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Ten Dog-Rehab Tips for Creating a Happier, Better-Behaved Companion

Updated: Mar 28, 2019

By Sean McCormack

For You and Your Dog

Starting today, I’ll be posting a series of rehabilitation tricks to help your dog overcome a number of serious behavioral problems. Whatever his issue, be it fearfulness, aggression, obsessive behavior, pulling on leash, barking, or destructiveness, there are ten simple measures you can take to bring about positive change. Some are basic dog-rehab necessities for getting the best out of your companion; others demonstrate that you are a benign leader and therefore someone whose lead your dog should follow. Although the principles I will teach you are simple, each one is vitally important; the results of applying them, you will find, are nothing short of miraculous. Follow the guidelines to the letter and in no time at all you’ll be feeling like a dog whisperer.

External Control Requires Self-Control

Leadership qualities that a dog seeks in his human are calmness, composure, and kind assertiveness. To stop a dog’s behaviour, confident body language and a serious tone of voice are usually all you need; at other times, when the emphasis is on encouraging a certain habit, you’ll need a more upbeat posture and tone. In canine rehab, there is never a place for shouting or aggressive handling; these will only make your dog scared of and unable to respect you. Moreover, they’re more than likely to create a whole new set of even worse behaviours. To control your dog’s behaviour (and, yes, even another person or situation), you must first control yourself.

Rapid Change Is Possible—But Requires Constant Management

Dogs learn very easily. Unfortunately, though, we’re not always aware of what we are teaching them. So often, well-intentioned people unwittingly encourage the very habit they want to stop while also unknowingly discouraging the desired behaviour. We’ll learn how to turn that around by helping your dog understand just what is wanted of her.

The good news is that most dogs instantly accept a change of leadership and their new position in the hierarchy. So you’ll find that many of your dog’s behavioural problems can be eradicated very quickly—as soon as you start acting like a good leader, your dog will start behaving like a good follower. The vast majority of dogs are happy to take on such a role of and relinquish their perceived leadership—and all the stresses and anxieties that go with it. In our home, we have a number of happy, relaxed dogs who came because of severe aggression towards their humans. Most just needed to get away from the mixed signals they were subjected to in their previous home. Many instantly improve in their new home, usually after the first show of aggression, which we firmly but kindly correct. Sometimes, dog whispering just means doing nothing wrong.

“Aha! ‘Correcting’ Means Hitting or Being Aggressive to Your Dog, Right? I’m Not Doing That!”

No, it doesn’t mean anything nasty at all. And, no, you shouldn’t be aggressive to your dog. Correcting simply means showing how to do something right, like correcting a child’s spelling. Or putting a vase of flowers in the light of the window instead of a dark corner. Yes, some people lack confidence and self-control and lose their temper when trying to teach a dog. Don’t be like them. Correcting means leading in the right direction, not hitting in anger.

Dogs Don’t Want to Lead But Will If They Feel They Have To

Understand and accept that dogs will test leadership almost every day. They’re not trying to disrespect or annoy you; it’s because, in nature, a canine’s survival depends on having a leader in every situation. If she cannot recognize a capable leader, your dog must rise to the role; this is when issues arise, as most dogs just aren’t cut out for such a huge responsibility. She will therefore do a really bad job of keeping others in line and deciding what to bark at, be afraid of, chase, or attack. Be consistent with your composure and with your rules—especially at key times—and your dog will follow them; start to slack in attitude or discipline and your dog will test boundaries more and more. Then there’s a good chance he’ll start to think he needs to take charge to fill the leadership void.

What a Dog Needs v. What We Want to Give

It’s no coincidence that the most nervous (and sometimes aggressive) dogs often belong to the kindest people. It’s simply because they are reluctant to take control when their dog most needs it, especially to correct fearful behaviour. Some people think that their dogs won’t love them any more even if they just say No. But this couldn’t be further from reality. Dogs need and want a calm, assertive leader in order to feel safe and secure.

I put a slip leash on fearful or anxious dogs and refuse, with gentle tugs, to let them pull away from me. What usually happens next always surprises their human: the dog will stop trying to retreat and will instead come towards me. Often she will then choose to sit on my lap and enjoy some nice attention. This is because I am giving that dog something her person hasn’t: calm, benign assertiveness. When they witness their dog cuddling a stranger for the first time, the person realises what their dog really wants. True kindness comes from providing a dog with her needs instead of catering to our own.

Lead by Example

And that’s what achieving pack leadership is most often about: changing our instinctual reactions to our dogs’ behaviour. Only then can we show them—in their own language—how we would like them to behave. Whenever I rehabilitate a dog, I am actually just helping the person change the way their dog perceives them. The human learns to be assertive at key moments—and to be loving, fun, excited, or relaxed at the right times too. Calm yourself and you’ll calm your dog. Then you can more easily control them in even the most difficult of situations.

You Can Do This

So, get ready to start the course. It’s based on the exact same lessons I give when called in to do a bit of dog whispering. Some can take these articles, comprehend the changes needed, and bring about instant improvement in their dog’s behaviour by themselves. That’s what I’m hoping you will do, and I encourage you to post comments on your progress. Or provide criticisms or ask questions so that I can improve the lessons for yours and others’ benefit.

Some need to see the techniques put into practice, and I will be adding videos later. Yet others believe that their own dog is special and that these techniques can’t possibly work on their Fido. They give all manner of excuses as to why these methods will fail. If you’re one of those and near Taipei, I can show you with your own dog, for a fee. My guarantee is that you pay nothing if you don’t see an incredible difference in your dog’s behaviour. I get paid every time. These dog-whispering methods work. But you need to believe it to see it for yourself. And you must take responsibility for maintaining your new role as your dog’s benevolent leader.

Keep Chipping Away

Whatever your dog’s rehabilitation requirements, know that they are achievable. When people asked Michelangelo how he made such beautiful, lifelike sculptures from blocks of stone, his answer was surprising: he didn’t need to create anything; he just chiseled away to release the masterpiece that he knew was already within. And that’s all you have to do. Your dog is a good dog waiting to happen. You really aren’t trying to achieve the impossible here; a well-behaved dog is in there, and all you have to do is remove the obstacles that have so far kept her from showing you that. Your dog is a reflection of you, remember that; be a good leader, and your dog will be a good follower. We can all lead; I will show you how. And the great news is that you don’t need to spend extra hours training your dog or practicing; you just need to act differently (assuming you’re already walking your dog daily).

Relax and Enjoy

Don’t expect ‘perfection’ when training your dog; allow for her individuality, especially when it comes to things like sociability or energy level. I have taught my own dogs very few commands, other than ‘Come, come, come!’ and ‘Leave it!’ for safety. I like that they show their own character, and I don’t enjoy seeing dogs whose every move is controlled. You and your dog will be happier if you don’t try to control everything; instead, provide guidance as to what is not acceptable and allow your dog to be himself within those boundaries.

Having said that, my dogs have picked up a number of commands without me teaching them. This is because they associate my words with the action I am guiding them to perform, such as ‘Hup!’ to get them into the car and ‘In the back’ to get them out of the front seats. Dogs want to please us, so make it easier for them to do so. You’ll both benefit.

So, please enjoy the coming lessons. Practice them with your own dog. Post in the comments if you have any questions, and I will amend the articles accordingly. I will edit posts often, so be sure to check back often or set it up so that you receive updates. I don’t claim my techniques to be comprehensive, but they are both humane and highly effective.

A happier relationship with your dog awaits you!

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