Discipline – is it Good or Bad?

BEagle drinking from mug on coffee tableWesley left the breeder late. He wasn’t able to interact with the real world until his injections were over at about six months old, so the family have had to acclimatise him to everything from TV to vacuum cleaner and from walking on a lead to encountering traffic. With their love they have done remarkably well with the, now, one-year-old Beagle.

I do love Beagles!

This Beagle has largely been allowed to call the tune. Things have now gone too far and they realise something needs to be done to get him ‘under control’.

What if we tell the dog not to do something and he just looks ar us, basically saying ‘No’!  We have a choice of either backing down or using force – ‘discipline’. Neither works well for us. This young adult dog will now get cross if he doesn’t get his own way. He doesn’t like to be manhandled or grabbed and he delights in stealing and destroying things, guarding his new trophies. This predictably leads to a chase which ends in wrecked objects being forced from a resistant dog.

I had to constantly remember to be careful where I put my pen, my clipboard or my mobile!

They are up and down all evening opening the door to the garden which he may or may not go through. He jumps all over everyone, sometimes encouraged and sometimes told to get down.

He flies over the sofa and over anyone sitting on it, then onto the coffee table, like the people are some sort of pontoon. Saying ‘No’ and chasing him may get him off, but he delights in jumping straight back up again. A great game! They broke something tasty into very small pieces and the son worked at teaching Wesley Up and Off, repeatedly, from chair and sofas. ‘Off’ has to be rewarding – but what is rewarding to Wesley apart from Wesley-generated attention? Petting leaves him cold – he gets too much of that already. Until now food has been his ‘divine right’. I doubt if he’s ever had to work for it, so food has to gain some value.

BEagle standing on the coffee table

BEagle standing on the coffee table

Wesley is fed on demand whenever he goes to the cupboard and paws at it – then he declines to eat.

All sorts of different things are fed to him to in an effort to please him and get hm to eat. Because the cats eat from pouches and he can watch them through the gate, he, too, now has pouches ‘so he thinks he’s eating the same as the cats’. I have suggested moving all the food away from the cupboard and giving him fixed meals only.

He for now should not have any food at all that he doesn’t earn (and no more putting his tongue on their plates while they eat and being given their food while they eat! He will be behind a new gate or in his crate with something of his own to chew).

This will be a lot harder for the lady than it will for Wesley. People can be convinced that their baby will starve and he may not eat much for a couple of days under their terms. Dogs invariably eat up properly within a few days if the food is appropriate and the quantity isn’t too much – and if the humans don’t weaken and mess about.

Wesley’s family will have their work cut out for a while! They have already from the day they got him proved how much patience they have. It’s Day One and they have made a good start. I would expect Wesley to revolt for a few days when he finds that he won’t be getting his own way so readily. They have been prepared for that.

The problem with trying to ‘discipline’ an unruly dogs is that it’s all about preventing the dog from doing unwanted things in a ‘disciplinarian’ sort of way which implies being confrontational. A confrontational approach can generate an aggressive response in a strong-minded dog. ‘Discipline’ does not teach the desired, other, preferred behaviours.

Self-discipline is a different matter.  Dogs learn self-discipline by being allowed to find out what works and what doesn’t.

Five weeks have passed and we are now getting somewhere: ‘I think you will see things are getting better. People are starting to say, “he’s a lot calmer” and “I thought you had a problem, you should see how our dog behaves”. This is good news as we now feel we are getting somewhere, although occasionally he will test us’. 

NB. The exact protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Wesley, which is why I don’t go into exact detail here of the strategies we will be using. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. To get on top of this sort of behaviour you will need help from an experienced professional. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help (see my Get Help page).

Misunderstood

Rottweiller, Labrador Collie mixBelle is just fifteen months old and has lived alone with her lady owner’s until a week or so ago. She is a mix of Rottweiler, Labrador and Collie, though looks mainly Rottie. Here she is with a tennis ball.

A week ago the lady’s new boyfriend moved in. Poor Belle is confused and unhappy.

I was called out because a few days ago she had nipped the man – we will call him John. John’s very understandable human reaction was to be confrontational. Already the bar has been raised. Where Belle may now be backing away, she will soon stand her ground I’m sure.

John and the lady like to cuddle on the sofa – the sofa Belle used to share with the lady. Belle jumps between them and gets agitated. She may grab an arm or clothes. The lady says she is jealous. She is certainly trying to split them up. Belle doesn’t understand humans cuddling. The nearest thing a dog would do, using body contact and paws, could be a sign of trouble brewing. In this case another dog would step in and split the pair by getting between them. So, for doing what any good dog in a dog group would do – splitting up potential conflict – poor Belle is in trouble.

To Belle John has become some sort of challenge. The final straw was when John and the lady were mucking about. He picked her up and threw her about and she screamed in play. Belle warned, snarled, growled and then jumped at John and gave him a big nip. Without doubt, because of the squeals, Belle thought the lady was being attacked and was left with no choice other than to protect her. They were left wondering whether they have a dangerous dog, not realising it could have been a lot worse.

I hope I have managed to open their eyes to understanding Belle, and that they will stop to think how what they do might impact on her, trying to see things from her point of view. I also hope she isn’t sidelined in their new life. She needs calm and consistent leadership and quality time spent with her. Being cuddled one moment and then disciplined the next for something she doesn’t understand using confrontation can only lead to bigger trouble.

At the end of the day Belle would be the one to pay the price, and she is a lovely natured dog who deserves to be understood.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.