Positive, please


If your child had an accident, whether in bed or whatever, would you rub his nose in it? Wait hours and then bop him with a newspaper? No?
Why do that to a dog? The dog will have even less understanding of what message you are trying to convey than the child does!

Given half a chance, dogs want to be clean (we’re not talking about mud here, THAT is an accessory rather than a mess) and they want to please. So help them shape their behavior to accomplish both!

When a dog makes appropriate use of the great outdoors, praise and treat. If they make a mess inside, clean it up, remove them from the mess, and make sure that any associated odor is also removed (or they’ll use that same spot again). Vinegar works well, and there are other cleaners that will also freshen floors or carpets or crates.

Praise the good behavior and ignore or remove yourself or the dog from the bad behavior. Redirect the dog’s energy to what YOU want, whether with treats or a happy voice or whatever POSITIVE reinforcement works. Don’t coddle, don’t reward the unwanted behavior (oh, poor baby, it’s okay….) or you’re just going to get more of it!

Dog jumps on you when you get home? Turn away or leave the dog crated until he is ready to calm down. After a few minutes, if he is still bouncing around (keep in mind he may need to really really really go outside) tell him to sit, or put four-on-the-floor (feet, that is), or wait, or whatever command your dog is learning to respond to with attention and relative calm (and I use the word advisedly – I have a puppy at home, after all). As SOON as you get the desired response (or something reasonably close to it, we’re not looking for perfection, but improvement) REWARD! In this case, calmer rewards rather than excited ones, but you get the idea.

Not all dogs respond the same way to the same stimulus, so it is important that you know what your dog values and what your dog reacts to. And use those to SHAPE the dog’s behavior. Positively, constructively. It’s fun. And your dog will love you for it.
Even puppymill survivors respond well to calm and patient shaping. I found that being as matter-of-fact and as blase as possible about things made it easier for those mill dogs to figure out that whatever it was they were scared of really wasn’t a threat. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen.
One of the most rewarding experiences I ever had with a mill survivor involved a dog afraid of his own shadow, of any movement or noise. He came to me with his head down and his tail between his legs. A couple of weeks later I looked across the yard to see him with head and tail up, alert and happy and curious about the world around him. I managed to get a (blurry) picture right before he spotted me, and I treasure that photo. He never turned into a bubbly excited dog, but he learned to play and to accept commands and interruptions without cowering, and he is in a wonderful home where he is appreciated for the dog he is.
I love happy endings.


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