Monday, May 2, 2011

How to be a better dog owner

Educate yourself.

That's my secret thing that I wish everybody would do.  You're interested in a breed?  Research it.  Read books, join breed specific forums on the Internet (though granted, I read DobermanTalk long before I joined), contact the national breed club for information (The Doberman Pinscher Club of America:  The DPCA has lists of recommended breeders on a state by state basis, and if you go to the AKC web site, you can also view classifieds for available puppies.  You're interested in dogs?  Find out what they need.  Make sure these things fit into your life already, or make sure you're willing to arrange your life to make it so.

I read a lot of dog books.  Not all of them are on training specifically; some are memoirs, which can be just as informational if you read them correctly (sometimes, if only in a "what not to do" capacity), some are on animal behavior research in general.  I've read a hundred or more books comprising those topics since just before getting Elka, back in 2009 (I'll post the list somewhere, one of these days).
I feel like reading all of that stuff makes me a better owner.  It makes me aware of how I behave around Elka, and how I want Elka to behave, and how to make the two of those things meet.  Reading dog training books gives me ideas both for new tricks or cues, and strategies for implementing existing behaviors.  It makes me curious about how Elka thinks, and what she likes.

For instance, I was re-reading Patricia McConnell's book, The Other End of the Leash.  There is a section where McConnell discusses a particular manner of petting that may be aversive rather than pleasurable to a dog, i.e. the pat on the top of the head.  Curious, I turned to Elka, who was lounging on the couch with me, to see how and where she actually wanted to be pet.  I held out my hand to her, slowly and with fingers relaxed.  She extended her head and then lowered it so that the side of her neck was against my hand.  I scratched, and she leaned into it.  I removed my hand, and stroked the side of her muzzle, which she let me do, but with no leaning or obvious pleasure.  I held out my hand again, received a handful of neck again.  

I wouldn't necessarily think to do things like this, if it weren't for those who go before, and write about it.

Probably the second most important thing after education?  Try your hardest to only say the command once.  Your dog heard you when you said "sit", he or she just didn't feel like it.  I've been guilty of raising my voice when I feel like I'm being blown off, but I try not to.  Things like "sit", and "down" and  your recall need to be motivated; clearly, your dog didn't want to be doing these things in the first place, or he or she would have already without your human guidance.  Use a good voice, be it happy or calm and firm.  Use good rewards; not all dogs are food motivated, not all dogs are treat motivated.

Temple Grandin wrote a book called Animals Make Us Human.  Are you a better human with a dog than without?  

Listen to your dog.  What is he or she telling you, and how can you use that to have a great life together?  What are your goals?


  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog! Interesting about putting your hand out to let your dog show you where she wants to be pet. I'll try that!

  2. It was a neat thing to try, totally random inspiration.

    What did you find out?