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How to Get Your Dog to Do What You Want




Excerpted from
How to Get Your Dog to Do What You Want: A Loving Approach to Unleashing Your Dog's Astonishing Potential
By Warren Eckstein, Andrea Eckstein

What You Put In Is What You Get Out

As far as I'm concerned, a dog is a product of what's put into him. Two factors determine the personality, intelligence, and overall disposition of our canine companions: breeding - whether the parents were genetically well-suited to produce strong, healthy offspring (in the case of the randomly bred stray "generic" dog, whether the odds were in his favor), so that he was born physically sound, without inbreeding faults or any other genetic disorders - and environment - what the owner does or does not do with that dog. In other words, you play a tremendous role in influencing your dog s personality, intelligence, and disposition!

A Dog's Self-Image

Dogs, just like people, have a strange way of living up - or down - to the image you project for them. Give them high expectations concerning their own abilities, and they'll reach for the stars trying to achieve them and please you. Downgrade their abilities by constantly telling them how displeased you are with their behavior, and you'll rip apart their self-esteem, making it impossible for them to believe in you and, most of all, in themselves.

Fido needs a good self-image if he's to attain the goals you set for him. I'm obviously not talking about graduating summa cum laude from Harvard or becoming the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but I am talking about Fido attaining certain goals of good behavior - being socially well adjusted and blending well into your family unit, while also maintaining his own identity and psychological well-being. We take this for granted when everything is right with Fido. It's the sort of thing you don't think about until it's not there.

It's easy to tamper with how Fido feels about himself. There are three common ways. The first is a sin of omission - it often takes place without you even realizing it.

Ripping Apart Fido's Self-Image - What Not To Do #1

By doing nothing, by ignoring your pet, by not interacting with him on a regular basis, you can do great damage. It is simply not enough just to feed and walk your dog, then treat him like a piece of furniture the rest of the time.

Yes, I know you lead busy lives and your time may be very limited, but dogs have a real need to have their egos stroked, to be told they're good, to understand how much they're loved. They need image- and confidence-building as much as we do. And they need a certain amount of self-esteem in order to behave well. They need to develop inner strength if they are to try something new or to learn to trust in you.

Ripping Apart Fido's Self-Image - What Not To Do #2

Bad-mouthing Fido and spreading gossip about him is the second way you can rip apart Fido's self-esteem and destroy his self-confidence, thereby creating psychological problems where they never before existed. Dogs are very astute and can sense a lot of what's going on around them. Many are so clever that they can even tell when you're speaking of them in unflattering terms to other people. They'll hang their heads in shame and drop their tails between their legs while you discuss their mistakes with the neighbors. I've often said, if you can't say something nice about your dog, don't say anything at all. Believe me, they know! Some dogs get embarrassed. Watch their faces and you'll see exactly what they're picking up. They know what's going on!

I once had a client who did nothing but complain about his dog. "Darn dog hair all over the place, darn walks on the coldest mornings of the winter, darn hard-to-open cans of dog food, darn this, darn that, darn dog." It was a bad situation, to say the least. The client was stressed out, with a lot of problems - trouble on the job, trouble with his ex-wife, trouble paying child support. Although I could certainly sympathize with him, I've never felt compassionate toward people who take out their problems on their pets, even though too many owners do exactly that.

This dog was so used to being scolded and verbally abused that every time she saw her owner coming, her behavior, due to sheer fear, took a turn for the worse. Pepper didn't mean to knock over the Parsons table and everything on it as she scrambled out of the way, but she couldn't help trying to escape as fast as possible when she saw her owner. Then Pepper piddled on the living room rug out of sheer nervousness. Later that evening after waking from her nap, she also didn't mean to stay, frozen with fear, in her owner's favorite easy chair. Pepper knew he wanted to sit in it, but her frightened, sleepy brain couldn't figure out what to do except sit there and growl as he tried to swat her out of the chair. That's when I was called in.

You see, what happened was that these two had set up a Catch-22. My client's berating behavior triggered Pepper's incorrect conduct, and her poor responses caused my client to react in an even worse fashion. His growing dislike of Pepper was crystal clear to her, and the ongoing battle actually affected her psychological balance. This was compounded by the fact that both Pepper and her owner had recently experienced the emotional upheaval of the divorce. Pepper in particular missed her human Mom and brothers and sisters. She became increasingly skittish and unhappy. The more they went at it, the more out of control things became. Pepper became so accustomed to hearing "bad dog, stupid dog, darn dog!" that she believed it. Everything she did seemed wrong, so as a result she did nothing right. The owner kept yelling and Pepper became submissive, then defensive, then slowly aggressive as she could take no more.

