unwanted behavior from becoming a habit by removing or reducing opportunities for the dog to rehearse the unwanted behavior, thereby setting up an environment where the dog is always "right" by default. Management includes things such as puppy proofing, crate training, using a leash, using a no-pull device, etc. Management can be combined with rewards (see below) to set the dog up to succeed, then reward him for being correct. For example, you can use a no-pull device which causes your dog to walk nicely on the leash, then reward him for walking at your side. Gradually fade the tool; gradually fade the rewards.
Most of us are familiar with this aspect of training, but it's important not to limit our concept of what constitutes a reward. A reward can be anything that the dog wants and will work to earn. Food is the most obvious choice, but toys, play, praise, and petting are more desirable rewards for some dogs. A reward can also be the opportunity to do something the dog enjoys, such as going through an open door, playing with another dog, chasing a rabbit, or being allowed to join you on the couch.
These kinds of real life rewards can be very powerful and are often underutilized. By integrating real life rewards into your everyday interactions with your dog, you reduce the need to rely on food or other external rewards, and gain the ability to train your dog frequently, for real life situations, without a lot of extra effort or lots of gear to carry around.
If you give rewards randomly without expecting your dog to earn them, the rewards will become meaningless and the dog will no longer work for them. Why would he work if he can get rewards and privileges for free? Most of us quickly grasp this concept as it applies to food, but the same logic applies to other types of rewards. If you allow your dog to dash through doors at will, not only is it unsafe, but you have also just lost a potentially great opportunity to reward your dog for appropriate behavior. Instead, have your dog sit, down, or "watch me" while you open the door. Then release your dog (we use "okay!") to go through the door after he has complied with your command. How many times does your dog go outside in a day? You've just given yourself that many opportunities to train and reward your dog, using just seconds of your time.
The idea is simple: Ignore irritating behavior and it will tend to diminish over time. However it's important to be selective about which behaviors you choose to ignore. Some behaviors are self-reinforcing and will only get worse if you ignore them, such as chewing on inappropriate items, marking in the house, or chasing the cat. This technique is most effective when the dog is doing something to try to get your attention, such as jumping up on people, begging for food, nudging your hand for petting, barking to demand a treat, or barking for attention. When a dog is demanding your attention, even negative attention such as scolding may be perceived as a reward. These inappropriate attention-seeking behaviors respond well to being ignored, although you can expect them to get worse temporarily before the dog finally gives up. It's important to be consistent and make sure every person ignores the unwanted behavior every time, or this technique simply won't work.
Giving rewards or ignoring unwanted behavior doesn't work if the dog is getting something more rewarding from the environment. Harrassing cats, livestock, or wild animals; jumping on children or grabbing their clothing; or chasing cars are all examples of behaviors that are enjoyable and self-reinforcing to the dog, and also potentially very dangerous. In instances like these, it may be appropriate to correct or punish the dog's behavior.
Most of us are familiar with the concept of correcting a dog for unwanted behavior. However, it's important to remember that "to correct" doesn't always have to mean "to punish." To correct something means to fix it or make it right. I can correct my nephew's hand position on his guitar by gently repositioning his fingers on the strings. He has not been "punished;" he has simply been shown how to be "correct." Likewise, I can correct a dog's position by gently placing him into a sit or stand, or tugging his drag line to remove him from the couch if he isn't allowed to be up there. He hasn't been "punished" in the traditional sense, but he has been shown how to be "correct."
You should only consider punishment after you have done preliminary work using other methods, starting with a low level of distraction and gradually working your way up to more demanding situations. You shouldn't punish a dog for something you haven't adequately taught him. It isn't fair to expect to be able to call your dog off a deer in the forest when he hasn't yet mastered the recall in your own back yard. Manage the more distracting situations while you train the dog up through gradually increasing distractions.
When a correction is needed, you should use the most minimal correction or punishment that gets the job done. This will depend on the dog's temperament, level of training, and the level of distraction. When correcting a dog, try to think in terms of making the dog more likely to make the "right" choice next time, instead of taking out your frustrations or showing him who's boss.
Methods and Tools
The methods or tools you choose are less important than the fairness and consistency with which you apply them. Dogs can be trained by giving or withholding rewards or corrections. The best trainers have an understanding of all these methods and will use them in varying amounts to obtain optimal results.
When choosing tools or methods, look to the dog as your guide. As with rewards, it's the dog who gets to decide what it finds most aversive. For example, many people assume that a citronella collar or ultrasonic collar will be more humane or less aversive than a traditional "shock" anti-bark collar. This is probably because people generally like the smell of citrus emitted by a citronella collar, or can only hear a lower pitched beep and not the piercing ultrasonic tone of the ultrasonic collar. Maybe they've had the unpleasant experience of putting their finger in an electrical socket as a child, or associate "shock" with "shock treatments" or "the electric chair."
The reality is that many dogs find the strong citronella scent or the piercing ultrasonic tone to be extremely aversive. My own dogs are absolutely terrified when the low-battery warning begins to beep on our carbon monoxide detector, and one of them flees the room when an orange is peeled. In addition, the citronella spray and ultrasonic tone are not adjustable to the dog's temperament and sensitivity, whereas all modern "shock" type collars have a variety of levels which enable you to use the mildest correction that is still effective.
The same rules apply for other training tools.A prong collar looks like a torture device but is often more easily tolerated by the dog than an itchy or restrictive halti or Gentle Leader. Some dogs are crushed by a stern word, while others will look at you with a smile and a wagging tail. Some will stop in their tracks at the mere sight of a squirt bottle, and others think biting the spray of water is a fun game.
The bottom line is that any tool can be used humanely, and any tool can be abused. Rather than obsessing over tools and methods, consider this: Are you happy with the results of your training? Has the dog's quality of life improved due to the training? Does the dog have more freedom and privileges than he did before the training? Are you able to take him more places with less worry? Does the dog seem to like you? Does the dog seem to fear you? Are you embarrassed by the dog's behavior? Are you afraid to take the dog out in public? Are you proud of the dog's accomplishments? Your answers to these questions will help you to determine if your current training plan is working.*
* Used with permission from FosterDogs.com
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