Welcome to part two of this three part blog series -Tools, rules and exercise! You can read part one here. Now that you have learned about tools lets talk about the rules!
Along with providing the correct tools for the dogs we train, we also start implementing rules.
Rules, we all have them, we all live by them. We may not like all rules but know that without them the world would be chaotic. Some people have rules for their dog but are not consistent, some have different rules from different family members or for different dogs and some have no rules at all. One rule that everyone agrees on is that the dog should only go to the bathroom outdoors. Again, without teaching a dog this rule, he will not understand how important it is.
Many people find it hard to establish rules for their dog. Some people feel that dogs are cute and should be able to enjoy life as they please. Some fail to put rules in place because they work hard all day and don’t want to deal with enforcing them when they get home. Others (especially if they have adopted a dog from a rescue or shelter) feel sorry for the dog and think establishing rules would be harmful. Some people view rules as punishment and think they are being mean if they make rules for Fido.
Whatever the reason for not establishing rules, the fact is, without establishing rules, you are harming rather than helping your dog.
We all give rules to children. Children need rules to help understand how to behave, to keep them safe and to help them establish impulse control. We have all known some children that were raised with very little rules and generally, they are very difficult to deal with. Dogs are no different. Dogs need rules to become stable. There are rules in nature. Dog packs have rules that all pack members understand and abide by, this is what keeps the pack safe and healthy. Dogs learn from their elders when to eat, when and to whom they can breed, when to stay at the den, when to leave the den, when to travel,where to find food, what constitutes food and who or who not they can take food from. From birth the mother dog teaches bite inhibition. Bite inhibition is the degree in which a dog learns to use the full force of their mouths on humans or other dogs. Puppies taken too soon from the litter, before they learn this, can have a lack of bite inhibition. If a puppy bites too hard during play, the mother will growl, bite or walk away ending the play. The puppy learns to continue play, he must control his bite, those are the rules.
After observing dogs for 23 years professionally, and over 40 years with my own dogs we have watched dogs establish rules with each other on a daily basis. A dog will let other dogs know when they can take a resource from them, either by allowing them to take it or not allowing it with a look, low growl or bared teeth. If a dog is overly excited, all the others growl, bite and may attack him until he learns the rules. That is why, at dog daycare centers, it is imperative to set rules and control all of the interactions, especially when the pack structure changes on a daily basis. Rules have to be established or chaos will ensue.
A main cause of behavioral problems is due to lack of rules in the home which contributes to a dog with no impulse control. Research on the subject defines impulsive actions as ‘poorly conceived, prematurely expressed, unduly risky or inappropriate to the situation’ (Evenden, 1999).
Dogs with no impulse control will exhibit behaviors such as jumping on the furniture (without being asked), jumping on people, barking, door bolting, leash pulling, resource guarding, begging, and generally acting out of control or exhibiting “pushy” behaviors.
Rules are important in establishing leadership. A dog looks to a leader for guidance. Very few dogs are born leaders. When a dog senses no leadership, he may assume the leadership role. If a dog was not a born leader, this could result in aggressive, anxious or nervous behavior.
Many people excuse their dogs behavior by saying “he is being an Alpha” or “He is Alpha” when in fact the behavior comes from no sense of leadership. He is just trying to assume the leadership roll. If there is no leader, it must be me, right?
A dog that senses a leadership presence can relax. A leader has the situation under control, no need to worry about every little sound, smell or site. If there is something to worry about, the leader will take care of it and will handle the situation. A dog with no leadership (which is established through rules) will not come when called, will not listen to commands and will not engage with the handler. They are always alert and may be aggressive, nervous or exhibit separation anxiety.
Many unwanted behaviors a dog offers are simply because he has not been given the rule book. Dogs do what works. If barking gets you to pick them up, they bark. If pushing through the door gets them outside, they push. If jumping on people gets attention, they jump. If begging at the table gets food, they beg. If pawing at you gets them petted, they paw. By putting rules in place, you can eliminate all of these unwanted behaviors.
Many unwanted behaviors continue because rules are put in place but change on a daily basis or different family members have different rules for Fido. You cannot discourage jumping if one day you allow it by giving attention and the next day you discourage it. You cannot keep Fido from begging if you feed him from the table one day but not others. You cannot keep your dog from pulling on leash if one day you work on leash walking and the next day you allow him to get what he wants by pulling.
