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Appropriate Touch

Appropriate Touch ... Best Buddy Dog Training Blog

Appropriate Touch

Are you touching your dog inappropriately? Sounds pretty provocative, doesn't it? All sorts of (ugly) ideas come to mind ... so let me tell you what I mean.

Quite often, when I'm called to a client's home for in home training, the dog(s) are noisy, excited, disrespectful, and sometimes even a bit aggressive. The most common denominator I have seen in these situations is that the owners are trying to calm or control the dog by "being nice" ... speaking to the dog in a soothing, pleasant voice and reaching out or down to pet the dog in an attempt to change the dog's behavior.

So, why doesn't that work?  Why won't the dog(s) instantly settle down having heard (and presumably felt) their owner tell them that "it's ok" and "sit"?

There are several reasons that this is ineffective. First, it should be remembered that your dog (no matter how 'smart') does not speak or understand human language the way humans do. What your dog will respond to is the energy behind what you say.  Of course, with repetition, the dog can understand commands based on their sound and your body language coupled with whatever usually happens next.

That brings us to point number two. What happens next is extremely important. If you are giving your dog verbal 'instructions' and unable to ensure that those sounds (words) are followed up with unmistakeable action that achieves the objective of the sound (word), your dog will quickly learn that those words are irrelevant - especially when he is excited. Therefore, when you give your dog a command, you must set yourself up so that you can make your command relevant. Until your dog is reliably well-trained so that he responds to your commands (and forever after), you must be able and willing to back up your command with physical action. That action can be rewarding or corrective, but it must occur consistently as the situation requires.

And that brings up back to the original question: Are you touching your dog appropriately?

In the scenario mentioned above, the dogs are excited and clearly misbehaving. Any touch at that point is going to do one of two things.  It will reinforce and encourage the behavior or it will be corrective and inhibit that behavior. There is no in-between. Remember that. Your touch should be either reinforcing or inhibitive.

Another important concept to bear in mind is the timing of your touch. If you are looking to show affection to your dog, it is your responsibility to ensure that the affection is given at a time that your dog is being respectful, and behaving appropriately. Thus, if you want calm, obedient behavior, you must (at the very least) with-hold affectionate touch until your dog is behaving appropriately. If you find that touch is unavoidable when your dog is acting inappropriately, it is your duty to make that touch informative and corrective. In this way, your dog learns from you what is acceptable and what is not.

So, how do you know if your touch is appropriately corrective? Your dog will show you. if your correction is being ignored or is having the opposite effect than what you intended, the problem is most likely that you are not touching with the right energy and attitude. You must be assertive and 'mean it'. That doesn't mean you should be angry or mean. It means that you should be assertive, resolute and uncompromising. If your dog is behaving inappropriately, you are not asking him to behave. You are telling him to stop misbehaving.  Get it?  It's not a request - it's a command. Done correctly, your dog will acknowledge you and even may show signs of submission - almost as if he's apologizing. That should be accepted by you with loving and forgiving energy.

You needn't worry about hurting your dog's feelings or damaging your relationship, so long as you are fair, consistent and NOT abusive or angry. Your dog likely wants to know how to fit in well in the family pack.  It's your duty to show him.

Who you are to your dog is everything ...

Shawn Hines

~ Feb 14, 2016


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