Sunday, July 7, 2013

Making & Breaking Habits

I have personally owned and raised six dogs throughout my life. Every single one of them came to me as a puppy and it was such a privilege to watch them grow from naughty puppy to deeply bonded companion. None of them were as hard to train as my current dog. By nature I am a dog lover to the core, but that all changed last summer when I acquired my (now) 13 month old yellow lab, Winston. I had a hard time bonding with him because, quite frankly he was a jerk! He terrorized us. He shredded our clothing, he stole my kids' toys. He peed everywhere...and I mean EVERYWHERE. I didn't get it. How did we so successfully train our other dogs? What is so different about Mr. Winston?

We took him to puppy obedience class. He was perfect. We beamed. We brought him home and his awful behavior would resume. Finally, after we were at our wit's end, my husband begrudgingly hired a personal dog trainer who would come to our home and work with Winston along with his defeated and embarrassed parents. Picture the dog whisper. This man saved us from the wrath of Winston. Instead of teaching Winston how to understand us, he taught us how to better understand the language of dogs. Every time our trainer leaves our home, my husband and I would look at each other and think "It's so basic, how did we not think of that?" Our trainer gave us a glimpse at how dogs learn, think, communicate and process. No wonder our dog was taking over, we gave him 100% of the power to do so.

The first thing we had to do was break OUR bad habits. Not Winston's. He pointed out that Winston was simply being a dog. How can we fault him for doing what he knows how to do? Good point. Also noteworthy, this is the first dog we've gotten since become parents. Our other dogs had our full, undivided attention. Although we said we dedicated the same amount of time with his puppy training as we did our other dogs, it reality we probably didn't.

First and foremost, praise the good behavior and completely ignore the bad behavior. Sounds easy enough. But it wasn't. It was really hard! Even when Winston is naughty and when I talk to him in the same shameful voice that I would speak to my kids, he still considers that a reinforcement because he was given attention for doing it. If he stole a toy from the kids, we'd chase him around the house for 20 minutes trying to get it back. We would get mad and yell, meanwhile he's having the time of his life because we've now made it a game. Oh, don't we feel stupid? He jumps up on us and we say, "Oh, well Hello Mr. Winston! No Jumping!" He continues to jump up, quite simply because he can. Instead, we're to completely ignore him by either turning your back or walking away. WHAT??  "That's barbaric!" we cried. How can we not give attention to this adorable dog who just wants to greet us?  And then it clicked. Ohhhh...  I get it now. We're actually the ones encouraging the bad behavior. Well, shoot.

I hear it over and over, the dog owners who are so frustrated with their pets for not conforming to their household standards. It's not the dog's fault. It's whoever did (or more often didn't) train him properly. The dog is just being a dog. Keep that in mind if you ever find yourself losing patience with your pup. It's practically the same theory as child rearing. You can't let your child eat with his hands for 4 years, then take him to a restaurant and yell at him for not using utensils. It's the same thing, except children are easier because they speak our language. See?

In addition to the chewing and biting, I think we would all agree that potty training is among the most challenging and most frustrating of all. Mainly because it's 24/7 and whenever you turn your back, you'll find yourself having to clean up the 16th spot of the day. It's gross, it's tiresome and it can do some serious damage to carpets, floors etc. That's why I'm such a huge advocate of The Housebreaker. It alleviates the mess WHILE it trains the dog. My favorite aspect of The Housebreaker is that the results are fast and effective. No one wants to do the arduous task of house breaking a pet, but with The Housebreaker, it makes it bearable. Dare I say easy??  If housebreaking is at the top of your priority list, check us out at to see how can effortlessly potty train your dog. I wish I'd have heard about this a year ago. There's 2 months worth of carpet scrubbing that I'll never get back.

If you're going to bring home a puppy or rescue a dog, know what you're getting into. YOU determine whether you'll have a well behaved companion or an out of control pet. Put the time in, I promise it'll be well worth the effort. I could have used some advice like this last summer as I sat in the corner, rocking back and forth over what I thought was a demon dog. Turns out, he just needed some tough love. :)

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