If you could quickly and positively influence your dog’s behavior when they are caught in the act of chewing your slippers, or digging in the flower garden, or barking too much, wouldn’t you do it? To influence behavior is the act of power of producing an effect without apparent exertion or force or direct exercise of command, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary.
Dogs learn behaviors through continually practicing the same behavior over and over again. Dogs learn behaviors by watching other dogs and copying their actions. Dogs learn behaviors from the education they receive from their family. Dogs continue bad behaviors though lack of rules, guidance, boundaries and supervision.
Learned behaviors can be good or they can be bad, even ugly. Dealing with bad or ugly behaviors can be frustrating, a cause for desperation or the result of a dog ending up in a shelter, a new home or worse. What if you could influence your dog’s behavior without confrontation but through prevention, management, redirection and calm interaction.
Here are four ways to influence your dogs behavior in a gentle guidance.
Using a dog’s natural ability to learn by copying, set your dog up for repeating positive behaviors by using mirroring. Repeat the behaviors you want your dog to learn and they will mirror these teachings. Set them up for success in a very clear, concise and positive learning environment. Mirroring can start by teaching attentiveness. Attentiveness translates into eye contact without prompting. A truly attentive dogs willingly wants to follow. If a dog is attentive to their owner, they are less likely to be alerted to environmental distractions and will receive positive feedback to mimic, copy, mirror. The more a positive behavior is repeated, the stronger it becomes. Mirroring requires consistent implementation and expectation. Mirroring involves your dog looking to you for information. If you move right, they move right, left, they move left and so on.
An example of mirroring would be to walk backwards. As your dog follows you, use a tool called a clicker to mark the action of coming toward you or mark the action with a short word such as ‘yes!’. When your dog arrives in front of you, reward the behavior profusely with a motivating item such as food, toys, praise, petting or a game your dog loves. Making yourself rewarding means your dog will be influenced positively by your behavior and will mirror you and find you worth following and listening to.
Calm body language
How you carry yourself when communicating with your dog means the difference between influencing your dog’s behavior or having your dog ignore you. When training always use a motivating tone, alternate between calm tones for certain behaviors like sit, down and energizing tones for coming when called or teaching your dog to roll over. Say cues once and keep expectations positive. Stand straight, keep knees bent and hands at your sides unless giving a body language cue. Avoid erratic body cues or verbal cues. Confrontational body language like bending too much or demanding voice tones are confrontational and may not produce the behavior you were looking to achieve. If you have yelled at, stomped toward, grabbed, pulled, or disrespected your dog in the past, you have eroded their trust in you. Once trust is eroded it takes time to get it back, and starting with the way you present your body to your dog is a key element in influencing behavior vs. forcing behavior.
An example of calm body language is if someone calls their dog to them, and the dog races away in the opposite direction, the human response would be to chase the dog and confront them. Calm behavior would mean turning in the opposite direction and racing away from the dog. Dogs are social and this action will do two things to influence their thinking. First, the instinct will be to chase you in a fun game and second, they’ll want to stay near you and will run toward you eagerly thinking you were going to leave. Even though the dog did not come when you called them, you would reward them when they returned to you instead of punishing them for bad behavior. This calm body language will influence them to return to you instead of trying to stay away from you for fear of punishment.
Tellington Touch or Ttouch is a systematic, gentle way of influencing a dog’s behavior through bodywork, leading exercises and higher learning coursework. Ttouch was founded by Linda Tellington-Jones and is easy to learn.
As a Certified Tellington Touch Practitioner, it is a critical part of my trainer’s toolbox. It is often a new way for owner and dog to interact. Many bad behaviors have diminished or vanished altogether just by using Tellington Touch. Ttouch uses three systems, bodywork using a circular touch to influence behavior through a calming, methodical way to touch your dog. Leading exercises gently guide a dog with taking the pressure away from a dog’s neck and allowing the body to naturally balance through application of a harness, a head collar and two points of contact leash. This lead has two clasps on either end of the leash, instead of the traditional one point allowing one to easily influence body movements, head position and gently guiding the dog to create a team instead of a confrontational relationship. The third piece is higher learning coursework, a series of methodical obstacles to help a dog focus. A favorite book is Linda Tellington’s colorful guide ‘Getting in Ttouch with Your Dog: An Easy, Gentle Way to Better Health and Behavior.”
An example would be using Ttouch on a hyperactive dog, one whose respiration is on constant overdrive. Ttouch bodywork decreases respiration and allows the dog to feel calm using circular touch on ears. Leading properly allows the dog to stay in balance and experience calm teamwork, while higher learning coursework creates a teamwork atmosphere through cone weaves, going through labyrinths, over cavellettis and more. Behavior is influenced through focused activity and bodywork consisting of gentle touch.
Redirecting a dog’s behavior into more positive pursuits is the key to troubleshooting when a dog starts chewing items they shouldn’t have, like your slippers. A dog who has mentally stimulating toys and interactive activities with you is less likely to use your slippers to let out nervous energy. Present an item the dog loves, like a ball, a food treat, a Frisbee or a chew bone. Offer it to the dog gently or toss a handful of treats to the left and just far enough away that the dog has to get up to see what you threw. Then gently remove the item and give them an appropriate chew toy. Supervision of dogs is important so they do not get into trouble. Gently redirecting bad behavior and gently guiding the dog into appropriate behavior is part of dog ownership. Redirection teaches and doesn’t confront.
Chewing, over-barking and digging are all activities natural to a dog where gentle guidance and supervision can prevent and decrease these bad behaviors. There is no need to confront, but to simply substitute the bad behavior with another. Setting clear rules, guidelines and boundaries are key to avoiding bad behaviors and replacing them with good behaviors. Influence starts with gentle guidance through mirroring, calm body language, Ttouch and redirection of activity.