Most people l have met tend to praise and pet their dogs for the wrong reason, at the wrong time, which often result in the dog’s behaviour getting worse. Behaviour training is not obedience training. They are different. Very different. In obedience training, you reward the dog once he has done what you ask (sit, down, shake a paw, come...). It is usually about something you can see, a physical position, an action. In behaviour training, we are trying to teach a dog how to choose the right behaviour and stop the wrong behavior. We are looking at the thought process, the logic, the default response. We are looking at the mind, which usually goes beyond a physical position or an action. For example, imagine a dog who is very nervous around strangers and is known to lunge and growl at them, this dog sees a new person, the dog is skeptical, he keeps looking at the person but has not really decided what to do. The owners see that the dog has not barked, so they praise the dog lavishly. They think they should praise the “no barking” that they see, much like how they praise what they see in obedience training - but is that really going to stop this dog from getting nervous at strangers? Actually, what the owners are doing is praising the skeptical and nervous mindset and they are praising the dog for trying to make that judgement call by himself. Do we really want the dog to look at every stranger with this mindset thinking “is this person a threat”? Do we really want the dog to feel that he should make this call himself rather than deferring to his human to handle the situation? When we have an aggressive or anxious dog, and we display lots of emotional energy in front of the dog in stressful situations by praising the dog lavishly with baby voices, we can trigger more anxiety and even aggression. It is because for a lot of anxious dogs, emotional energy is unstable energy and unstable energy presented at a stressful time will only make the dog more insecure and reinforced the original notion that something is wrong and you are not able to control the situation. Why praise? Why not just keep quiet? Why not project strong and firm energy by being quiet in front of your dog, and use your body language, you leash, and your confidence to guide your dog in silence? A quiet being can project a lot more confidence to a dog who needs guidance than a hyper emotional person screaming in baby voices. This is not obedience training. You don’t simply reward something you see superficially and expect the dog to stop thinking the wrong thoughts. You need to teach the dog how to think by targeting at the dog’s mind, and the mind is not superficial. If you don’t know how to read the mind, which a lot of people don’t, you are much better off stop praising your dog, stop petting your dog, and just remain quiet in those stressful situations - so you would appear more stable and confident in front of your dog, hence helping your dog to feel more comfortable around you. For a dog who has been reacting to dogs or strangers all his life, the biggest reward you can give this dog is to tell him you understand him, you hear him, and you are able and willing to acknowledge and address his needs with your actions. Work on rewarding your dog by being quiet. When you are not too busy petting and talking to your dog, you can observe your dog clearly. When you can really see what is going on in your dog’s mind, you will be in a position to truly reward your dog.
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