Developing good behavior in our dog companions means teaching them in a way they can understand. In her book How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves, Dr. Sophia Yin says changing your dog’s behavior requires good timing, clear and consistent expectations, and the correct rate of reinforcement. These rules make you predictable, reliable, and trustworthy in your dog’s eyes—a true leader. There are many different approaches to dog training, so we interviewed Freya, a well-behaved German shepherd dog, and her owner, to find out how training worked for them.
Freya: My name is Freya and I’m a good dog, but I’m told that was not always the case. I was rescued as a terrified, skinny stray, and now have a comfortable home, with good food and a loving owner.
Freya’s owner: Freya has become a tremendous dog, but it took patience, repetition, and understanding. I thought she was stubborn and hard-headed, and I needed professional guidance to help her develop her full potential.
Encourage good dog house manners
Freya: After being alone on the streets, I LOVE living in a house, but I was nervous and confused, because I was always getting into trouble.
Freya’s owner: I was delighted that Freya did not require housetraining, but I had to contact the Palm City Animal Medical Center team for trainer recommendations right after I brought her home. Freya would not stop barking when someone visited or when she was in the backyard, and she constantly harassed my cat.
The trainer suggested I use positive reinforcement, rather than a strong command, when Freya was barking. Some dogs like toys or fetch as a reward, but Freya is extremely food- and praise-motivated. Guests would greet her with a treat while I praised her for being a good watchdog, and calmly told her “That’s enough.” Now, I only need to say “Thank you, that’s enough” for her to settle down. I also learned that most dogs bark for the first 15 minutes when left alone, so she has a frozen Kong filled with peanut butter to keep her occupied as I walk out the door.
The cat problem was resolved with a miraculous trainer tip. If Freya and the cat were interacting negatively, I tossed a can of coins toward them. From their perspective, the startling loud noise came out of nowhere, and they scattered. After only a few tosses, Freya and the cat learned to keep a respectful distance.
Consider relaxation aids for a nervous dog
Freya: Part of my problem is, like many rescue and shelter animals, I have bad memories of my previous life, and an underlying fear that it could happen again.
Freya’s owner: I took Freya for a consultation at Palm City Animal Medical Center, and after a complete history and physical exam, I received tips on reducing her anxiety level and a prescription to help her relax and focus on training. The suggested relaxation techniques and medication reduced her separation anxiety, and she was slowly weaned off the prescription as she became a more comfortable household member.
Participate in formal dog obedience training
Freya: I didn’t understand what a leash was, and thought I needed to pull to stay out in front. Attending an obedience class with other dogs was a bit scary, but fun—and I learned some human words!
Freya’s owner: Formal obedience training taught me how to work in partnership with Freya, rather than struggle with her. They suggested a type of head halter to provide better control during walks, and we practiced a training method where I took a few steps, stopped when she pulled, took a few steps, and stopped again if she pulled. This made her pay more attention to me, and she eventually noticed that we kept walking if she did not pull on the leash.
Freya loves doggie daycare at Sandy Paws Day Spa, but was leash reactive and barked at other dogs during our walks. I started distracting her with the promise of a treat when we saw another dog, and she was rewarded for not reacting. Freya now looks to me for a treat when she is on a leash and sees another dog.
I learned how to teach Freya “Come” with a 20-foot leash. I would say “Come, come” in a high and happy voice with a tug on the leash. If she was slow, I would tug again and keep repeating the command. She discovered that she got praise and delicious treats for responding, and now runs to me when she hears my happy voice.
Teaching Freya to “Sit,” “Stay,” “Down,” “Settle,” “Wait,” “Leave it,” and “Go to your place” was an enjoyable part of her obedience training. With positive reinforcement, she is an eager and enthusiastic student who loves to please.
The key to developing a rewarding partnership with your dog is learning the best way to communicate and understand one another. If you have training questions or behavioral problems with your four-legged friend, don’t hesitate to contact the Palm City Animal Medical Center team for a consultation.