Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Using the "off" command with dogs

Liam sitting on the floor looking sad
"Why am I down here while you're up there?"
Liam is a little pug, standing just a few inches off the floor when he has all four paws on the ground. Like most little dogs, his first response on meeting new people is to take those front feet off of the floor so he can reach up a bit higher in order to touch the hands and fingers he loves to lick. It's an understandable response, but it's pretty far from acceptable. In fact, it's one of those traits that most people who do not have dogs hate about dogs.

It all sounds easy enough to correct, but the reality is that it is incredibly hard to keep a dog from doing something that has become an ingrained, habitual behavior. The dog thinks it's reasonable, so the dog has no reason to change. And, I find that behaviors a dog can do suddenly are harder to train away than behaviors that come with reliable advance signals. It's easy to stop him from barking, as the barks are usually accompanied by long looks and raised hackles. It's hard to stop Liam from popping up into a jump, as it has no reliable warning signs. He just does it.

Liam reliably knows the word "Off." This command means that he should resume a four-paws-on-the-floor position, and when I use the command, he's 100 percent compliant. But, when people come over, all of that training seems to fly right out the window. So, out comes the squirt gun and an ignored "Off" results in a squirt.

Training a dog not to jump is the responsibility of the owner, but there are some things that guests can do to help:
  1. Firstly, if Liam jumps, don't tell me that you don't mind. Even if you truly don't mind, the next person will. Training a dog out of a behavior means never, ever allowing the dog to engage in that behavior. Dogs don't understand conditions ("I can jump on her but not on him."). If I let him jump on you, he'll jump on everyone. This is exactly what I am trying to prevent. So, therefore, he isn't allowed to jump on you no matter what you say. It's sad, but it is true.
  2. Next, once Liam is on the floor, please pet him there. He needs a reward for being good, and a quick pat on the head is the best reward around. If you stand stock still and don't reward the good, he's likely to jump again.

Over the weekend, we had two series of guests, and Liam managed to do fairly well on both occasions. Some guests got an ankle misting, but there were no prolonged bouts of jumping. Here's hoping the next trials will go even better.