Top Three Dog Training Problems and Solutions

The top three  problems I deal with in my adult dog classes and puppy classes are very different. In my adult dog classes they are:

  • Jumping up to greet people
  • Pulling on the leash
  • Not coming when called

In my puppy classes they are:

  • Housebreaking (potty training)
  • Chewing
  • Crate training

There isn’t any overlap in these short lists which got me to thinking. Why? It boils down to this. The puppy problems do not generally persist into adulthood because we are very driven to resolve those particular problems quickly. We are especially diligent because living with a puppy who pees and poops anywhere they want, eats our furniture and keeps us awake all night is just not acceptable. They are very basic to living together comfortably.

And then we seem to let up a bit when we have gotten through those early stages. Unfortunately, the same sort of diligence,observation,persistence, patience, consistency and hard work are still required.

Most of the troublesome puppy issues are just related to their age and maturity,while the adult dog issues relate to practice. By this I mean, they have practiced these behaviors and they have somehow worked for them. Not so much for us.

So although this sounds a bit backwards I am going to start the series with adult problems as they make clear a few training principles that should be part of every dog owners arsenal. My plan is to show how nearly every dog behavior problem can be understood, and a plan laid, if you understand these three principles and apply them. It’s not foolproof but at the very least it usually is revealing.

Three Training Principals

  • Dogs do what works. If a behavior is being repeated then it is working — for them, some how, some way. It is not always apparent.
  • Practice makes perfect. If they are repeating an obnoxious behavior, then they are getting really good at it.
  • Train an incompatible behavior.

In this series we are going to look at how these principles relate to the common training issues starting with the adult dogs beginning with jumping up to greet.

In one of my adult classes the other day I was working with an adult lab and owner. As I approached the  dog jumped up to greet my chin with great force creating  a bruise roughly the size of  Texas. I chalked this up to GLS (Goofy Lab Syndrome) and went on with the exercise. But it highlighted to me what one of the main issues is for people bringing adult dogs to class.  Jumping up to greet people, especially when they first enter a home, is a huge issue and especially so with  the larger dogs. Being greeted with two St. Bernard paws on your shoulders is much more troublesome than being greeted with two chihuahua paws on your knees.
And it can be both dangerous and wreak havoc with family relations. Mothers-in-law enjoy being greeted enthusiastically by the bipedal grandchildren. Not so much by Fido when it consists of bounding up to her, then planting a wet one on her face and nearly knocking  her over.
So this brings us to adult dog problem #1 – Jumping up to greet people.So why do they do that? And why is this almost universal?

Let’s look back at those principals again.

Principal #1- Dogs do what work

Why do dogs jump up to greet us? Because it works! What are they trying to do when they jump on us? They are trying to get our attention. And do they succeed? You bet they do! Often in the way that the sixth grade class clown succeeded. Meaning they got attention (maybe even detention) but it was WORTH it.

Principal #2 – Practice Makes Perfect

How does it relate to Principal #2? Each and every time Fido jumps up and greets he is getting valuable practice at doing  just that. It is well on its way to becoming a habit.

Principal #3 – Train An Incompatible Behavior

Now for Principal #3. Obviously, the list of behaviors you could train your dog not to do is longer than the list of behaviors you will train your dog to do. Think about the endlessly creative ways they can get in trouble and you will see what I mean. Don’t get on the couch while I am watching TV, don’t lick my legs when I get out of the shower, don’t beg at the table. The list goes on and on. In all of these examples, if you had a good solid down/stay the problem would be solved. They cannot get on the couch, lick your legs, or beg at the table while in a down/stay out of the way.

Going back to those principals, you might think, “yeah, right, but how is this going to help me?”

Here is how. You now have a paradigm to use to look at and train unwanted behaviors. Here is how it works in general, and the beauty of this is that it applies to nearly every  unwanted behavior.

1. Dogs do what works. Then make  it not work for them. Ask yourself what are they getting out of it. It is not always obvious. For instance, what does a dog get out of straining at the leash and nearly choking themselves? They get to move forward and this is rewarding. Find out how a particular behavior is being rewarded.  And then prevent that from happening. If your dog jumps up on you, remove any attention you might give him. Turn around, fold your arms across your chest,don’t speak, look away, or just leave. Repeat again and again  until you see the very first sign of not jumping to greet, whatever that may be. And by the way, it might be very subtle. For instance after several repetitions if they pause slightly before leaping up, try to reward that behavior maybe by getting down and giving them some “face time.”

2. Be allowing your dog to persistently jump to greet people you are allowing them to practice bad behavior. And practice makes perfect so they are in the process of perfecting the fine art of jumping up to greet people.

3.Now what behavior would be incompatitble with jumping up? What do I mean by being incompatible? If they are doing A then they can’t be doing B. In the case of jumping up, it is fairly obvious that if they have a good strong “down/stay” or “go to bed” they can’t be jumping up at the same time.

Here’s How You Do It

Now, let’s apply Principals #1,#2, and #3 to the problem and see what we can come up with.

Principal #1 Dogs do what works.

