The word “discipline” has a negative connotation, because it usually involves something unpleasant that disables us from doing what we want. But the origin of the word comes from disciple, meaning training and teaching someone in the way they should go. Working with and “disciplining” dogs is not about physical demonstrations as much as it is about helping a dog to understand the behavior you expect to see from them.
Positive reinforcement training might be the best method of training for dogs who are learning rules around the house and practicing their obedience training skill set. However, for aggressive dogs that challenge authority, flagrantly disobey commands, by growling at you or biting someone, it will require more intentional training time.
First note: There are many reasons why a dog might bite: he might be afraid, in pain, possessive of a toy, or pursuing his prey. If you understand that aggression is a symptom of a greater problem, then it will change how you approach your pooch. First analyze what causes aggressive behaviors in dogs, and see if any of those ring a bell in regard to your pup. If you can identify and address whatever the cause of the biting might be and correct it, then it is very possible the mishap won’t occur again. However, if your dog has been showing signs of rebellion, naughtiness, deliberate disobedience, and is now consistently beginning to bite or snap, then this negative streak will need to be stopped. The best way to go about doing this is to up your training sessions. Dogs were designed to understand pack mentality, and respond the pack leader. In the wild, if dogs feel the alpha male is being a weak leader, then others in the group might challenge his authority. Re-establishing your role in the home as the leader and decision-maker will help remind the pet of his need to obey you.
Examples of Anti-Aggression Training
- When training your dog, make him wait on you. If you give him a command, only feed him when he has accomplished the task. If you have set boundaries in the home, hold to those rigidly and do not allow your dog to fudge on the rules, or he will think less of your authority.
- If your dog gets snappy and possessive over a toy or object, practice the “drop” command more often so that the next time it occurs, you can know your dog will obey you and drop the item in exchange for a treat, so you can pick it up without running the risk of getting nipped or fighting over the toy in the process.
- Dogs that bite when they are interrupted during meal time can be taught that an approaching human is a good thing, if every time you walk toward your dog at his trough, toss in a few treats into the bowl. Doing this will show the dog that when you come his direction as he is eating, delicious treats follow.
- Avoid playing games with your pup that put your hand in close proximity to his mouth (like in tug-o’-war) and be careful to avoid letting your pup chomp on your hands or limbs while wrestling, or things might escalate inciting him to bite you without realizing that can hurt. If the pup clearly has plenty of energy and wants to chase something, play a game a fetch (so that the object of prey is a ball and not your arm) or enroll in an agility training or some other event that will keep your dog’s focus and challenge his mind. Exercising and tiring your dog out will decrease the likelihood that he will bite out of frustration, boredom or pent-up energy.
Helpful Tactics and Tools
- Using force against a dog will only incite him further and teach him to distrust you. If you catch your dog doing something naughty (like tearing apart couch cushions, or chewing on your Ragdoll cat) there are a few ways you can correct the behavior without using damaging force.
- Make a noise. You can interrupt the behavior by rattling a jar of coins, a quick whistle, clapping your hands, or saying “NO” in a loud voice. Once he looks up (with that guilty expression we all know and love), then immediately tell him to “sit” so that he can focus on that task, instead of the one he was doing.
- Use a squirt bottle. This is quick and harmless spray is unpleasant enough to dissuade your dog from doing an unwanted action. For a little sour kick that will help them take this a bit more seriously, add a splash of vinegar to the bottle. Make sure each time before you spray you give your dog the command “sit” “stay” or “off” so he knows what you are looking for.
NOTE: Some pet owners like to isolate their dogs when they have been disobedient, putting them outside or alone in another room when they are. This may only work if the pup is interrupted from the problem in the exact moment of the offense, and not after the fact. Other dog owners also say “no!” then quickly and gently push or roll the dog on his side, in a submissive position. While some trainers would recommend these, in some cases they could frustrated the dog further, inciting him to retaliate. Observe how your dog reacts to these tactics and employ the most effective method of training that gets the best results from your particular dog.