When working with our dogs it’s important that we have engagement. What does this mean?
We must be the strongest motivator in their environment.
How is this achieved?
Through play, positive reinforcement, fun and positive energy.
What can I do to get my dog to engage or to improve the engagement I have?
Use food, use toys, all eye contact is rewarded with a primary reinforcer.
How often do I need to practice this?
Practice engagement whenever and wherever you are with your dog and they chose you.
This may all sound straight forward and generally it is if you start as you should with minimal distraction, where do you start?
At home, in the garden, on the drive, in the street, at distance from other dogs until your dog chooses you over all other distractions.
If you are disciplined with this exercise you dog’s focus will also lengthen.
Most people become frustrated with lack of progress in training because they do not have their dogs attention!
What should we do when making introductions?
Most people who love dogs, especially puppies will step into the puppies’ space and generally fondle and overpower them using a behaviour that from a dog’s perspective only shows an excited state of mind. This can lead the puppy to become fearful, overwhelmed or overly excited and consequently teaches the pup that this is the type of behaviour that is appropriate when greeting people. To react by jumping up, being pushy or to avoid them altogether. All of these reactions from a dog’s point of view are instinctual when faced with a display of excited energy and then of course become habitual for them, which we all too often see. A revered dog would not offer lower ranked siblings or piers affection on greeting but would withhold, as this shows their underlings that he or she is in control. This is why many people have problems with dogs jumping all over their family and friends when invited into their homes etc. People often see this behaviour as endearing while their dog is still in puppyhood but it soon becomes an annoyance when the puppy has grown large or ladders tights or scratches your legs and leaves muddy footprints all over your best clothes. On the other hand, something which is as equally frustrating is a dog that stays well away from new people because it is unsure or fearful both these undesired responses can be completely avoided if you understand what canine etiquette is and how to implement it correctly.
1. When people want to approach I advise no eye contact, no touching and no talking to the dog at all, especially while the dog is sniffing them. This allows the canine time to acclimatise and become comfortable around new or visiting people. 2. Most people think that when the dog is sniffing, it is an invitation for them to be touched but the message from the dog, at this point, is the opposite. “Let me work out who you are and can I trust you or can I dominate you?” is what this dog is thinking right now! 3. While the dog is working out who you are and what your intentions may be it is best for people not to give physical or verbal interactions at all. Only when the dog shows calm submission, by being relaxed and comfortable in this person’s company should the visitor or person INVITE the dog into their space for introductions to take place and when this happens the dogs’ demeanour must remain calm or introductions will withdraw at that point until the dog becomes calm again. This concept is hard for people to grasp but I feel it is very, very important for a dog to learn respect when it is around people or when visitors come into your home. So please encourage guests to allow the dog to use its primal instincts of introduction which will allow the dog to become comfortable in their company and in turn, them in your dogs company! 4. The correct behaviour for someone to use when being greeted by a dog which is overly excited is to ignore the dog until it, and the atmosphere, has become calm. If the dog jumps at you block the dog calmly using your hand and stand your ground. Do not give up your space to the dog which would allow it to control you. This dog’s behaviour is disrespectful but it is the owners who have allowed this to become a ritual for their dog. Only when this behaviour has stopped should you then instigate contact by perhaps then calling the dog over to you. By you only rewarding the correct state of mind in this dog, does this then encourage the dog to exhibit calm behaviours in these circumstances? Demand respect from a dog by showing good leadership qualities. Dogs work out very quickly who is a weak link and who they can easily manipulate! So when a dog chooses to sit near to you, ask yourself why? Is it because you are a strong and desirable teacher and someone the dog can rely on for protection, safety and its wellbeing or is it because the dog knows it can easily manipulate you, keeping or adding you as its follower? 5. All your visitors or people who want the privilege being allowed to stroke your puppy/dog must be encouraged by you to not touch them, talk to them or give them eye contact when introductions of any kind initially occur. This then gives the dog time to calm down and see that your guests intimate space is to be respected. 6. Be consistent and start as you mean to go on. It makes life so much easier in the long run for all concerned. 7. If you are having problems - call me.