Doggy Telepathy: How to Teach Your Dog To Read Your Mind

    *Actual mind-reading results may vary.

Often dog owners will ask me, in a legitimately frustrated tone, "how can I get him to stop doing that?  Why won't he just listen?"  In some ways, this is the equivalent of asking "why isn't he reading my mind, and doing what I want?"  The behaviour in question is usually some variant of barking, pestering, jumping up, begging, pulling, whining, pottying inside, playing keep-away... you see the pattern.  Behaviours that are not dangerous, but are really, really annoying. 

Fear not, frustrated owners.  There is some good news.  It's generally very efficient, not to mention relieving, to just put on a smile, pull out a how-to manual, and train the dog to do something else.

But ... doesn't he need to learn that what he's doing is wrong?

A gorgeous Golden Retriever in dog class learns that sitting, instead of mobbing, gets her what she most wants at this moment:  that morsel of food in her owner's hand.

A gorgeous Golden Retriever in dog class learns that sitting, instead of mobbing, gets her what she most wants at this moment:  that morsel of food in her owner's hand.

Dogs do what they do to get the things they want.  If your dog is jumping up on you, he likely wants to greet you in a friendly way and lick your face.  If your dog begs at the table, he wants some of your delicious forbidden supper.  If your dog does not come when you call, he wants some more loose play time. We have complete control over almost everything a dog wants, so we can simply use this smorgasbord of good things to change the way our dog behaves.  In fact, by giving dogs what they want, we might have accidentally and lovingly created the monster in our midst! How?

  • Our dog approaches the table and a naughty guest gives them a bit of food, or they find a dropped crumb.  Outcome: Begging!
  • Our dog jumps up on us and we pat them or "play" (by pushing them off).  Outcome: Jumping up!
  • Our dog comes up to us when we call them and we punish them by clipping on the leash and ending fun for the day.  Outcome: Keep-away!

"That's all well and good, but what do I do?"

Changing these behaviours can be a one-two punch.  One: Take the thing your dog wants (food, greeting, loose time) and use it to reward behaviours you want, when you want them.  Two: Set things up in advance, to prevent your dog from earning that reward by misbehaving. 

 

Current behaviour

Current reward

New behaviour

New reward

Jumping up

Face time!

Sitting politely

Face time! (or cookie)

Begging

Food

Laying in his bed

Stuffed food toy (better food)

Pottying inside

Relief

Pottying outside

Relief and cookies

Dancing away when called

Fun loose time

Coming when called

Cookies!  (and only rarely does fun end)

 

If possible, take a good, positive dog class to get the skills needed to train specific behaviours.  Then ask your dog to do a new, acceptable behaviour when he would normally misbehave, and reward. 

When you see the new behaviour take over from the old, it will feel like he's reading your mind.  In fact, go ahead and tell your friends and family that he is.  You earned it.