“My dog doesn’t listen to me, because I’m too soft with him”.
“My vet told me that a Malinois needs a firm hand”.
“He sleeps in my bed. I know, I shouldn’t baby him like this”
“I can’t be harsh with him, so he does whatever he wants”
“I know, I have to dominate him to calm him down”.
These are authentic quotes from some of our clients struggling with their disobedient dogs. Such conversations always make me wonder how people perceive the way to get a well-behaved companion and make me realize the extent of misconceptions about babying the dogs.
Do you know, why your dog is disobedient? I do, although I don’t know him. It is as simple, as it gets: most probably your dog doesn’t understand what you want. Now, if he does understand some of the commands, he doesn’t comply for two other reasons:
1. He knows that it is not worthwhile and/or
2. He knows that he doesn’t have to comply.
Yep, that’s it. And what about behaviors that you find annoying and you’d be happy to get rid of? Why does he keep presenting them? It’s simple too:
1. He finds them enjoyable
2. He’s got physical possibility to repeat them
3. He never got to know any alternative
As you can see (do you?) this short note explains everything about your dog that makes you cry. As a consequence, you don’t have to worry that you’re too soft of a person for your working line GSD to listen to you. You don’t have to rack your brains on how and when to dominate him. You don’t need to proclaim a firm hand regime in your life. And most importantly, you don’t have to give up showing affection to your dog. He can even sleep with you in your bed if you like it.
An obedient dog is not the one who is dominated or treated harshly.
1. It is, most of all, a dog whom you understand and who understands you. That’s why you have to learn how to read his body language and how to communicate your expectations so that he has a chance to understand them. No dog is born with a C2 certificate in human language, just as you haven’t come to this world with a knowledge about his wordless messages. You and him are two different species! A dog is not a hairy little human and has a totally different perception of the world. Your duty as a handler is to get to know this species. You are more intelligent than your dog, so it’s your responsibility that he doesn’t understand commands like “Here” or “Leave it!”.
2. It is, secondly, a dog motivated to work. Give him a real reason to comply with your demands. Dogs repeat only those behaviors which they find pleasurable or lead to immediate gain. Reward your dog when he comes to understand what you expect. Show him that you’re happy with that. Praise warmly before reward. Don’t worry that you will have to reward him all his life. Eventually (with consistency sooner than later), he’ll have fun in obedience itself. Yep, casual recall is a work, not a duty. Your dog doesn’t care about your opinion on what he should do (for a bowl of food or a roof over head).
3. It’s a dog who knows clear boundaries. Yes, you guessed it! You have to learn how to prevent and forbid certain behaviors in a clear, understandable manner. A sole “No!” or “Stop it!” is as clear to him, as most Chinese words are for you. You have to organize your life in such a way, as to prevent bad habits from occurring and consolidating. You have to be consistent and clear, not harsh. Consistency is not nervousness and yelling all over like a sergeant. Babying, on the other hand, is not giving affection to your dog and caring about his comfort. My dogs sleep on the couch, get tons of toys, plenty of treats plus a lot of cuddling. It doesn’t make them disobedient, because I can communicate to them, what I don’t approve, and I am consistent.
4. It’s a dog whose real needs are fulfilled. Your “firm hand” will be of no use if you don’t know your dog’s need (as a species, breed and individual) and don’t work to satisfy them. For instance, I have no clue about alpacas, so I won’t buy any until I meet someone wiser and learn what an alpaca needs for its well-being. The fact that there have always been dogs in your families doesn’t imply that you have a real knowledge. It’s as simple as it gets: your malinois won’t obey if (for instance) he has too little exercise and too much food.
To sum up: in dog training and upbringing there is no dichotomy: babying (=disobedient dog) VS harsh hand (=obedient dog). Instead, we have knowledgeVS lack thereof. And knowledge is there for the taking for anyone.