Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Training the Humans in Your Dog's Life

Over the years, I've written many times about how important it is to have a a village to help you out when you have a reactive dog (especially when dealing with kids, bikes, training challenges and other changes). Sometimes, though, the village also needs a little training to help make your dog successful. This month, our theme for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is Training the Humans, so we're going to share our top four tips for training humans while you train your dog.


Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Most of the humans in my pups' lives are people who are very familiar with dog training. They are trainers or classmates and they've been working with dogs long enough that they have a lot of knowledge. They are always willing to help without us even needing to ask for it. Keeping their dogs a safe distance from Barley? No problem. Circling the wagons around Barley when new people come in to watch class? You got it. 

In other situations, though, people don't instinctively know what to do to help your dog and the only way they can learn is if you tell them what you need. Rye has a bad habit of jumping up and trying to steal bags of treats out of people's hands when they are getting a treat out. If people hold the treat bags up high, Rye sees that as a challenge to jump higher to get to them. She was not interested in listening to me when other people had treats because she knew that she'd get one from them. I asked her friends' humans to never give her treats and all the sudden I had a lot more value in Rye's eyes because I was the only one she was getting food from. There are still moments when she tries to steal bags of treats from her friends' humans, but as soon as I call her, she's back at my side. Her friends' humans were more than happy to help me train my wild child.

Treats taste better when they're stolen.

Have Clear Rules
In Rye's obedience class, our trainers had us practice our responses to the question "Can I pet your dog?" every week. If our dog was ok with being pet, we were supposed to say some version of "Sure, but let me have her sit first." By making sure the dogs are sitting before someone approaches them, the dogs learn that they get all of the love by not jumping up on people. 

Rules are made to be followed.

Barley especially knows there are clear rules for everything. Going for a walk? You better sit to get your leash on. Opening the door? You better sit and not budge until you hear the word ok. Human meal time? If you have any hope of getting a bite, you better be laying down. Dog meal time? You better stay in a down and not think of taking a bite until you hear ok. Sitting? If your butt comes off the ground before you've been given the treat, you're not getting the treat until you're back in a sit.
If we stay here, we might get a french fry.

But you have to teach people those rules, too, and the more you practice communicating those rules, the easier it will be to get people to help reinforce your dog's training.

Choose Your Battles
When you have a lot of rules, it's hard enough to remember them all yourself sometimes, much less communicate them to other people. We have our set of non-negotiables: other people's dogs can't ever say hi to Barley, children who look under 10 never get to pet Barley, if the door opens and butts come off the ground before the dogs hear ok, the door closes until butts are on the ground again. Our non-negotiables are the ones that are essential for safety of the people interacting with my dogs or for my dogs. 

It doesn't matter if there's a squirrel out there. If the butt is off the ground before the word ok is heard, nobody's going out.

Then there are the other things that are more for just good manners. Our mail carrier loves the girls and always has treats for them. Sometimes she pulls the mail truck up alongside us while we're walking and leans out to get a treat. If the girls stay sitting to get their treat, she can't really reach them to hand out the treats--so Barley and Rye usually put their paws up on the steps into the mail truck to get their treats. If we see her out on the sidewalk, the girls bounce up and down like they've been eating jumping beans all days. The girls are so excited to see her that it can take a long time to get them settled down enough to stay in a sit to get their treats. Our mail carrier doesn't have all day, so I don't make the girls sit for their treats from her. There are some downsides--Barley thinks that every mail truck we see belongs to our mail carrier and she starts pulling towards them every time we see a mail truck, but it does give us a chance to work on reactions to distractions. Letting the mail carrier give the dogs a treat, brings her and the girls enough joy that it makes it worth bending the rules a bit. They still know they aren't getting a treat from me unless they are sitting calmly to get it.

You Can't Change People, You Can Only Change Yourself
Sometimes, people just need to be told the rules in order to help you train your dog and you can ask them to change their behavior, but you really can't change anyone except for yourself. I spent the first year of living in our house thinking that one day my neighbors would stop letting their dogs charge at the fence between our yards. Then one day I realized that was never going to happen and the only thing I could change was my own approach to the situation. While I couldn't convince them to train their dogs, I could change the way I trained my own dogs. We went back to basics and did on-leash training with sits, downs, stays, heeling and slowly decreased our distance from the fence. The girls got some much needed practice on staying focused on me and ignoring distractions. There's still plenty of work to be done, but I can usually get the girls to come away from the fence and stay with me if the other dogs come running now.

Ultimately, I can only control these two.

Training dogs is a lot easier when you have support from the other people your dogs interact with, but from my experience, as long as you stay consistent with your expectations for your dogs, the world doesn't end if other people bend the rules a little bit every now and then.

Be sure to check out our co-hosts for the Positive Pet Blog Hop, Wag 'N Woof Pets and Tenacious Little Terrier, as well as all of the other great blogs linking up with us this week! Our theme for this month's hop is Training the Humans, but we welcome any positive training posts.

14 comments:

  1. Yes, training support is awesome! I recently joined a local training group and everyone is very open about what they need for their dog and what should be done and what shouldn't be done. It's great because I know they're not going to let their dogs charge Mr. N or otherwise upset him while we're working on his reactivity.

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    1. That's so great that you've found such a supportive group. That makes a world of difference!

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  2. Training support is great when you can get it! I think I am lucky that I have so many supportive trainer friends. Now training my husband has been a life long struggle. He does okay and when he doesn't, I know that I can fix whatever he's messed up. I try not to stress but occasionally I see him do stuff that drives me nucking futs. :P Luckily the girls seem to figure out that we are two different humans and mom's rules are different than dad's.

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    1. My girls are really good about knowing that my rules are the ones they should follow, too ;) Once we were out walking and they always stop and sit when I have to pick up poop. Barley was with my dad and when Rye and I started moving, my dad started moving without saying "okay" to release Barley and she stayed put until I told her she could get up. I wasn't really going to enforce that rule while my dad had her, but it was nice to see her still following it anyway :)

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  3. We use other humans for training challenges, something we have to work through. Then there is the subject of training our Mom. She gets better with time, but she has a lot to learn still about understanding us.

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    1. I think you girls have done a pretty good job of training your mom ;)

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  4. You do have such good girls! Proud of all the work you have done with them!

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    1. They are lucky to have a helpful Aunt L, too!

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  5. You are so lucky to have so many supportive and helpful people in your life; but I think it was choices that you made for your dogs that brought them to you as well, so good job by you!
    I like that you are willing to relax the rules for certain situations. I don't make Cricket sit for treats any more because of her arthritis. It hasn't turned her into an out of control dog or anything; and Luke doesn't mind that he still has to sit!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

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    1. We definitely evaluate the situation and relax the rules if necessary--if we hear thunder or fireworks on a walk, I never make Barley sit and wait at the front door before she goes in. I'm glad Luke doesn't mind that he still has to follow the rules even if he sister gets a break ;)

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  6. I think all your rules are amazing and honestly it inspires me to do even more training with my guys. What I really like is your sentence about safety. That's what it comes down too --we do all of this for their safety so that everyone is set up for success.

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    1. Aw, thank you! Safety is definitely the key--if it doesn't interfere with that, I don't mind bending the rules a bit :)

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  7. This is a really great post with some reminders I really needed--especially that I can only change myself.

    I'm already thinking of new cues to replace the ones my husband has poisoned by misusing.

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    1. That's the one that has taken me the longest to embrace, too! It's nice that our dogs are so willing to go along with us when we have to give them new cues :)

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