I love my friends. I love their dogs. I love caring for my friends' dogs. But when I read the story of a man who wanted his pet sitter to pay for the vet bills after his pooch attacked a smaller one, I felt like howling at the moon. Bad dog owner! BAD! If it's your dog, then it's your responsibility.
According to a follow-up story, this dumb cluck has since hired a trainer to work with his dog. Sure, it’s expensive, but it could have saved him $700 in vet bills -- so, probably worth it.
If you don't have the cash right now, though, you're in luck: I interviewed the best pet trainer I know. His name is Jeff Coltenback, a pit-bull rehabilitator and author of One Hour With Patrick -- which tells the story of Patrick the dog, a seemingly unsave-able “pibble” Jeff evaluated who was later brought back from the brink. If he can rewire dogs like Patrick, you can certainly break your mutt’s bad habits.
Here are Jeff’s five steps to a better dog:
1. Control your social interactions. When your dog sticks his nose adorably under your hand so you’ll pet him, he’s not being like your kids. He’s being like your boss. He’s saying, “Do what I say.” And when you submit to him, you’re saying, “Yes, master. I will do as you say.” Before you respond next time, don’t make eye contact, don’t pet him. Take a moment. And then pet him. This tiny step stops him from thinking he’s in charge.
2. Control the rewards. Treats, meals, and walks are all things your dog needs. And you’re the one who gives them to him. Remind him of this fact by making him earn every single reward. Before you leash him to walk him, make him sit. Before food, make him sit. If he’s already good at that, move on to another command: down, paw, etc. You have to remind him, at every turn, that you’re the one in charge.
3. Control the walk. You want that end-of-day stroll to be relaxing and enjoyable, but you actually have a job to do. If your dog chooses every turn on your route, he’s learning that he’s in charge, that he does not have to listen to you, that you take orders from him. You choose the route. Not in a mean way. Just tell him where you’re going. Make it a longer walk, too. Most people seriously underestimate their dog’s walking needs!
4. Be so consistent, it seems a little OCD. If he jumps on you, and you act like it’s okay, you’re rewarding that behavior. Every. Time. Whenever you’re inconsistent, you’re eroding your role as your dog’s leader. So stop being such a pushover. You don’t have to be mean -- you just have to be super-consistent with your message.
5. There’s no fast fix. Training your dog isn’t something you just do once. It’s ongoing. It takes time to develop, and it takes effort to maintain. The same way you have to keep working out your muscles to stay in shape, you have to keep working your dog-relationship’s muscles to stay in charge.
Jeff isn’t saying you have to be a jerk. Au contraire. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy more in love with his dogs and more apt to spoil them silly. What he understands is that if you’re the head of a pack, you have a responsibility to be balanced, to not overreact, to let your dog relax because you’ve got this. When you establish a pack relationship with your dog, you make everyone safer: the dog, your friends, and your wallet.
Have you rehabilitated an unruly dog? What worked for you?