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!
laurie kiewit says
Your dog training tips are very good. I just completed small dog/puppy training with Suki. She did pretty good, all things considered. One problem I continuously have is when I take Suki for walks. When she doesn’t want to move forward, she goes into an “alligator roll”. No matter what I do or what I have to offer, she refuses to move forward. My trainer suggested shorter walks due to her age and breed, for now. Again, I need to rethink my techniques. So now I will keep the walks short and reward and praise for good behaviour. Shibas are definitely NOT for the faint hearted or for someone who wants quick results. She is fun to have however, so for now she’ll stick around. lol
Thanks for sharing your experience – I actually learned a lot just by reading the first point. I think I have to restart training my dog. I think I sort of “damaged” him by associating his name to a bad behavior. He whimpers or run away from me sometimes when I try to call him, is there a way to redo it?
I have a 3 month husky border collie mix named Hurcules… Ive had him for 6 weeks now I love him to death hes very obedient when practicing commands he gets treats but he doesnt want to learn not to bite. I know hes teething so he has plenty of chew toys but when im training him I know he knows that hes not supposed to bite but hes very stubborn and all he does is bite me ive tried ignoring him ive tried saying ouch ive tried pushing him away ive tried leaving the room or redirecting to chew toys but nothing works he doesnt bite my husband because my husband plays rough with him so he sees his like the alpha. But hurcules is rough on me oh and he terrorises my cats…. I was just wondering if theres anything else i can do or any suggestions?
I love your website! I own a 1-year old husky who has given me a whole new experience when it comes to training a dog. I used to get frustrated more because of embarrassment due to looks of people when I took him out. For a while, I blamed my dog, Bane, when later I realized we’re in this together, we’re a team!
He used to be absolutely terrible and would bite the leash a lot when we went running together. I eventually learned that when he bit the leash, he was trying to tell me he had to poop LOL I guess he gets so excited when we’re out, he has to go in the beginning of our run, but I would ignore him and make him keep going, because I thought he was trying to wander off (and people were watching, of course!). Then I felt horrible! He’s still an excited dog, especially with people close to us and bike riders, but it’s one step at a time for US. Of course, I still get embarrassed, because he’s one years old now and still has issues with distractions (which includes barking/whining, pulling to get to them, etc.), but we’re still working together and exposing him to the distractions that over excite him.
I can now take him for a car ride without him crying and howling, he can now lay down and chill until we get to our destination. A lot of the time, it’s frustrating, but when it’s good, it’s the best feeling in the world. Oh, the joys of huskyhood 🙂
Exactly! And really, my dogs and what they think, matter to me a lot more than what my neighbors think. Also, I realized that many of my neighbors were having their own problems with their dogs, so many of us were in the same boat. 😀
Big hugs to Bane!
I love your blog. We have recently brought home a rottie pup who is now 9-1/2 weeks old. She is,………sweet, funny, stubborn, super smart, hilarious, maddening, her own little person. We are already so attached to Libby but her puppy behaviours have us frustrated. Reading your experiences has been so valuable to us. Just love your blog. Right now we are struggling with biting. We have most recently tried the time-out but she has (3 times today) taken to peeing and rolling around in it, then running around the laundry room. It’s almost funny. As soon as I turn my back to take away my attention, this is what she does. We’re going to have go another route, lol. Again, love your blog.
Hmmm, does Libby seem more playful while she is doing this? or does she seem more stressed? Also, when does she usually bite on people? When she is playing and gets overly excited? What is the surrounding context?
When Lara was young, I would sometimes just send her outside briefly, if she gets overly excited. In this way, play-time ends and she does not get to be with her people for a brief period of time. I let her back in when she is calm and quiet. I also first ask for a command, e.g. Sit, before letting her back in. Our backyard is fully enclosed, with a high fence.
Another thing that I found with Sephy is that the calmer I am, the better he responds. He gets excited very quickly, so I throw in a lot of play breaks, where we do some brief commands, to get him to calm down. I also have consistent and clear rules when I play with him.
