I love dogs. I grew up with big dogs and learned how to behave around them, familiar and unknown. As a young adult I adopted a puppy and did my best, but her bad tendencies got worse and by the end, she was a menace to anything on wheels. It was sobering to be a dog person and fail outright at dog training.
Years later, my wife and I adopted and raised two mostly well-behaved mutts. What changed? Before this time around, I studied dog training and we put those lessons to use, consistently and naturally.
I see you out on trails and sidewalks, at parks, making the same intuitive mistakes I used to make. I feel your frustration, and want to share a few tips that helped me.
Approaching dogs/bicycles/triggers. Shorten the leash and get between your dog and the approaching trigger, so your dog sees your idea of an appropriate reaction. Stay calm. If your dog growls or barks, do a firm "No" and keep calm. If they pull or lunge, put your dog in a sit until the trigger passes.
Repeating commands. Kids and dogs both learn to respond only when they must. If you let them get used to sitting on the fifth "Sit", they will ignore you the first four times forever. After the first command, use other sounds, gestures, or gentle force to get them into a sit; then praise them and get on with life.
Praise and corrections. Too often, people "punish" their dogs with baby talk. When tone and words contradict, your dog hears tone and assumes their bad behavior was good. More helpfully, praise or reward your dog with treats when they do well. In both cases, make it quick and get on with life; both are momentary and have nothing to do with your love towards that dog.
The dog park. Not all dogs like the chaos of a dog park. If they do not want to go in, stay out. If they do, take them off leash; leashed dogs in a dog park often become aggressive.
Happy tails, Bohemian readers!
Iain Burnett lives in Forestville. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write firstname.lastname@example.org.