When training a dog, it helps to know what your dog is thinking at any given time. Understanding your dogs psychology is essential.
Like most dog owners, you will at some point probably have thought it a good idea to train a bad habit or behavioral problem out of your dog. Let’s be honest, not many people like their dog urinating on the carpet or chewing their favorite shoes to bits.
Training your dog can be made so much easier if you take the time to understand dog psychology and what goes on in your dogs’ mind.
Choosing to ignore your dogs psychology will only make your training efforts that much harder.
The basis for the majority of your dogs’ behavior is centered on the family unit or ‘The Pack’. To your dog, your family is the domestic equivalent of a pack of dogs living in the wild. Within the pack there will be a hierarchy including young pups, teenagers and adults. When there are situations in the wild where obtaining food is relatively easy, you will find fairly old pack members as well.
Dog Psychology – The Alpha Male
You can use this ‘Pack’ idea to your advantage when training your dog. It is essential (whether training your dog or not) that you maintain a position in the pack at what is known as the ‘Alpha Male’ or ‘Top Dog’. This will instil a natural level of respect from your dog as he would respect a higher pack member in the wild. With you as the alpha male, your teachings during a training session will sink in far quicker and have a much more dramatic effect than if your dog had little respect for you.
Ideally, your dog should see all members of your family as higher members of the pack. You should ensure that you are the alpha male (even if you are not male of course). Also, any children in the house should be seen as higher members in the pack. This will ensure that your dog will listen to them and will not bite or take an aggressive stance with any of them.
In some older dogs, it may be difficult to elevate the status of very young children to a higher level in the pack. This is not a problem as long as your dog sees them on an equal level at least. As long as your dog respects your children, threatening behavior can be avoided. Also, it means that your children can take part in the training process as well and your dog will listen.
Most dog psychologists will argue about the best way to maintain a dominant position within a family unit but the following methods have been shown to work.
Appeal To Your Dogs Psychology
1) Never, ever feed your dog at or near the table. Your dog must always eat in its own area and always after the rest of the family has finished eating. The psychology behind this is that in the wild, the alpha male and then female will always have first choice of any prey that has been caught by the pack. Only after the top dogs have eaten can the lower pack members start to feed.
2) Keep your dog from jumping on your bed. This brings your dog up to your eye level and will give your dog the impression that you are at the same level. In some dogs, this may also be seen as a submissive position that you are in.
3) If your dog misbehaves always bring him up on it. Not reacting may be seen by your dog that you don’t have the authority to discipline him. Psychologically promoting the dogs’ position. A firm ‘NO’ will usually remind your dog that you are the boss. Should this fail to work, a physical (but not over forceful) chastisement may be needed.
Think about what would happen in the wild. The alpha male of the pack will snarl or growl at younger members of the pack to warn them that their behavior isn’t going to be tolerated. Often if a vocal warning fails, the alpha male will ‘rough up’ the younger dog to remind it where it is in the pack and who the boss of the pack is.
Psychological Stimulus And Response
When training our dog, it is important to remember that it is very easy for your dog to fall into bad habits but far more difficult to train them out. The reason for this from a psychological perspective is that dogs react well to ‘stimulus – response’ type situations. Let me give you an example.
Let’s say that every time you decide to take your dog for a walk, you shout ‘Walkies’ to your dog. I can almost guarantee that by the fifth time of doing this, your dog has associated the word ‘Walkies’ with the ‘treat’ of going for a walk and will get quite excited every time the word ‘Walkies’ is mentioned.
Now, let’s say that you say ‘Walkies’ on five different occasions but you DO NOT take your dog for a walk. You will find that it takes a lot, lot longer for the dog to disassociate the word ‘Walkies’ than it took to learn it.
When training, this can be used to your advantage by praising your dog and giving ‘treats’ when things go well. This positive feedback will encourage your dog and speed up the learning process.
Equally important is understanding the psychology behind your dogs’ inability to associate two events that are separated by a long time interval.
If you need to reprimand your dog for any form of bad behavior, you must do it within seconds of the offense. If your dog urinates in the house and you don’t reprimand him immediately but wait until two hours later when you get in and find the mess, your dog is not going to know why it is being reprimanded.
Your dog will NEVER associate the act of urinating with the punishment that came two hours later. As far as your dog is concerned you have randomly dished out a punishment for no good reason. This will only ever result in your dog mistrusting you and will make the process of training even more difficult.
It is important that you understand dog psychology before you start a training regime with your dog. If your dog is taught incorrectly, it may take along time to undo those mistakes.
Your dog is an intelligent, emotional animal that will respond well to love and praise and will equally respect the opinions of a higher member of the pack. If you make yourself that higher member, your training efforts will be rewarded.