Tips from Rick Alto, Certified Professional Trainer
As owners, we have the greatest impact over our dog’s behavior. Although breed and breed traits (e.g. herding), along with your dog’s temperament play large roles, YOU have the most influence on WHO your dog becomes.
The environment that YOU provide and the consistent leadership that you exhibit far outweigh the temperament and breed characteristics. Your dog may love to herd, but if you do not consistently allow your dog to herd the Grandchildren, your dog will learn that instinct, in that situation is not acceptable and the behavior will be extinguished.
YOU need to consistently stop, interrupt or correct behaviors that you do not want and reward, treat and praise behaviors that you want more of. It’s literally that simple, but very difficult to put into practice. In conditioning for dogs, it takes 30-45 days of consistency to change behavior and put a new behavior in its place. If your dog pulls on the leash on the way to the dog park, and you allow it, then you are rewarding bad behavior. Spend 10 minutes or so in the parking lot and on the sidewalk getting your dog to listen and not pull, BEFORE you reward them with a romp in the dog park. Practice at home, in your yard or on the street and become successful before coming to the dog park with the higher-level distractions. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day and this is a process wherein your dog needs to “crawl”, “walk” and then “run” with these new behaviors.
Once you enter the dog park, it is YOUR responsibility to watch your dog. We all know our dog’s likes and dislikes and if you see your dog about to make a mistake (e.g. playing too rough with a fearful dog and not taking cues from the other dog that it doesn’t like it), then it is YOUR job to catch him on his intent to make the mistake and stop it BEFORE it becomes a problem. The vast majority of negative dog-on-dog interactions can be stopped if you are watching your dog, are close to your dog and you stop or interrupt the unwanted behavior as soon as possible. The best way to break up a dogfight is to not allow it to happen in the first place and catching the dog on their intent.
If two dominant dogs (Aggressive Dominant / Offensive Threat) are in the same space and one doesn’t back down, then the situation can escalate very quickly. If you see the posturing, and stop (voice command or by walking through them claiming space) the dogs in this ritual, then a fight can be avoided.
YOU need to be your dog’s benevolent leader. Dogs thrive on structure and consistent, benevolent leadership with appropriate feedback. Feedback wherein you are giving your dog clarity and giving them verbal soothing feedback for displaying desirable behavior and a sharp verbal correction (guttural “OUT”) when they are displaying undesirable behavior.
Your dog needs to both respect you and love you! You can have both; however, many of us only have the love part mastered. Benevolent leadership with rules, boundaries and limitations will get you respect to accompany the love you already have with your dog!