I grew up with dogs being a huge part of my life. As I was growing up, training methods were shifting from punishment based to more reward based - but just as today, the shift still had a long way to go. My first dog was the image of perfection. She was the perfect family pet and lived for praise and affection. She didn't really have any behavior issues. When I was a young teen, I became even more interested in dogs than before and took an interest in training. It fascinated me how animals could learn to do a behavior like "wave" that they didn't normally do. I started volunteering at the animal shelter and so desperately wanted another dog. My parents finally decided to add another dog to our family and we brought home a beautiful 9 week old Havanese mix puppy that was born at the animal shelter. It was a new experience for my whole family to raise a young puppy. We brought her home, took her to our yard to go potty before bringing her inside the house, then brought her inside......and she urinated on our carpet. We all quickly realized that it wasn't going to be half as easy as our first experience of raising a dog. We named our beautiful puppy, Lily, and started our journey together.
She found great pleasure in shredding paper and stealing food from our plates. In casual conversations with other people about Lily's crazy antics and difficult behavior, the common remedy that was suggested was that she needed harsh punishment. "Show her her potty puddle in the living room and yell at her and tell her what a bad girl she is" was popular advice at the time. The word "No" became more commonly heard than her own name. It felt wrong to me to always be getting angry at her. We enrolled her in puppy classes and I took great joy in completing the weekly "homework assignments". Lily soaked up training like a sponge. She was very food motivated and you could look into her bright eyes and see her wheels turning as she tried to figure out what behavior she needed to offer to earn her treat. She LOVED her training sessions, and it made me love it too just to see how happy it made her. I felt so proud when she learned a new behavior and it was confidence boosting for me as a young teen.
As I grew up and learned more about canine behavior and training I learned the importance of remaining positive. I still share my life with Lily who gets just as excited to do training sessions at 13 years old as she was when she was 13 weeks old. Lily is very sensitive and always has been. She struggles with noise phobias and gets easily stressed so if she does something she shouldn't do like going into the cat litter box to look for "presents" or about to get into a kerfuffle with our other female dog, yelling only adds stress to the situation - especially when the tension is already building when a kerfuffle is about to occur between the dogs. I realized how much difference it makes to be positive through an upbeat tone instead of negative through shouting or speaking angrily. I learned so much from Emily Larlham on her Youtube channel and I loved how no negativity had to be used at all! Instead of yelling at whichever dog is in the litter box, I can simply call them in an upbeat tone, or casually say "please get out of the litterbox love" as in casual conversation or cheerfully call their name and they walk out. If there is food on the TV tray and one of the dogs gets on the couch to reach for it I can say "that's not for you sweetie" and cue them to get off the couch cheerfully and the food is spared. If they start to shred a napkin they found that fell out of the trash can, I can just excitedly say "Ooh what did you find!?! Can I see?" and trade her for a treat when she proudly gives up her prized napkin. If I notice tension building between dogs I can simply call one or both in an upbeat tone and they happily come to me, forgetting any thoughts of ill will toward their canine sibling. It's about communicating with your dog, not exploding in an emotionally charged response to a behavior we don't like. This does not mean we should be permissive and let our dogs wreak havoc within our homes. It simply means we shouldn't expect our dogs to be perfect 100% of the time. We aren't, so why do we expect that from our dogs? It means when our dogs make a mistake, we kindly direct them to what we want them to do instead of angrily overreacting.
Remaining positive truly makes for a peaceful household. Every time you shout at your dog you not only experience stress but so does your dog. You will find that making a conscious effort to remain calm and upbeat does take some self control and active use of the will to shift from a default reaction based on emotion to one that takes more brain and will power. Eventually it becomes easier and easier and you will find that you're calmer because of it. I have a habit of using nicknames for my pets. I have a huge list. They range from typical love names like "love bug", to food items like "sweet potato", to just plain odd ones like "squishy bean". I found a benefit to it though - it's hard to yell with your pet's love name. It's as if it automatically changes your tone. You can start to come up with nicknames for your pets and use them when you are having a cuddle session with your pet - loving, cuddling, and petting them. Oxytocin is the hormone released during such an activity as cuddling. According to one scientific study, Oxytocin countered the effects of the stress hormone, cortisol. Oxytocin has been found to increase calmness and tranquility so you can condition yourself to use your pet's love name during these cuddle sessions and it's hard to use them later in an angry tone. I haven't done a study on this mind you but it has worked for me! It's harder to yell "get out of the trash my sweet angel!" with an angry tone. By making a conscious decision to remain more upbeat and positive with your pet you will find that you've gained valuable skills - skills that you can transfer to interacting with the people you live or work with. So stay upbeat and positive - you'll be happier and healthier because of it, and so will your dog.
I am a passionate animal lover, rescuer and trainer. Kindness is my goal. I never want an animal to feel intimidated or threatened. Training should be fun for both the dog and human, so the training methods I use reflect my goal of helping the animal to feel safe so they can learn and have fun. I desire the same for the human client as well. Life is too short to spend time training an animal in a fashion that is anything less than fun!