The young dog was jumping, mouthing hard, and bodyslamming. Reprimands made her behavior worse. How do you handle an out-of-control teen?
Second, a time-out should be delivered in a mild, calm, pleasant way. The lost opportunity to socialize is plenty of punishment for a sociable dog. Third, even time-outs are unfair if you don’t teach your dog what behavior you do want in place of the behavior you’re trying to get rid of. Xena’s people taught her what they wanted by giving attention and other rewards for quiet, polite behavior. Fourth, if your dog seems upset or frightened by a time-out, rather than just disappointed, then time-outs are too harsh for her. Time-outs are also inappropriate for dogs with separation anxiety. A good trainer can help you find an alternative.
Prescription #5: Offer Mental Exercise
Xena had developed her problem behaviors partly because she was bored. We had to tire her big brain. Prescription Number 5 was fun, reward-based training -- at least 2 sessions a day, each about 5 minutes long. Xena needed to learn manners, so we focused on those first: polite greetings, waiting for permission to go through doors, lying quietly on a comfortable bed while dinner was prepared. I also encouraged her guardians to teach her tricks -- this helped keep the training mood light. Anyway, with the right attitude, all training is tricks.
Xena’s guardians followed my prescriptions to a T – oh, if I could only figure out how to train all my clients to do that! Within a couple of weeks, her mouthing and jumping had nearly disappeared. Two years later, she’s a happy grown-up dog and the apple of my clients’ eye. Once in a while she jumps up on someone, or forgets herself and tries to play tug with a sweater sleeve. Nobody’s perfect, not even a dog.
Aggression, separation anxiety, and other complex problems call for expert help. And sometimes problems that look simple at first glance are anything but. However, if your dog’s doing something you don’t like, a great starting point is to think over what she gets out of the behavior, or what need it might meet. Often, the best response will be to find an alternative you can live with, and teach her that instead.
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