Was Pepper a bad dog? No, but she was caught up in a bad situation. I am a firm believer that stress can be transmitted from one end of the leash to the other. Yes, Pepper's owner was stressed out, but the fact remained that no one was nurturing Pepper or helping her develop a good self-image. Was Pepper in fact a good dog, a pretty dog, a nice dog? Yes she was - but nobody bothered to tell her so.

Ripping Apart Fido's Self-1 Mage - What Not To Do #3

The most common way of undermining Fido's self-esteem occurs when dog owners get flooded with advice from well-intentioned friends, neighbors, and relatives, telling them to correct the dog for everything he does wrong. So these owners scold, yell, hit, step on back paws, knee, force Fido onto his back in a submissive position, squirt water pistols in his face, put hot sauce on his tongue, or stick his nose in his mess.

Dwell on the negatives long and often enough and you will actually help your dog develop a negative behavioral pattern whereby he gets so much attention for doing something wrong and, by comparison, so little attention for doing something right that he figures he might as well act badly. At least then he gets some attention, even though it's negative. Kids, you may know, sometimes do exactly the same thing.

For many dogs, "no" is the first word they hear in the morning when they're demanding a feeding or a walk from owners who arc stumbling to the coffee pot with half-open eyes. "No" is also the last word they hear at night when they try to curl up on the bed with their owners. A lot of dogs constantly hear the word "no" for a variety of indiscretions, and it's this barrage of "no, no, no!" that undermines their self-esteem.

It's easy to ruin a dog's confidence this way. Most undermining is a result of old-fashioned thinking that Fido should always be corrected. He hears "no" for jumping on the company, "no" for eating the sandwich his owners left out on the kitchen table, "no" for helping navigate the car, and "no" for acting as a furry alarm clock at three a.m. I've been in many homes where I've said the word "no" and the family dog came running. These dogs have heard "no" so often, they think No is their name!

Educating our canine comrades should be a pleasurable experience, not a horror story. Of course, dogs will sometimes do the wrong things, but that's how they learn - that's how we all learn. It's inevitable that they'll soil the best carpet in the house (they seem to have an uncanny way of knowing just which one is the most expensive). And Fido may conduct his own taste test on your Gucci shoes or wooden bannister. But they can only learn what you want them to do by experimenting. How many of us as kids learned that the stove was hot only after we touched it? When it burned our fingers, we wanted a little comfort from our moms, not to get smacked in the face for touching it - our pride and fingers hurt enough already. And so it is with a dog's pride when he sees he's upset the people that love him most.

Remember, no matter whether they are huge Saint Bernards or tiny dachshunds, dogs are sensitive, emotional creatures with confidence that can be eroded, and they're fully capable of being embarrassed by their behavior - and the behavior of their owners.

The "No" Syndrome

It's time to forget about the old-style mentality of raising Fido. Right now I can hear a lot of you saying that this "no, no, no!" syndrome could never happen to you. You would never be that constantly corrective when your wonderful, adorable dog makes a mistake. Well, you might be right, but a lot of owners still undermine their dog's self-esteem and pride to a lesser degree. This type of erosion, when compounded over a period of years, can have drastic results.

Think about this for a moment. What would you do if your dog chewed the armrest of your brand new leather chair, stole the filet mignon off your kitchen counter just before your guests arrived, and had an accident on the Oriental rug?

Regarding the first situation, I bet you'd bring him over to the chair, show him what he did wrong, and give him a smack. Even if it's not a hard smack, I bet over 50 percent of everyone reading this would give the dog at least a little swat. In the second situation, I bet you'd bring him over to the counter area, tell him "no," and give him a little swat. If you discovered the filet mignon was missing right after you discovered the destroyed chair, I bet the swat would be harder than what you'd ordinarily care to admit to. And for number three, the accident on the Oriental rug, you would probably bring him over to the mess, ask "What did you do?" scold or hit him, and maybe even rub his nose in it. If the accident happened right after the discovery of the chewed chair and the missing mignon, I bet those swats would be harder still.