Rules must be consistent to work. If rules are not consistent, the dog will always continue the behavior because occasionally it works! Dogs do what works. The same rules need to apply to all dogs in the household. Dogs engage in Allelomemetic behavior which means they copy others in their environment. You cannot expect one dog to stay off the sofa if another is allowed on it. The rules that are good for one, are good for all.
Rules come in the form of daily activities and through obedience. You can read about the importance of obedience in our blog post here. Obedience teaches desired behaviors and helps to enforce rules if your dog understands basic commands.
The first thing you need to do is decide what rules you want to establish. If you don’t know the rules, your dog never will. Having no rules by the way, is not a rule. When establishing rules it is important that the whole family be involved not only in knowing the rules but also enforcing them. Make a list, go over it with everyone and be consistent.
Remember, dogs do what works so part of teaching a dog what the rules are is as simple as rewarding the desired behaviors rather than the unwanted ones. If pushing, pulling, barking, jumping and pawing all get Fido what he wants, he will continue to engage in those behaviors. On the other hand, if sitting, lying down or calm behavior get the desired outcome, he will engage in those behaviors. Dogs learn quickly what behaviors work. You are creating impulse control by encouraging the dog to think about the behavior that gets the reward rather than acting on impulse.
Providing rules also means controlling resources. All the resources the dog wants are yours, you control them. You would not allow a person to come into your home, yell at you, jump on your furniture, sleep next to you in bed, raid the refrigerator and destroy your things, yet people let dogs do it every day. If the dog wants to get on the furniture, it does, If it wants to sleep in the bed, he is in it before you are, if he wants to play, he brings you a toy and you throw it, if he wants to eat, he barks and you feed him.
Establishing rules and leadership means your dog has to wait until you invite him on the furniture or in the bed. He has to sit or lie calmly before he gets fed or goes out the door, Play starts and stops when YOU decide.
Sometimes you need tools to help with a dog that previously had no rules and has very little impulse control. You may need a leash to help guide a dog off the furniture or bed or to encourage sitting politely at the door. You may need to use a kennel when you are busy and unable to supervise your dog and enforce rules. If Fido is in his kennel, he cannot engage in the unwanted behavior as before. Dogs that have been out of control for some time will continue to engage in that behavior until they learn the new rules.
It is important to start rewarding the desired behavior as soon as a dog offers it. For instance, if you give Fido a reward every time he lies on his bed, he will lie on his bed more often than on the sofa. If he is jumping up and down when you put on the leash or open the door, wait until he stops jumping or until he sits. He will eventually stop, be patient. If he paws or barks at you at feeding time, ignore that behavior and only feed or play with him when he is lying down or sitting calmly. In this way, you are re-shaping his behavior and teaching him what behaviors are desired (work) and which are unwanted (don’t work).
Many people have told us how good our dogs behave. We are dog trainers I know, the reason dog trainers have good dogs is not because they know what to do but because they do what they know! We have had dogs from breeders, dogs from the street and dogs from rescue organizations, all different breeds, different sizes and with different temperaments. The only thing they have in common are our rules, which apply to all of them and never change. Our rules make good dogs.
The longer your dog engages in new behaviors, he will start offering them quicker and will hold them longer without any prompting from you. He will wait to be asked on the bed, he will lay on his bed while you are eating, he will sit politely at the door, he will stop jumping on people. He will be more calm and more relaxed, He has learned the rules!
Rules are important, rules are needed in our world and especially in our dogs world. Dogs need rules not only so they will be mannerly but also so they can feel safe and secure. So the next time you think of rules, instead of thinking punishment think what a great gift to give someone – security and peace of mind, that is the power of rules.
Now that you have your rules established, take a walk over to part 3 – Exercise
Cindy Quigley is a Canine life cycle coach. She is the owner of Supermutts.com and author of Puppy Montessori. She has 23 years’ experience professionally working with dogs. She has worked in grooming shops, boarding facilities and veterinary hospitals, all of which taught her how to read canine body language and understand dog handling. As boarding and daycare facility owners together with her husband Kenneth she has cared for thousands of dogs and has thousands of hours observing, studying and modifying canine behavior.