If Sephy bites at me, I first start by redirecting him onto a toy. I may sometimes also give him an alternate command (e.g. Sit). If that works, then I continue playing with him. This helps him to associate biting on a toy with more play and attention.
If he continues biting me, then I withdraw my attention. I stand up, fold up my arms, and ignore him. In this way, he learns that not listening and biting on me means that he loses my attention and play-time ends.
If he escalates his behavior by jumping on me and biting on clothing, then I calmly say “Timeout” and lead him to his timeout area calmly. I only use timeouts at the end and only if he escalates his behavior.
In general, I try to –
1. Manage Sephy’s excitement level.
2. Set up clear rules of play so that he knows what is ok and what causes the game to stop.
3. Start by letting Sephy know what he should do instead of his current behavior. This teaches him what *to do* instead of just what *not to do*.
4. I start small and only slowly escalate my response if he escalates his behavior.
5. I try to stay very very calm.
How I respond also depends a lot on Sephy’s state, e.g. is he stressed? overly excited? playful? frustrated?
Hope this helps and big hugs to Libby! Let us know how it goes.
I have a almost 2 year old Siberian husky, I got him about 2 weeks ago. His old owners I could tell gave him no attention and payed him no mind, so I know giving him attention is a big part of building our relationship. He is friendly and well behaved in public but I have a problem of his stubborness him pulling away when it’s time to go in the house after a walk or trying to get him to do something he doesn’t want. How can I gain his trust or let him know I’m the alpha male.
The Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF) program has worked well for my Sibes. In general, I tie what they want most to the things that I want them to do.
Here are some other things that I do to bond with my dogs. It will likely take some time to build trust and a strong bond, especially if the dog has had a difficult past.
I gotta say, you are making my life so much easier these days. I spend a good 1 or 2 hour reading(and re-reading) your blog posts and it is making me learn a lot.
I have been the proud owner of a 2 month old Shiba Inu, Hiro, for 4 days now and I am ready to take on the challenge head first. So far so good, all I gotta focus at the moment is to keep his mouth busy on good things and to keep him out of trouble!!
Thank you very very much!!
LOL! Thank you very much and congratulations on your new Shiba pup!
Would love to see some pictures of Hiro when you have the time. 😀
Does anyone know if Brad Pattison’s show has been cancelled, I hope it has, he is so arrogant and ignorant it’s decussating. I had the unfortunate mistake of being associated with him at one time.
As far as I know his show was removed from Animal Planet US after a short time, probably due to negative feedback from viewers. His show probably still airs in Canada, and may also be aired in Europe.
Not sure why people think that any kind of reward/adversive needs to be on the extreme end of either spectrum (must be a human thing – if you’re not a liberal, you’re a conservative. If it’s not black, it’s white. If it’s not a tasty liver treat, it must be a slam to the ground etc). There is a whole shade of grey when it comes to the intensity of the reward/adversive response that people seem to forget when dealing with dogs; why not try a more neutral approach in either direction? Just something to think about.
The extreme techniques (alpha rolls, shock collars) are more sensational and they tend to capture the most attention. As a result, they get the most time on television, radio, the internet, etc; which further enhances their popularity. Neutral stuff tends to get buried because well, they are neutral.
Extreme aversive techniques also produces a more immediate, short-term response, which is a lot more satisfying to many people.
I agree. The choice is not between “total dominance” and “no leadership”, there are an infinite number of levels in-between.
Hi Shiba Shake
Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your blog and how you articulate the unique shiba experience. Our shiba Maddy is 8 & 1/2 yrs old and is a delight and her own dog not a”stepford pup”. I’m always glad when I see you have a new post. Thanks again
Thank you very much Cynthia. I love the way you put it – unique shiba experience. Would be a great title and topic for a future post.
Shibas are indeed very unique and awesome although that can be difficult to see in the beginning 😀 Sephy really got me to learn a lot about dogs and dog training, and he got me to learn it ASAP. One of the best teachers I have ever had!
Btw. I noticed that Sephy calmed down a bunch after 1.5 years and then even more after 3 years. Are there things I should be looking out for as Sephy gets older?
Thanks and many hugs to Maddy!