It Takes a Village
We’ve all heard this phrase and know how it applies to raising children, but most dog owners don’t realize it’s the same with dogs. If you’ve ever raised a puppy you know how hard it is to teach them good manners when other people reward bad manners! Every time you walk the cute little bugger down the street, well-intentioned people give your pup love for jumping in their faces.
Raising a well-socialized, polite dog takes the patience and determination of EVERYONE in the dog’s life, from family members to strangers. Follow these tips to make sure the road to your dog’s rude behavior isn’t paved with the good intentions of the people around her.
1) Make sure everyone who greets your dog does so in the manner that you and your dog are comfortable with.
Shy dogs can become even more fearful if they are overwhelmed by people who come on too strong. When people greet your dog, advocate for your dog first, and educate friends and neighbors on the best way to approach. Tell people to allow the dog to close the distance between them, while they avoid direct eye contact. If your dog is nervous, new people can throw small treats (from a few feet away) to encourage your dog to come explore them. Since the average person can’t stand still and resist a shy dog, giving them the job of tossing treats will actually be a good distraction for the human!
Some dogs are the exact opposite of shy. If yours is rambunctious and closes the distance in half a second while leaping up to lick a new friend’s face – make sure the humans know not to reward this behavior. Most people will say, “I don’t mind, I love it!” That’s your cue to explain that you understand, but you need their help in raising a well-mannered dog. Even the occasional rewarding of behaviors like jumping will make them very hard to extinguish. Educating everyone around the dog is key!
2) Don’t be afraid to say no.
When socializing a dog, it is ideal for him to come into contact with the broadest spectrum of people and experiences as possible. However, there are occasionally people in your neighborhood or the public who don’t need to be in your dog’s circle. Perhaps you’ve put hard work into your dog’s greeting behaviors and you routinely meet someone who does not take your efforts seriously. This person continues to teach your dog bad habits while blatantly ignoring your requests. The way to handle this person… keep walking! It’s ok to refuse people if it is in the best interest of your dog.
It does get a bit trickier if the person teaching your dog bad behaviors is your husband or roommate. Which leads to our next point…
3) Housemates and family must be consistent.
A dog raised in an environment with more than one person will learn at warp speed whether or not all household members follow the same rules. If not, it’s a tough road to good manners. It is common to have family members or roommates who want the dog in the house to be polite, but don’t take the responsibilities of teaching the dog seriously. One of the best ways to get housemates on board with this is to tell them that their help will make a big difference. Tell them you’ll do the heavy lifting, but at the very least they need to understand what not to do so that they don’t ruin all the work you put in. Ask them to do this minimum amount of work consistently, and it will make a big difference in everyone enjoying a more polite dog.
For example, if Mom is working on Sparky being rewarded with a ball toss every time he sits or lays down politely, Dad can’t humor Sparky and throw the ball every time Sparky barks in his face or nudges his leg. Always make sure those in your dog’s circle are on the same page.
Consistency goes a LONG way in dog training, and conscious or unconscious rewards are very powerful, for better or worse. Get everyone in your dog’s life on the same page and whenever you can, avoid misfits who can’t help but teach your dog bad manners.