Be A Fair Enforcer! - By Glenda Herrin, ABC Mentor Trainer & Owner Of Heeling Hounds

Saturday, January 30, 2010 : 12:36:29 PM
Updated Friday, August 12, 2011 : 10:57:54 AM
Corrections and discipline can be enforced ONLY at the time of the “infraction”—we cannot correct a dog’s misbehavior after the fact, and we must be specific. Dogs live in the moment and do not understand why they would be yelled at or physically abused three hours after chewing up a shoe, since they do not make the connection between the correction and the ruined shoe. It’s a myth that dogs experience the emotion of guilt—they don’t, according to a recent scientific study. Although a dog may look "guilty” when being yelled at, scolded, or punished, this is simply a reaction to us throwing a tantrum, and the canine body language you would see (head down, turning the nose away, blinking rapidly, yawning, licking lips, ears down, urinating) is their attempt to send us “calming signals” to do just that—calm down. If you were to walk up to your dog at this very moment and begin scolding him out of the blue for nothing, he would have exactly the same physical reaction as if he were being scolded for something he did several minutes or hours before—it would make no sense and leave him confused, scared, and less ready to trust you (so don’t do it—it would be mean). When you do correct your dog, be specific about what behavior is being addressed. Here’s an example to illustrate why we have to be specific: I witnessed a friend’s large six-month-old Great Dane enjoying a swim in their pool, which was completely fine. A small child got into the pool, and the over-excited puppy paddled over to the child to play. The child began to panic, screamed, scared the dog, and the dog tried frantically to swim away from the screaming child, and ended up accidentally scratching her with his nails in the process. The dog’s owner came over, dragged “Hamlet” from the water, shouted, “Bad dog!!” and promptly sequestered him in another section of the yard without any further interaction. The dog at that point was left completely confused and wondering, “What exactly did I do wrong? Jump INTO the pool? Get OUT of the pool? Swim towards the kid? Swim away from the kid? Fetch the ball in the pool?” The owner should have made sure to monitor the situation and remain with both the child and the dog in the pool until she was sure Hamlet comprehended the concept of being gentle and calm around the child.

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