Make jumping up not work for them.Cross your arms and turn your back. When your dog jumps up, cross your arms so they can’t nuzzle your hand and you won’t be tempted to push them off. Pivot away from them and wait as long as necessary for them to get “four on the floor.” Reward them with what they wanted — your attention. Plan on 8-10 repetitions per encounter until they start to make the connection.

Principal #2 Practice Makes Perfect

Because practice makes perfect, if you can prevent the behavior from happening at all they will become less skilled at it and you will be preventing it from becoming a habit.

Attach a 4 foot leash and let them drag this around the house a bit until they are able to ignore it and aren’t associating this with going for an exciting walk. If you have a leash on a dog and are not holding it, there is always an added danger so keep a close eye on them. I once had a dog wrap a lead around a coffee table leg and head out the back door with my coffee table in tow. Pre-arrange for someone to come to the door. When you are at the door, before you open it, slide your foot over and stand on the leash where it first touches the floor. Try to do this without them noticing. As they begin to bounce up and down, they are unable to because you are standding on the leash. Your visitor should not give them attention, even eye contact, until they have settled down. They may then reward them by petting them, saying their name and looking at them. This approach relates nicely to Principal #2.

Some students have found that only turning their head, rather than the whole body, works better . This approach is best suited to those dogs who become more insistent when their owners turn away. Again, no eye contact or touching until they have “four on the floor.”

Principal #3. Train an incompatible behavior

Training a sit/stay or down/stay when people approach or come to the door is an example of training an “incompatible” behavior. It is physically impossible to be both jumping up and in a down/stay. Merely knowing sit and stay is not enough however. It must be practiced not only in the living room (low distractions) but practiced in incrementally more  distracting and difficult settings.

You now have a paradigm to use to look at unwanted behaviors and to form a plan. Use it often and it will become a habit. Next time we will utilize this approach to look at loose leash walking.

Related Posts

How To Train Your Dog Without A Trainer

How To Choose A Dog Trainer

How Do You Introduce A Child To Your Dog

What Are Head Halters Used For?

Photo credits: Mommy peace on flickr

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8 Responses to “Top Three Dog Training Problems and Solutions”

  1. Rod@GoPetFriendly 28. Jun, 2010 at 11:48 pm #

    Fantastic post – looking forward to the rest of the series. And can you do one on a dog who BARKS in the car … or maybe an RV :)

  2. Elizabeth Deitz 29. Jun, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    Sure! Is it Ty or Buster? What is the trigger?

  3. Elizabeth Deitz 30. Jun, 2010 at 5:09 pm #

    Poor Buster! There are a couple of approaches I would try. The first one is going to seem crazy–but trust me on this. Once you have a bahavior on cue, it tends to fade away unless you ask for it. It is also necessary to put it on cue, so that you can train the opposite. Make sense? You want to be able to ask for “speak” so that you can essentially capture the “quiet” between the”speak.” So, you already know when he is going to speak. Have treats (and a clicker if you clicker train, which I highly recommend) handy. AS he barks, give your cue. You are not asking him or cueing him to do it. You are simply capturing it, naming it, and marking it. Most dogs wil require 8-10 repetitions before the lightbulb goes on. Next day, repeat those same steps a few times. Then ASK for it. So you are switching from naming it to cueing it. Most dogs set up a rhythm. They might bark twice and take a breath. Figure out that rhythm.
    Now you want to ask for it, wait until he takes a breath (is quiet) and name THAT. I use “whisper” and a hand signal of brining my four finger together with my thumb in a sort of mini-wave. So now you have both “speak” and “whisper” on cue. Practice this a few days before you actually attempt to use it when he normally barks. You are trying to set him up for success. Remember that you should continue to reward the whisper heavily, especially in the beginning.This is a great illustration of training an “incompatible behavior” that I wrote about in the blog. He can’t be both “whispering” and “speaking” at the same time.
    Another approach wouyld be to skimp on the last meal you feed him before you start to pack up. You want him very hungry so he will be busy eating and distracted while the excitement goes on _unnoticed we hope) all around him. To prolong the meal, I would put some very large rocks in his bowl so that he has to nose around a bit and work at getting the kibble (if that is what you feed.) Also, only feed his most prized food while you are packing up.They do have specially designed bowls for gobblers as well.
    And last but not least, I would try to desensitize him to this. So I would often go through the motions that set him off…but then do not go anywhere. Start small. So the first time I would start to put things away a few at a time. Then don’t go anywhere! Do this as often as possible during the day. If you have five things you always do in sequence before leaving, start with just doing step 1 over and over till he becomes innured to that. Then up it to Step 1 and 2 and repeat those over and over. You can also reward calm behavior while you are doing this. So the first time you play this little game with him and he goes “OK, not this again” and just lays there or sits there calmly, you will want to reward him.
    I would actually probably try all three of these at the beginning as they are not mutually exclusive.
    Hope this helps. Let me know!

  4. Amy@GoPetFriendly 05. Jul, 2010 at 3:48 am #

    We will work on this and get back to you! If we don’t figure something out Rod and I will be deaf before long!!


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