How to Parent Your Dog

May 27, 2011 at 11:26 am Leave a comment

NPR has an interesting interview with animal behaviorist, John Bradshaw, author of Dog Sense.  Bradshaw says that a lot of dog training is based on inaccurate wolf research that claimed wolves were aggressive and power-hungry. Wolves are actually much less aggressive and much more family-oriented than was perviously thought.  And dogs are not the same as wolves, so owners should take dog psychology into account when they train Fido.

Instead of punitive measures, like swatting a dog for jumping up on visitors, Bradshaw advises owners to get inside a dog’s mind.  Why does a dog jump on visitors?  For attention.  And when you swat the dog, you’ve just given him attention, and negative attention is better than nothing.  In this case, Bradshaw advises everyone to ignore the problem behavior by not engaging the dog while he’s jumping up and instead distract him by getting him to do an appropriate behavior (like sitting) and then lavishing attention on him.  Soon, he’ll sit for the attention instead of jumping on visitors.

Bradshaw also makes a good point that we’ve bred dogs to be companionable and seek human attention, but then we expect them to happily sit alone in a house all day without barking or ruining the furniture.  This is an unrealistic expectation unless you have taught the dog how to be alone with a gentle, gradual approach.

This new thinking in the world of dog training reminds me of the positive parenting techniques that I’m attracted to:  avoid punishing behaviors and instead work on the root cause, and think about the developmental reasons for your child’s behavior to ensure that your expectations are reasonable.  Dog trainers and child experts probably have a lot more to learn from each other!

Image: photostock /


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May 2011
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