Ever hear the saying “give an inch, take a mile”? I see people give their dogs little bits of slack here and there, that eventually lead to the most common, and avoidable, dog behavioral problems. Even I’m guilty of it, and it’s the reason why my dogs are “perfectly” trained even though I’m a dog trainer.
For instance, loose leash walking. Allowing your dog to pull you just once, is too many times. Your dog should never pull on leash and get away with it. Why? Because if you let them drag you to say hi to a friend, or drag you to the dog park, or drag you to sniff something, or my clients being dragged by their puppies into training class (which is why we work on loose leash walking into our dog training classes every time)….and you don’t correct it, you’re basically telling them: “I’m a totally, inconsistent flake so I invite you to pull me wherever your heart desires.” The very instant you feel tension on the leash you should immediately give a penalty yard (by backing up in the opposite direction- NOT turning around or popping the dogs collar) until the dog is back to the appropriate position, on a loose leash. Then try again, move forward and give plenty of praise for a loose leash.
I don’t know how many times I’ve counted how many times people ask their dogs to sit. One of the easiest tasks a dog can do is just to sit, right? And they should sit the first and only time you ask, yes? Ha. Most dogs I know have to be asked several times, which is quite the production. Often times ending with the frustrated owner just pushing the dog’s rear end down onto the ground….and worst of all, they praise the dog for doing that! People actually praise their dogs for ignoring them, all the time.
Why do we do this? Because humans are impatient, me especially. One of the biggest challenges for me to overcome when going through dog training academy was learning to be patient. If you ask the dog to sit, you give them 2-3 seconds (which is a long time) to actually follow through. It’s human nature to repeat ourselves quickly if the dog doesn’t respond right away, possibly we think they didn’t hear us or they didn’t understand. Try and fight the urge to repeat yourself giving a cue. If the dog doesn’t respond in 2-3 seconds, take a quick mental restart by just being silent and looking up and away from the dog. Then move position slightly, and try again in a clear and upbeat manner. If they still don’t respond to a cue, they probably don’t understand what we want them to do. Just because they can sit nicely at home doesn’t mean they will sit at the vet clinic.
Generalization is something dogs must learn. Sit means sit, regardless of whether they are at home, on top of an exam table or at a distance of 20 feet from their owner. That doesn’t necessarily come naturally to all dogs. Accommodate your dog’s need to generalize but remember to say things ONCE before trying again. If you repeat yourself, you’re giving them an inch every time. Inches add up to a mile quickly and you’ll be asking your dog to sit 17 times before they actually put their butt on the ground, and probably out of boredom, or confusion, or offering….not because they truly understand you.