Who is the Leader? Defining Factor #3: Timing

If you want to be the leader of your pack, you must have great TIMING when you communicate with your dog.

If your timing is not good, dogs can’t understand you.
Know this: dogs that can’t understand you will TUNE YOU OUT.  Follow this simple logic:

1. The only way your dog can do what you want is if he understands what you want.

2. For your dog to understand what you want, your message must make PERFECT sense to him.

3. And in order for your message to make sense, your timing when communicating praise or disappointment must be perfectly in sync with your dog’s actions.

One of the best sum-up phrases I’ve heard to describe this concept is: Dog Training is letting a dog know whether you like or dislike a behavior WHILE it is happening.

Most dog owners botch this simple concept.  In many ways.  The good news is it’s easy to get better at this and you will see your leadership status rise. Let’s look at a few examples that will help you sharpen your canine communication.

Example 1: Praise and reward on time. Let’s say you want to teach your dog to walk politely on leash. You’d like to see him keep the leash loose and pay attention to where you are (as opposed to just launching down the street as if you don’t exist on the other end).  Most owners miss opportunities to let the dog know which behaviors they like on leash.  Here’s what you do: during the exact instant when your dog is: 1) keeping the leash loose, or 2) looking at you – PRAISE!  Reward!

Rewards can be chest or belly scratches, playing with a toy, food treats, chase games – whatever works.  The more varied the rewards the better.  This works especially well with young pups who haven’t yet learned to pull on leash.

Example 2: If you don’t like a behavior, interrupt or correct on time.  Your dog is about to take food from your coffee table. The best time to say “No” or “Leave It” is RIGHT BEFORE SHE STEALS the FOOD – when she’s in the “stalking” act.  How do you know your dog is about to steal the food?  Look at her!  She’s sniffing it from 1 foot away, now 6 inches, now…  What are you waiting for?  Tell her now – when you know she’s beginning the sequence of the unwanted behavior.

If you wait until she has eaten some food – you’re WAY too late.  The payoff for the stealing is extremely rewarding.  Yum, lips are being licked.  Your dog will repeat this behavior – guaranteed.

Another bad side effect of this:  if you’ve tried some kind of correction after she’s eaten the stolen goods – you’ve now rendered your communication meaningless.  She’s learning that what you say means nothing because it is AFTER the BEHAVIOR already happened.  Late corrections are not only confusing and damaging to your relationship, you’re actually teaching your dog NOT to listen to you because you make no sense.

Want another common example under the same category?  This one is brutal and it still shocks me that there are people out there who think this works.  If you scold your dog for a pee or poop accident that you found AFTER it happened – you are playing the fool. Your late correction make absolutely no sense to your dog.  Don’t believe me?

Here’s what you sound like to yourself when you do this: “Dog, don’t you ever urinate or poop in this spot again!”

Here’s what you sound like to your dog: “Dog, I am so angry but how would you know why!? Sometimes when I stand near a puddle of pee or a poop I just act like an angry idiot!  Isn’t this confusing and weird! Isn’t it! There’s no reason for you to think of me as a clear communicator!  NO REASON!!!  I just get ANGRY sometimes around pee or poop.  If you see me near the stuff, look submissive (guilty in human terms).  That might keep me from getting really mad.”

Do you see the point?  Your dog can learn that you get angry when there’s pee or poop around but that doesn’t teach her anything about the ACTION of peeing or pooping or WHERE to do it. TIMING!

Example 3: You reward your dog for behaviors that aren’t good, rather than for specific behaviors that you like. First of all,  remember that rewarding your dog all the time renders rewards meaningless.

Second of all, rewarding your dog after an undesirable behavior will make that behavior stronger. Yikes.  This one is common.  I see it all the time with puppy parents.  They continue to play with their puppy, even when the puppy is biting their hands and arms hard, and in out-of-control fashion.  If you keep having fun with a pup who is playing rudely, you are rewarding this style of play.  Timing!  Teach your pup that he must take all of his feisty energy out on the toy you are playing with, NOT on your skin or clothing.  If your pup insists on biting YOU – don’t continue the game.

Here’s a great tip: for very mouthy pups, get long toys that keep your hands and arms out of the picture while you stand up!  For a homemade version, tie together a bunch of old socks or a t-shirt. If you use socks, you can drop a ball in the bottom sock for added effect.  Let your pup chase and grab that toy while you stand up or sit in a chair, well out of range of those needle teeth.

The Wrap: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into someone’s home and within five minutes the dog will listen to me more readily than they have ever listened to their owner.  People remark on it all the time.  Is it because I use some kind of mystical dog telepathy?  Nope.  There’s no such thing.  It’s because I am a CLEAR COMMUNICATOR.  Dogs love it!  They can see right away that they’ll be able to understand which behaviors I like and which behaviors I don’t.  It’s timing. It makes you a leader.  Focus on your timing, and you’ll suddenly see your dog start to understand you.

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