How to Train a Dog with Opinions
This article is aimed at people who, like me, prefer life to be easy and who own a dominant, intelligent dog. It is possible to train a dog to complete obedience (I know, I went to the classes and watched other people) but it takes either a lot of time or a degree of cruelty. If you are someone who always revised for exams when you were at school, (and probably weren’t the middle child in a family) then this article is not for you.
My qualification for writing this article is that I grew up with a Border Collie dog and I now own a German Shepherd dog and sometimes we manage to fool complete strangers into commenting that she is very obedient. Both the dog and I know that this is not true, but we work together to give a good impression. I also have raised two boys. Apart from the chewing furniture part, I think most of the advice probably applies to parenting boys too.
My main suggestion is that you let the dog train you. She will try to do this any way and it is much easier if you just give in. The trick is to pretend that you are slightly dumb (not difficult in some cases) and only learn the things that you want to learn. Your dog will go to great lengths to teach you. So, when my dog wants to come inside, she barks. I do not want her to bark and therefore I do not respond to this. After a while, the dog will realise that I am too stupid to understand her bark, so will stop. When she is sitting quietly by the door, I open it. She will then train me to repeat this action by sitting next to the door whenever she wants to come in.
The same principle works with sticks. If my dog tries to train me to throw a stick by bringing it near enough for me to reach and then running away with it, I ignore her. After a while, she realises that I am too stupid to play the ‘chase you round the garden trying to get the stick’ game and so she will sit next to it. When she sits next to the stick and waits, I pick it up and throw it. She then knows that she has trained me to do this and when she wants the stick thrown, she will sit patiently next to it and and wait for me to respond.
I also did this when going for walks on the lead. When she pulled me, I refused to ‘learn’ that this meant “go forwards” and I stood still. When she was waiting next to me, I moved forward. She soon realised that I was ‘unable’ to walk while she was pulling and would only move forwards if I was leading.
Dogs chase things. It is very difficult to stop them. We live on farm land and when I first got my dog, the farmer suggested that I put her in with a ewe. A dog who has been tossed by a ewe does not chase sheep. (I think this is how farmers train their dogs.) I was not prepared to risk broken bones and pain for my puppy, so I decided to not do this. I am now very careful to ensure that she is always on the lead near farm animals. She is pretty good as she has regularly walked with me through fields of animals, but I do not trust her and so keep her on the lead.
I did however follow the farmer’s advice with our cats. I allowed our puppy to experience first hand what an adult cat is capable of. She acquired a sore nose and the understanding that cats do not like to be chased. Now, when I introduce kittens to her, she is always very submissive and polite (I think she is not entirely sure if they are bigger than her.)
You also need to be aware of the dog’s innate needs. When a dog is young she will go through a teething period, just like a young child. She will need to chew something to stop her jaws aching. If you do not provide something, she will chew your furniture, shoes and bags. Give her something she is allowed to chew on. I find those raw hide chews are good, though you need to keep an eye on them so they don’t choke if they pull bits off.
Puppies have small bladders. They need to be given a place to wee. Do be careful though. I know someone who trained their dog to toilet on newspaper. Then one day, when having breakfast, he went to answer the door. When he returned, his newspaper on the breakfast table had a poop on it! If you train an intelligent dog to do something, they will learn it well. ‘Unlearning’ is pretty difficult.
Big dogs need a fair amount of exercise. If you are not prepared to do this, don’t get a large dog. You do not need to do as much exercise yourself (though it might not be a bad idea in some cases.) You can throw sticks for them to fetch, either up a hill or into water so they have to swim to retrieve it. Most intelligent dogs were bred to be working dogs. They therefore need to ‘work’. No, you don’t need to buy a flock of sheep, but you do need to provide some stimulation. Hide things for them to find, take them on long walks, throw sticks in places that are difficult to reach. You can buy a toy that holds dog biscuits which are awkward for them to get out. A bored dog will find their own amusement and that is generally not good.
