Old Dog, New Tricks: How to Transform Your Difficult Dog into a Model Pet
Wargula's mistake: Inconsistency. "I try to keep Finlay off the table by scolding him when he jumps up, but it's hard to be strict all the time," she says.
The solution: Stilwell teaches Finlay the directive "leave it." To do this, she gets down on the kitchen floor—again, training one dog at a time—and places a treat in her fist, which Finlay immediately tries to dislodge with his mouth. "I'm waiting for him to lose interest," says Stilwell. After five minutes, he finally moves his snout, and Stilwell rewards him with a treat from a red pouch. After several repetitions, Finlay learns that ignoring the treat in Stilwell's fist will get him a treat from her pouch. Next, she begins saying "leave it" when she places the treat in her fist, attaching a command to the desired outcome. Finlay obeys. Eventually Stilwell ups the ante and places a treat on the floor. "Leave it," she says. Still, he doesn't touch it. Stilwell tries one final challenge: tossing the treat a few feet away. Finlay eyes the morsel—but again, he doesn't make a move.
When O checked in with Wargula a month later, she was still feeling the afterglow of Stilwell's visit. "Riley is so well behaved on walks," she says. "Recently, a much larger dog came barreling down the street after escaping his leash, but Riley just ignored him." Finlay, meanwhile, sits quietly at the back door when he wants to go out, and they both have made good progress on the "leave it" command. "I had tried to educate myself on how to train them, but nothing was working for us," Wargula says. "That day with Victoria, it's like a lightbulb went on."
Victoria Stilwell's 4 Tips for Raising a Well-Behaved Dog1. Consider life from his point of view. "We can't expect dogs to know that it's not socially acceptable to grab food off the dinner table," says Stilwell. "Yet we still punish for bad behavior without first teaching them what's right and what's wrong."
2. Don't dominate—cooperate. It's better to prevent misconduct (using positive reinforcement) than to punish it, says Stilwell. Teach your dog that good things come from good conduct, and he'll choose to behave.
3. Find out what motivates your dog to learn. It's a myth that dogs respond only to food—they could also want toys, praise, or attention. Vary the rewards to keep him engaged.
4. But don't neglect discipline. If your dog misbehaves, ignore him (for example, turn your back when he's jumping on you), give him a short time-out in another room, or redirect his energy toward something more positive, like a toy.
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