I made many dog training mistakes with Shiba Inu Sephy. Dog training is often counter-intuitive, and following our instincts, may often not be the right thing to do.
The good news is – If we are willing to learn, and put our own egos on hold, things will get a lot better – for everyone. Before too long, we will be wondering exactly when our rascally little scamp turned into the super-dog that he is today.
More good news – Once we understand the underlying mechanics of what dog training truly is, it will no longer seem like magic. We can apply our knowledge to future dogs, who will become super-dogs almost right from the start.
I still made some mistakes with Siberian Husky Shania, but much fewer than Sephy.
Yet more good news – Dogs are resilient and even if we made some mistakes in the beginning, a dog’s bad behaviors can be retrained. If we are willing, and are open to learning, we can turn things around for our dogs and ourselves.
Here are some of the common dog training mistakes I made, why I made them, and what I should have done instead.
1. Using my dog’s name when he misbehaved
Whenever I got angry or frustrated at Shiba Sephy and wanted to correct him for one of his misdeeds, I said Sephy Stop! or Sephy No!.
It is natural for us to do this, because that is how we communicate with other people. We – tend to be very verbal. We rely heavily on verbal names, use tone, volume, and verbal repetition to transfer information.
However, dogs communicate very differently. Verbal cues are less important to them. They identify people and other dogs more by scent than by name.
With training, we can teach a dog to associate certain verbal cues with commands and consequences, but it does not come naturally to them. For example we may say “Good Dog” every time before treating our dog. In this way, our dogs learn that “Good dog” means a treat is about to come soon.
Similarly, if we constantly use a dog’s name while correcting him, he may start to associate that name (verbal cue) to feelings of anger and frustration from us. He may also associate his name to being punished, or feeling pain.
Because of this, the next time he hears “his name” he will likely run away rather than come to us.
I have read some articles by dog trainers who say it is silly not to use a dog’s name while correcting him. They say that not calling the dog by name because you are afraid of hurting his feelings is simply ridiculous.
And they are right – it would be ridiculous if that were the reason.
However, the reason is not because of hurt feelings but because of conditioning, which underlies most dog training and dog behavior techniques.
To a dog, a name is just like any other verbal cue, e.g. Sit, Good, No. Using a dog’s name indiscriminately, like I did, caused confusion and frustration for Sephy because I was sending him mixed verbal cues.
Now, Sephy has a good dog name and a bad dog name. The good dog name – Sephy – is just like Good, and marks a good behavior. The bad dog name – Butros – is just like No, and marks an unacceptable behavior.
2. Adding *too* much and focusing on short-term results
It is a lot more intuitive for us to add something than to take something away.
When Sephy did something good, my first reaction is to reward him (add a reward stimulus). When he misbehaved, my first reaction is to punish him verbally or physically (add an aversive stimulus).
Dogs *do* respond to the addition of a stimulus, but they also respond to the removal of a stimulus.
For example, to stop a bad dog behavior, I can either add a ‘punishment’ (e.g. leash correction), or I can remove an existing reward. Both actions will result in a negative consequence for the dog, which will help him learn to curb that behavior.
When I was having troubles with Sephy, I read up a lot on dog training and one of the most common questions I came across was –
I can understand how you encourage behaviors with food, but how do you stop a dog from acting badly?
We can stop a dog from acting badly by taking away one or more of his privileges.
- If Sephy bites too hard on me, or does not want to play according to my rules, I would just stop playing with him.
- If Sephy chases me around and starts nipping at my feet, I would first take away his freedom by telling him to go to his bed. If he tries to sneak out of his bed, he gets put on a time-out.
- If Sephy does not want me to brush his teeth, he would lose a yummy meal of boiled chicken, melted cheese, and bacon.
- If Sephy starts digging up my roses, he would have to come back into the house and lose his freedom to roam freely in the backyard.
- If Sephy started leash-biting when out on a walk with me, I would march him quickly home, thus ending the nice and fun neighborhood walk.
