Behavior: Dog Discipline

One day, probably soon, your dog will do something wrong. He might steal your T-bone steak off the kitchen counter. He might leave a little present in your closet. What do you do? Don't lose your temper.

The best solution to many dog problems is something you might not expect -- exercise! Physical and mental exercise can help to release “toxic energy”, extra energy that causes a dog to get into trouble. Bored dogs who have not been exercised can store up lots of this “toxic energy!” Make sure your dog has plenty of exercise every day.

In addition to exercise, you can often use prevention. Preventive steps can make all the difference dog discipline. For instance, take him outside for a potty many more times than you think he could possibly need until he develops some control. Never tempt him with a steak left within his reach. Don't leave your closet ajar. If he never gets the idea, he won't do the terrible deed and make you miserable. Or you can use substitute behaviors, such as training your dog to sit when company comes in the door as a way to prevent jumping up. But sometimes he WILL make a mistake, and he needs to learn what’s right and what’s wrong. So if you cannot prevent the error, you will need to discipline him appropriately.

Stage 1: Verbal Correction

Try to catch your dog while he's still merely thinking about doing something wrong. From the start, discourage his potential trespasses as though you were a mother dog. Issue a low growl, or "No," with the warning message, "Don't you dare. Don't even think about it!" He'll probably reconsider. Be sure to give him verbal praise when he responds correctly.

The next best way to correct him is to catch him in the act. If puppies make a housebreaking mistake during the first week in the new home, don't scold. Just take the offender outside and praise him when he does his business in the right place. For older puppies, a good sharp scolding is in order when they make a mistake, whatever that mistake was. Surprise the pup immediately so he's taken aback and links the reprimand to his action. If you don’t actually catch him in the act, don’t bother trying to correct him. He has forgotten all about it! Just clean up well and learn from this mistake so you don't allow the situation to repeat itself unless you are there to warn him.

Scolding after the act is virtually useless, but we sometimes slip up and do it anyway, because it makes us feel better. The dog, however, rarely makes the connection between the punishment now and the great fun then.

Link the negative behavior immediately to negative consequences. Here’s an example:

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Stage 2: Environmental Correction / The Set-Up

Environmental corrections can bring miraculous results. To the dog, it feels like someone's watching him all the time, so he'd better behave. It's a great way to train him and instill dog discipline, as long as he doesn't become skittish because of the technique, so proceed within reason. Environmental set-ups work particularly well against mischief. Many dogs are smart enough to figure out that they can get away with things when you're not home. But, luckily, dogs are predictable they do what feels good and stop doing what doesn't feel good. So you can set up a situation where the environment makes the dog feel lousy.

Here are some examples of successful set-ups suggested by professional trainers for certain misbehaving pooches:

One dog got his kicks rummaging through the bathroom garbage and strewing the shredded contents everywhere, especially when his owner wasn't home. The owner cured him of this nasty habit by sprinkling a little hot pepper in the first few layers of miscellaneous tissues and papers in that garbage can and then left for work as usual. It took the dog exactly one experience with the peppered garbage to cure him for good.

A dog that liked to steal things off the kitchen table never did it again after his owner put a piece of linoleum on the table. About half of it hung over the edge. Then he put tin cans containing some pennies or pebbles and several other miscellaneous noisy but harmless items on the linoleum so that when the dog jumped up, the whole pile came tumbling down on him. That surprised dog did not risk another jump.

Set-ups are powerful medicine and can be very frightening, especially to submissive dogs. We highly recommend that if you are having a problem with your dog, you ask a professional trainer to evaluate your dog's personality and suggest the right type of set-up to use. Be sure that no real harm comes to the dog.

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Stage 3: Physical Correction

We highly recommend that, except for collar corrections, you use physical corrections only with the guidance of a professional trainer. Physical corrections must be done properly to work, and even then, they aren't effective on all dogs. Some dogs only return violence with more violence. And for some dogs, physical correction is terribly frightening and can damage their confidence.

Don't ever hit your dog, not even with a rolled up newspaper. It does absolutely no good whatsoever to push his face into a pile of poop. The only thing that can accomplish is to make him a poop eater.

Collar corrections

For many dogs older than four months, you can use a chain or pinch correction collar as a dog discipline tool. (For Toy or small breeds, the Martingale-style collar, which is part chain and part leather, may be a healthier choice.) The collar correction is handy for problems around the house or when you're out for walks whenever you can be there personally. An important warning: Never leave a correction collar on an unattended dog! He could choke and even kill himself (many have done so)!

Collar corrections consist of a quick, snapping pull, followed by an immediate release. Dragging on a correction collar can cause the dog to become immune to its effects. Constant pulling can even damage his throat. If you don't already know how, see a professional trainer to learn successful collar correction technique.

Other forms of physical correction

Most dog trainers use several forms of physical correction as needed. These may include scruff shakes, alpha rolls and taps on the chest or under the chin. Some use throw chains, shaker cans and squirt guns. Consult a professional trainer to learn how, when, and if you should use these corrections on your dog.

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Summary

Many dogs need physical correction at some point in their lives, especially during adolescence when they tend to challenge authority. However, inappropriate use of physical correction can trigger dog aggression or create a fearful animal. Use verbal correction whenever possible, but learn some physical correction techniques appropriate to your dog just in case you need them.

Read more about Dog Training.

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Recommended Reading

Evans, Job Michael. People, Pooches & Problems. Howell Book House, 1991.

Copyright (c) 2012 Telemark Productions and its licensors. All rights reserved.

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