You think your dog is doing something adorable, so you encourage her to continue that behavior. But later you discover that it’s not so cute after all. Then what? I see this a lot with clients, but I’ve also made these kinds of mistakes with my dogs. Whoops!
I was discussing this on Twitter with Sonia Singh, a fellow pet blogger and marketing director for PawPosse.com in Phoenix, AZ. As an advocate for the large dog lifestyle, she said she’s inadvertently trained her pup Nala to “follow her bliss”– until Sonia discovered that Nala’s bliss was not what she intended! I asked Sonia to share her experiences to help assure dog owners that there are ways to turn things around! Her bio appears at the end of her post.
Training a dog is complex. There are times we train our dog exactly what we want, then there are times we accidentally teach them something we weren’t exactly hoping for. I accidentally trained my dog Nala two things that at the time seemed cute, but ended up with not-so-cute results.
The first mistake
I trained Nala to chew her leash.
Here’s how it happened. One day, I clipped her leash on her collar to go for a walk. She picked up the handle and started walking towards the door with it. It was as if she was taking herself for a walk – very cute. I thought it would be funny to teach her to walk herself. Each time she picked up the leash in her mouth, I praised her. Then she took it a step further, and that’s where it went wrong.
I clipped the leash to her collar one evening, opened the door and, realizing it was chillier than I expected, shut the door and grabbed a jacket. By the time I got back to the door and reached for the leash, I couldn’t find it. Then I saw it – barely four inches of it dangling from her collar. The rest was missing. She had chewed it right off in under 30 seconds. Between being encouraged to pick it up and needing to release excited energy, Nala picked up her leash like I taught her – then chewed it. We went through at least three more leashes before I was able to break her of the habit. She still picks up her leash on occasion, but I haven’t been forced to buy a new leash in over a year.
The second mistake
We trained Nala to growl inappropriately. This had much worse consequences, and we’re still trying to fix it.
When Nala was a puppy, she didn’t make a sound. No growling, barking, whining, nothing. Her dad thought it would be fun to see our little puppy growl, so he started growling at her during play, hoping she would growl back. I warned him that was a bad idea, but when it started working I had to admit – it was adorable to see such a tiny ball of love act so ferocious.
As she grew, her growl became less adorable and sounded more menacing. Her underbite grew too, making her look like she’s constantly baring her teeth. Suddenly, nobody at the dog park saw her as friendly: she would run up to a dog to play, but to the dog and its owner it looked like a dog running towards them, growling and baring its teeth. They would respond accordingly, and Nala was confused about why dogs snarled at her when all she wanted to do was play. Yes, that’s right: she growled to play but didn’t take growling as play when other dogs did it to her. She took it as an aggressive gesture from them, and that’s how they meant it.
Unlike the accidental leash chewing I taught her, the growling has had more serious effects and had a chain of consequences. Other dogs responded to Nala as if she’s acting aggressively and in turn, she developed a fear of some other dogs. That means she became reactive on a leash during walks and was unable to play at the dog park without a scuffle.
We stopped going to the dog park, and at home, we stop play immediately when she growls, so she now growls during play only when she’s overly excited. We’ve been working on “leave it” as we walk so she learns not to respond to every dog that walks by. It’s working: she now growls during play only when she’s really excited and is much calmer on a leash now, and for the most part walks casually by other dogs. She sometimes turns her head, but that’s it. It’s taken some work, but Nala has made huge strides.
Everybody makes training mistakes from time to time. Sometimes it’s not a serious mistake, like our leash mishap; sometimes, the consequences are more dire. The good news is, our efforts are paying off. The earlier you catch the inappropriate behavior, the easier it will be to fix.
Sonia Singh is the Marketing Director and a blogger for PawPosse.com. PawPosse.com specializes in large dog supplies, such as these raised dog bowls for large dogs. They also provide the education and tools that more fully involve big dogs in owners’ everyday lives. As a large dog owner, Sonia understand the questions and issues that come up with big dogs. You can read more of Sonia’s writing on PawPosse.com’s Big Dog Blog, which features practical tips and personal stories on life with big dogs. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.