Now let's review the answers. I'll bet that without you realizing it, you're already a victim of the "no" syndrome of dog training and behavior. After all, patience has its boundaries and is not limitless. Well, it doesn't have to be this way. We can love our dogs into good behavior.

Building Fido's Self-Confidence - "Yes" Is the Way to Go

The easiest way to create a confident canine that behaves well is to spend more time focusing on the things the dog does right than correcting those he does wrong. Sure Fido gets plenty of corrections when he does number two where he's not supposed to - but do you spend the same or, better yet, more rime kissing, hugging, stroking, and loving him when he relieves himself in the right place or performs some other minor feat? I doubt it. Most people don't. At best there's a "good boy" and a pat on the head. But what happened to "Yeah! What a good fella!" followed by kisses, hugs, a belly scratch, a head rub, more kisses, extra hugs, and then, when you're done, repeating the whole process all over again?

Your neighbors might find your antics a bit strange, but why should that stop you? Your dog will be well behaved, while they're struggling along for months or years with homes reeking like bad pet shops and full of chewed furniture. You'll always have the last laugh. I've even had people tell me their kids got potty trained at the same time they were working with Fido because of all the praising and loving going on. Now that's a fringe benefit if ever I heard one!

You must present a clear picture for your dog of exactly what makes you happy. Dogs usually don't have an opportunity to see this as clearly as we think they do. We all know that pets are willing to please their owners - so when they don't, don't you think it might be that their owners just aren't getting their points across? We don't have to dominate our dogs with corrective techniques, we just have to go overboard on all the things our four-footed best friends do properly. Believe me, they do more good things than you probably realize, so we must take the time to constantly tell them how wonderful they are. We must love, kiss, hug, and touch them for every positive accomplishment. Dogs that feel good about themselves will behave better for you. If you build their confidence, they will respond in kind. They must have a good self-image. If they think they're a failure at life, then what's the sense of trying? Let them know how smart, intelligent, and well loved they are. They'll live up to your expectations.

And please don't reserve your positive thoughts and actions only for those times when Fido has done something right. It's okay to tell him how wonderful he is for no reason at all. Stroke his ego and help him build a positive self-image. Tell him what a good dog he is, even if he's done nothing at all. Praise him, tell him he's wonderful, and give him a hug and a kiss for no reason. And while you're at it, give him a hug and a kiss for me.

Does Fido Think?

I hope someone from up above will help me, because I know I'm going to get myself in a lot of hot water with what I'm about to say. One of the most heated debates between myself and many clinically trained behaviorists and psychologists is over whether dogs have the ability to think and make decisions. Many people who study animal behavior maintain that most animals don't think or make independent decisions. Instead they believe that Fido's responses are conditioned and in fact are ones we have helped create. Some say that the extent of Fido's response is to come running when he hears the refrigerator door open, since food almost always follows and we have conditioned him to this response. But you know what's so strange?

When I'm hungry and I hear my wife in the kitchen opening the refrigerator, I come running, too. Either I'm only as intelligent as my dog or my dog is as intelligent as I am in this regard - it depends on how you look at it. Some of these experts insist that only man is capable of putting one and one together and coming up with two, that only man can assess a situation and think out what his response should be. Well, both Tige and I have learned to put one and one together when we hear the refrigerator door open, and we both come running. Sometimes it's a race to the kitchen to see who can get there first. Tige usually beats me. He's learned to bolt past me with ease, while I slow down or risk falling flat on my derriere. That dog outsmarts me every time.

I believe that dogs are very capable of applying their minds in an array of situations. And the degree of their intelligence can vary from breed to breed and dog to dog - -just like people. Here's a case in point.

Years ago, when 1 was working with dogs in Europe, I witnessed an intelligence test given by some of the foremost trainers and behaviorists in the field. The test involved having various breeds of dog negotiate a high wall in order to get to the other side. Dog after dog jumped over the wall. Finally, it was the standard poodle's turn. The poodle stood there for a moment, as if to size up the obstacle in front of him. Then he casually walked around the wall and joined his fellow canine competitors on the other side of it. These so-called experts concluded that the poodle had failed the test - he hadn't possessed the intelligence to jump over it.

I, on the other hand, concluded that the poodle was the smartest of all the dogs tested. When confronted with this obstacle, he analyzed the situation and chose the easiest way of achieving the goal of getting to the other side of the wall - he simply walked around it! After all, it took a lot less exertion to walk around the obstacle than to jump over it! If that's not thinking, I don't know what is!



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