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Training Articles

Courteous Canine - A leadership program

by Maureen Haggerty

Dogs who lack self-confidence, who are destructive, demanding, or a bit “out of control” are often dogs that need structure, benevolent discipline and leadership in their lives. Dogs need to learn good manners and the rules of the house, just like our children. Dogs need and desire the structure provided by leadership. This handout describes how you can effectively become your dog’s leader and relish in the resulting manners from your dog.

The program goes like this: You will teach your dog to wait patiently for what he wants, effectively, teaching him to ask for permission before he makes his little life decisions. Suppose your dog wants on the sofa. Block him if he just tries without permission. Ask your dog to “sit”. When he complies and relaxes, then you can allow him up, if you wish.

Here are other examples. If your dog wants his dinner, ask him to lie down and wait while it is prepared. Does your dog love to go for walks? Ask him to stand quietly away from the door to have his leash put on. Ask him to wait while you open the door. When your dog wants to play, ask him to do a trick first. When he does, reward him with his favorite toy and play with him.

Make a list of everything your dog enjoys (a scratch behind the ears, a run through a field, sniffing on his walks, getting into the car). Anytime your dog is presented with something he enjoys, ask him for something first before you give it to him. Equally important, reward your dog when he is voluntarily courteous (sitting quietly in the kitchen rather than jumping up on the counter) by giving him something that he wants (a little snippet of what you are preparing), and you will see these courteous behaviors increase. This is positive reinforcement training. Animals (humans included) do the behaviors which are rewarding for them and stop the behaviors which are not. This means you must use management in the beginning to ensure his old methods are never effective, for example, by keeping food off the counter when it is not attended.

By implementing this program, you are replacing the behaviors that your dog discovered worked (jumping up on the counter to find food) with the behaviors you want (sitting quietly and not begging). To be effective, these new behaviors must work better for your dog. That is, he is more likely to get a little food by sitting in the kitchen than by jumping up on the counter.

As your dog learns that you control all of life’s valuable resources, you'll begin to notice that he is more focused on you and that he desires to follow your instruction. He is trusting that this is the best way to get what he needs (and a better chance he will get what he wants).

This is a win-win program for both humans and dogs. Part of providing structure in your dog's life means setting him up to succeed. This means making it easier in the beginning to be successful. Reward good behaviors and watch them increase. Make sure unwanted behaviors are never rewarding.

Dogs who are destructive or demanding become more courteous by substituting a new rewarded behavior for the old one. Dogs who have little confidence, develop more confidence because what they are doing is working and they are getting what they want. Dogs who are spoiled start to understand that they have to work for their rewards, not just receive them.

Teach everyone in your family to implement this program. This provides many opportunities throughout the day for your dog to practice his behaviors and earn rewards and privileges. This will help him build confidence in you, and in himself, which is something that many of our dogs lack. And your dog will also develop a deeper trust in you as his leader. He will understand that you will provide for all his needs, but also that he is a working member of the team.

If you follow this program for the rest of your dog's life, and you are consistent with it, your reward will be having a well mannered, courteous companion pet.