When I first started my journey with Shiba, I mainly focused on dog training techniques that brought me quick, but it turns out, short-term results. Applying pain as punishment, for example, usually brings quick results. Pain is a strong stimulus and most dogs will react strongly to it.
Some dogs stop performing the unsanctioned behavior because they want to avoid the pain and stress at all costs. Other dogs may figure out new strategies to avoid the associated pain. For example, they may only do it when we are not there, or they may escape from the house and do it elsewhere. Some stubborn dogs like Sephy may just endure the pain, because they are that much of a rebel! 😎
One important lesson I learned through my trials and tribulations with Sephy is not to add too much into the dog training process.
Don’t use a bite when a Shiba scream will do the trick!
Use the safest and least risky techniques as much as we can, and only consider the more risky techniques when absolutely all else has failed.
Recently, I visited several dog training sites that advocated the use of remote collars (shock collars) on puppies. Indeed there have been a lot of emotional discussions over remote collars. Most remote collar advocates object to using the term shock collar, and even call them gentle training collars, because they say it only delivers a gentle current.
Whatever terms are used, I find that it is best not to sugar-coat dog training equipment and techniques. Only by looking at something truthfully and objectively, can we make the best decisions for our dogs. In terms of remote collars, scientific studies by Polsky et al. and Schalke et al. show that they are risky, because they can cause extreme stress in dogs, that can further lead to aggression.
This is not to say that remote collar training will never work, or that dogs will totally lose all capacity to enjoy themselves once they have worn a remote collar. But that is not the point. The more relevant question is –
Why use a remote collar when we can get similar results with safer and less risky techniques?
Using non-pain oriented techniques may not bring the quickest results, but they produce much better long term results; including a higher quality of life for the dog. After switching away from aversive techniques, Shiba Sephy has become a happier, less stressed, and more trusting dog.
3. Putting my own ego ahead of my dog’s well-being
When I first got Sephy, I was very disappointed in him. He was a very excitable dog, he was extremely stubborn, he would sometimes use aggression, and he was not very interested in obeying commands. In puppy class, he was not the worst behaved dog, but neither was he an A-student – far from it.
Often, I would get very angry and frustrated with him because it seemed I was doing all the training steps and practicing a lot at home, and yet his performance in class would be so-so at best.
At home, he would be a holy terror. He would run around like crazy, chew at everything except his toys, hump my leg, bite my hands and arms, and do exactly all the things that he is not supposed to do.
On walks he would leash bite, Shiba scream, do alligator rolls, jump on people, bite on people, lunge at other dogs, and do exactly all the things that he is not supposed to do.
I was constantly embarrassed by Sephy, and my neighbors would give me this “I feel so sorry for you” look, and offer all kinds of random advice.
After a few horrible months of feeling like a failure, I asked myself this question –
Was I doing all this for me, or for Sephy?
I realized that I was more interested in looking good to my neighbors, and looking good in class, rather than trying to do what was best for Sephy. It was not so much that I was disappointed in Sephy for not being an A-student, but rather that I blamed him for spoiling my own A-student grade at dog training.
Because I was so wrapped up in my own ego, I would doggedly stick to what I was doing and not listen to alternative points of view. I did not seek out new information, and most important of all, I did not listen to Sephy.
I suppose it is human to believe that the World should always revolve around us, but once I let go of this false trail of self-absorption, things got a lot better.
For the first time, I truly tried to listen to Sephy, and did my best to give him a good quality of life. I stopped interpreting everything Sephy did through my own self-importance filter. I started to do a lot more research into various training methods, and objectively viewing their pros and cons.
This is not about who is the most right, who is the most clever, who has the perfectly controlled dog, or about us at all. This is about how we can work together to make life better for our own dogs, and for the dogs around us.
There still have to be rules and discipline, but nowadays, I only exercise control when it is necessary for my dog’s safety. Being human, it still matters to me what others think, but truly – my dogs matter a lot more!