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How to discipline your dog

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Naughty dog

Events during this morning’s walk brought me to write this post.  And as you can tell from the title our walk this morning was … well … interesting!   Don’t get me wrong, Thai is lovely, gorgeous and a joy to be around.  Apart from this morning where I could have booked her back on the first flight to Thailand.  Don’t be fooled by the whole “butter wouldn’t melt look” on the photo.  Little terror!  Only kidding of course.  She’s still learning our language.  And we’re still learning hers!  

When things don't go as planned

It all started so well – Thai responds to her name when called during walks.  Her recall has improved so much compared to when we first had her (no doubt helped by small treats for positive reinforcement!).   We very nearly got to the end of the walk without any drama.  That is until she sniffed out a large bone.  Oh.. so close – lol! …  Goodness knows who on earth had disposed of it near the beach (just to reassure you it wasn’t a human bone!)  Before I knew it she had legged off with it, hopped over the sea-wall and had stretched herself out on the beach with her prize possession.  No amount of calling, shouting or waving around their treats (which up until that point she had loved .. traitor!!) would persuade her to give up the juicy bone.  Well, let’s face it:  juicy bone with meat versus peanut butter and apple biscuits .. not really a competition is it?!

Simba on the other hand decided to perform all the tricks in her repertoire, just in case she could get in on the action and get a treat.  Sit, paw, spin .. she was giving me all her moves while I’m frantically trying to persuade the other one to get back to our side of the sea-wall.   I must point out at this point that the other dog walkers are unable to see Thai because the sea-wall is raised from the path, keeping her well out of sight from anyone else.  All they can see is a mad woman with one dog frantically shouting at the sea.  

What do I do now?

In the end it took me a good 20 minutes of frustration and persuasion to get her to come back to me.   Eventually it resulted in me running in the opposite direction to get her to chase me – much to the amusement of the other dog walkers, and confusion of Simba who wondered where the heck we were going.. “We’ve just come from there..?”    Needless to say I was not happy at the time.  All is forgiven now of course.  We’re all back in the warmth and we’ve had a good laugh about it.   Not so funny when standing in the freezing cold shouting towards Kent!

How to punish your dog

Of course in the above scenario taking the bone was something that came naturally to Thai.  She had no idea that she was being naughty (apart from not listening to her name when being called!).  So telling her off when I finally got her back would make no sense to her ..  “I’ve come back to you .. I thought that’s what you wanted?  But now you’re shouting at me? .. I’m confused”.    So how should you punish your dog?   Should we punish at all, or merely “correct’ their behaviour? 

Don’t get physical

Goes without saying really, but don’t ever hit or kick your dog.  Getting physical with your dog will result your dog becoming stressed and fearful.  Ultimately this may result in aggression fear.  Besides, hitting your dog may leave them confused as to why they are being hit.   Ultimately this is counterproductive and is a no-no. 

Positive reinforcement 

We all do this automatically – the dog does something good, and they get a positive response.  Whether that’s a treat, or a “good boy” comment – you are adding something as a direct results of their behaviour.   Unfortunately it does mean that we inevitably give our dogs too much “positive reinforcement”.  We often give them treats or cuddles even when they have not actually done anything to deserve it.   This can lead to confusion for the dog who is getting rewarded for something they’ve not done.   Get them to do something before you give them a treat – “sit, paw, stay” etc. 

Negative punishment 

Taking something away they want.   For instance, taking away their bowl if they are displaying aggression.  No food?  No reason to be aggressive.   This works for us with the dogs’ food bowls.  If one does not finish their food within, say, 10 minutes of putting the food out, we remove the bowl.   If there is no food lying around, they can’t fight over it. 

Remove your attention 

Dogs are sociable and love to be the centre of attention. Turning your back or walking off (provided they can’t get in danger) will make them reconsider their actions.  Ultimately it was this (eventually) that resolve the situation this morning.   I walked off in the opposite direction, which forced Thai to make a decision between her bone, or me.  (At least I know I’m worth more to her than peanut and apple cookies!). 

Ignore their bad behaviour

Now, I’m not saying put up with it.   Work towards correcting their behaviour and replacing it with acceptable behaviour by training your dog.  However, don’t end up shouting at the dog because of something they are doing wrong.   Even negative attention is attention (a bit like having a child!), which will make them likely to continue it in the future.  

Exercise!

Depending on their bad behaviour, they may just be bored, or inactive.   Giving them regular walks will keep them stimulated.  Giving them mental stimulation by teaching them tricks is also a great way to keep them occupied.  

Ultimately all dogs are different and what works for one dog, may not work for another.   It also depends on the scenario and type of behaviour you are trying to address.  Whether you call it correcting or punishing, the ultimate aim is to reduce undesired behaviour.   

And if you’re really stuck, don’t hesitate to call in a dog behaviour specialist.   Your vet should be able to point you in the direction of someone with the required qualifications for some professional input! 

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