Have very few rules and then stick to them rigidly. There are some rooms in my house which my dogs are not allowed in. Ever. Not even a foot. If they start to come in, I say no in a ‘barky’ voice (they are dogs, they understand tone better than words.) I do not shut the doors, I do not put up a fence, they just know that they are not allowed in those rooms. Dogs understand territory. My dog gets very cross when my husband goes into those rooms, as she considers herself far above him in the pecking order, but she will merely sit at the door and swear at him, she knows that she cannot come in.
The only time she ever broke this rule was after I came home after surgery and stayed in bed for a few days and she sneaked upstairs to see if I was there. I had never realised before that a dog can tiptoe! She looked so guilty when she was spotted that she practically leaped down the stairs.
Dogs generally have very good hearing. You do not need to shout. I never understand why so many owners yell at their dogs. If you say something and your dog ignores you, it is not because she has not heard! If you say something many times, you are teaching your dog that she does not need to obey you until you have said it at least six times. Say it once. If your dog ignores you, get up and leave. Your dog is much too nosey/bossy to let you leave without her. When she follows you, take her back and tell her again, once. If you call her when you are out and she does not return, then walk away. Do not keep calling. Your dog will not let you get lost, she will come when you start to leave.
Do not give ‘mixed messages’. If you feed your dog when you are eating, you cannot then expect her to know that she cannot always help herself from your plate/table. If you are happy sharing food, then fine. If not, then only ever feed your dog in her own bowl in a specific place. As I said before, dogs understand territory, we just need to be consistent. If she even puts her nose up to the table top, tell her “No,” not even ‘nearly’ is allowed.
An intelligent dog will have opinions and there is little we can do to change those. My daughter has a friend who my dog hates. He seems a perfectly nice person but she barks and snarls whenever he visits. I do not know why (but am beginning to be a little suspicious of him myself now.)
My dog also hates pigeons. She also hates the other dog who appears every evening at the dark glass door (she has never really got the hang of reflections.)
As for hitting your dog: don’t. It wont achieve anything good. I do sometimes shout abuse at my dog (I am only human and sometimes I get angry.) She just looks at me with her superior “she has lost it” expression. (As I said before, it is a lot like parenting boys. Dogs cannot roll their eyes.) She certainly does not learn anything useful. I do not however hit my dog. I cannot see how inflicting pain will achieve anything. My vet once told me to smack my Labrador with a rolled up newspaper, saying it would create a loud noise but not hurt her. I did. It did not change her behaviour. Mind you, she is a Labrador. She does not have opinions. I love her dearly but am suspicious that the only thought that ever enters her head is, “Can I eat that?”
Usually I am very grateful for my German Shepherd’s opinions. When we are walking in a secluded place and a man approaches and my dog eyes him suspiciously and growls very quietly so he gives us a lot of space, I am pleased. When travellers come to try and sell me a new driveway and my dog snarls at them so they head back to their van before they have even finished speaking, I am pleased. There are also random people who my dog is always delighted to meet and she dances around them in joy. I am beginning to think they must be very nice people.
My dog is completely sure of her superiority. So when my mother took her for a walk and could not work out how to attach the harness properly, my dog walked patiently next to her, giving her many looks to convey, “You did this wrong so I will walk very close to you in case it falls off.” She gets very angry when wild ducks come to visit our pond and comes to tell me. She is also not too happy when we have bulls in the field next door and spends a lot of time checking they stay on their side of the hedge.
If you own a dog with opinions, you will have a faithful friend who is brilliant company and very forgiving of all your mistakes (and they will notice every single one.)
Sometimes my family complain that I love my dog more than I love them. Let’s just hope I never have to choose between them………
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Anne E. Thompson is the author of several novels. Her dystopian novel, Counting Stars, will interest intelligent readers (the German Shepherd of readers!) It explores how the world might look in 100 year’s time, and the story is told through the lives of one family (because whatever the future holds, teenagers will ignore their parents and wives will complain about their husbands!)
Buy a copy today – and start reading about tomorrow….
Available from an Amazon near you. UK link is below.
Available as both an ebook and a paperback.
Thank you for reading.