Reinforcing naughty behaviour

There’s no question that people love their pets, however, there is a major issue in when some owners  show their dog affection. What many people do not realize is that when you touch a dog who is fearful, anxious, possessive, dominant, hyper, begging, barking, shaking, or whining, you are actually rewarding an unwanted state of mind or behaviour. Touch to humans is comforting, whereas touch to dogs is a reward. Typically, if we see a dog who is behaving in a way that pulls on our emotional heartstrings, then we are inclined to hug and kiss them to make them feel better as we would a human. However this does not work with animals. Instead you are communicating to the dog that this is how they should be acting. What you are saying is, “I like what you are doing. Keep it up.” At the same time, owners also throw in the verbal “it’s OK” in a high pitched voice while petting their fragile dog in an unstable state, which further indicates that the dog is in fact doing the right behaviour. Unfortunately for owners, as much as we would like it to be the case, you can not hug, kiss, and love the fear, anxiety, aggression or bad behaviour out of a dog.

When you give affection to a dog you reinforce the behaviour that came before it.

So when is the right time to show affection? Affection should only be shared when a dog is in a calm submissive state. A great time for this is after you and your dog have gone on a long walk, so he is already tired and in the right state of mind. This also follows the rule that affection comes after exercise and discipline. You can also use affection to reinforce positive behaviours as a training method. If you ask your dog to sit before putting on the leash and they wait calmly and quietly, giving them a pet on the head says “good job.” Again using touch as a reward is a fantastic way to let a dog know when they are doing what is expected of them.

Sharing affection with your dog at the right or wrong time can have a huge affect in how they behave throughout their life. It’s important to always be mindful that when you give affection to a dog you reinforce the behaviour that came before it.

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Are you the pack leader?

Recently I created a Pack Leader quiz as a fun way to assess where people fit in to their pack with just a few easy questions. The quiz was very simple and generalized but the questions I chose were specific to things that communicate to your dog whether or not you are the leader of your pack. Not surprisingly, many people were revealed as follower and not leader. I figured this was a great opportunity to write a blog to help people understand the little things they do that make them a follower and how they can redeem their role as leader.

Pack leader or follower

So what does it mean to be the pack leader exactly? Being pack leader means providing guidance and setting your dog up for success by taking away the stress of having to take the front position of the pack. In a pack there are only 2 positions: leader and follower. Dogs, like humans, are pack animals but unlike us, dogs will not follow an unbalanced leader. Dogs are drawn to calm assertive energy as their leader. Calm assertion means being even-tempered, confident and in control. If that energy is not present in the owner the dog will step in to control the situation even if it is unnatural for them. This is typically when we see behavioural issues develop like aggression, destructiveness, and anxiety among others, because a dog without leadership is unbalanced. The dog sees the human as a weak energy state making him lower on the totem pole towards the back of the pack so the dog will do what is necessary to fulfill her needs.

Here are the things to consider when it comes to being pack leader… 

1) A pack leader is calm assertive, never emotional, nervous or excited. The mother when giving birth to her litter is calm assertive and this is the first energy they experience. It is important for the human pack leader to have this same demeanour.

2) A pack leader provides direction and protection and fulfills his packs needs with exercise, discipline and then affection. A pack leader doesn’t just give love all the time. They provide structure and an outlet for energy first and foremost. It’s just like parents with children, they must do their homework (discipline) before they can go out side and play (reward).

3) A pack leader is always in control. He makes all decisions. He decides where to go, when to go, when to eat, and when to sleep. He starts and stops all activities. He doesn’t ask, “are you ok with my decision?” He just expects that his pack will follow. If your dog chooses when to play, walk, eat or wake up, then he is pack leader.

4) A pack leader is always consistent. If he does not continually uphold the rules, boundaries and limitations, then the other dogs will begin to test them. If you are only leader 80% of the time then your dog will only follow 80%. Being pack leader means providing guidelines 100% of the time.

pack leader quiz results

It’s never too late to start to implement these pack leader strategies to ensure the health and happiness of your pack. If you are experiencing any behavioural issues perhaps take a look at how you are with your dog and whether or not you’ve allowed him to be the pack leader. If you are unsure, take my quiz. Just remember, lead and your dog will follow.

Fixation and obsession in dogs

While some people think that a dog may just be having a hell of a time when playing with a toy, a dog who is fixated or obsessed with something – like a toy or ball – is not stable or happy for that matter. This behaviour is not natural for dogs and is the result of frustration from excess energy. It is comparable to a human who is addicted to a drug and it can quickly become destructive.

Why is this? Owners have a habit of making toys a source of excitement and their sole source of exercise. We rev our dogs up around these things and so the dog only learns to be that way around the toy. We rarely practice being calm when in their presence. It’s typically the same when it comes to giving them treats and feeding time. Toys equal excitement. Food equals excitement. A dog has become conditioned to respond this way and suddenly we don’t like it. The issue worsens when we try to fix this by becoming frustrated and taking it away. Again the dog has not achieved balance around the token of obsession and now is even more frustrated because it has been taken away.

As the pack leader you want is to be the one to start and stop the excitement level, and never let it reach to a point of obsession.

It can actually be a fun and mentally stimulating game for your pet to present a toy or treat to them but practice keep the dog away instead. Do not let the dog have the item until it is in a calm state. Not just practicing a sit in front of it, but waiting all the way until the dog submits and is relaxed in it’s presence. This may take 20 or 30 minutes for some but will gradually become less and less over time. Don’t think that this is teasing the dog, what you are doing is teaching them patience and what it means to be balanced. This is also known as discipline. As the pack leader you want is to be the one to start and stop the excitement level, and never let it reach to a point of obsession. A dog who is obsessed or fixated is not in control of his energy so it is your role as guardian and pack leader to help him through it.

If you have an obsessive dog, contact me for help to achieve a calm dog around toys and food.