You come home from a long day at work only to find that Fido has turned your new pair of Prada heels into confetti. Immediately your body stiffens as you gently pick up one of the damaged shoes to inspect the carnage. Definitely not salvageable. Your anger and frustration boil over and you turn to poor Fido. Out of self-preservation, he attempts to slink from the room with his belly mere inches from the floor. In a low, warning voice, you articulate carefully a ‘Fido, come here’. Slowly he slinks over to you, rolls onto his back at your feet and gives you the big brown eyes with the unmistakable ‘don’t beat me’ look. You melt, pet him on the head and, in a soft voice, say ‘okay, you know you did something wrong so I won’t banish you to your crate this time but don’t do it again or it’s off to the shelter with you!’ Fido, the ever faithful companion, eagerly wags his tail and gives you his best ‘I know, I’m sorry’. You are both happy and go about your evening thinking you have done everything right to correct the problem.
At least until tomorrow when the Louis Vitton bag you bought to salve the loss of the shoes becomes his entertainment for the day.
So what went wrong?
Dogs react to our body language and tone of voice so when you stiffened, he knew something was bad but rarely would a dog put two and two together to come up with chewing the shoe as the cause of the change in mood. Their ability to associate the two incidents is limited so his reaction was in direct response to your behavior, not to the shoe-chewing incident. To add insult to injury for poor Prada, how fast you capitulated to his submissive behavior only reinforced in his mind that how he reacted to your anger was correct and all is now well in his doggy mind.
The correct response to his chewing of the shoes would be to learn that when you are unable to monitor his behavior, do not to leave things around that you would rather see in one piece and that he might find a desirable diversion to boredom.
Dogs learn best from being ‘caught in the act’ and gently disciplined at that moment. Even better is to catch them before they actually misbehave and derail the thought process before it becomes an action quickly and easily helps teach him right from wrong.
‘Leave it!’ is an excellent command and works well for stopping his thought process in mid-sentence. It also means using ‘No!’ for more important situations like ‘No! Don’t run into the road!’ or ‘No! Stop humping Grandma’s leg!’
Start the training with something yummy in the palm of your hand. Let him smell it and as he goes to try to get it, close your hand covering the treat and say ‘Leave it!’. If he backs away, immediately give him the treat with lot’s of praise. If he doesn’t back away, do not allow him to take the treat. As soon as he realizes he is not getting the treat and gives up, give him the treat and again, lot’s of praise. Keep doing this until he catches on. Next try him with the food in the palm of your hand again and as he goes to smell or grab it, say ‘Leave it!’. He should immediately back away, and if does, give him the treat. If he does not back away, close the hand and start all over again. You can also try this with a piece of food on the floor with your foot hovering near by in case he goes for the treat before you release him from the ‘Leave it!’ command with an ‘okay’ or ‘break’.
Now scale up the reward with a bigger treat or a toy and continue until he immediately stops whatever he was thinking of doing.
As an example, image you are walking down the road with him on lead and a cat crosses in front of you both. Normally he would react by pulling you down the street in a feudal attempt at chasing the cat. Thankfully, you have him on lead so before he even begins to think about reacting to the cat, you give him a sharp ‘No!’ and a mild correction on the leash. Before his brain even registers the word ‘chase’, you have brought him out of prey mode by telling him what the appropriate action actually is to seeing a cat. In an ideal world, he would react by looking away from the cat and you two would continue on your enjoyable, non-cat chasing way. In reality, it may take a while to retrain him with this appropriate behavior but well worth the effort in the end.
In the house, set up situations where it is easy to catch him ‘thinking’ of doing something bad and stop it in its path. Is he eyeballing your dinner? Tell him ‘Leave it!’ and when he looks away (should be his natural reaction), tell him ‘good boy!’
Back to how to discipline a dog. Discipline without teaching him the correct or appropriate behavior does not work. With a child, if you always said ‘no’ but never told them when they were doing something right or what was the correct behavior, you would end up with a depressed child unsure of their actions. It is the same with dogs.
Say you catch Fido chewing on the Pradas again. Give him a ‘leave it’ which he now knows is to stop whatever he is doing and then reward him by giving him something he can chew like his own toy or a chew (has to be a good one for this exercise to work well). When he grabs it, give him a ‘yes! good boy!’ and a pat on the head. It might take a few times but eventually he will learn ‘Pradas bad, chew toy good!’
If you are not able to monitor his behavior, when you are at work for example, crate training him will keep him out of trouble. Making sure there are lot’s of his toys around when his loose in the house is important as well as making sure your shoes are all picked up.
How to discipline a dog? The best way is to teach him right from wrong in a gentle and understanding way. Never should a dog be hit, smacked, yelled at or frightened into behaving the way you want because first off, it is just wrong and second, it does not work. He is not actually learning anything besides to be scared of you next time he sees you stiffen and get angry.
Dogs are not mind readers (at least most aren’t). Consistent teaching with ample praise will show him the correct behaviors much faster and easier then only telling him what not to do. Think of the two of you as a team and keeping the Pradas safe and unchewed requires teamwork and camaraderie to succeed. Patience, consistency and a team effort will soon have him ignoring the high heels and the neighbor’s cat!