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How to make your dog less aggressive and more friendly to strangers

Here are some suggestions for building basic training skills to make your dog less aggressive and more friendly to strangers:

THE BASICS:

All puppies benefit from simple play-training exercises. Spending 10 minutes per day improving a puppy's basic skills will allow more exciting play opportunities to develop, without the risk of problems that come from a lack of ground rules.

It is important to remember a puppy's attention span is very short, and it will quickly lose interest if it perceives your play attempts as too negative. Be sure to practice for no more than five minutes at a time with puppies under 4 months old.

Older puppies can handle about 10 minutes of play training, but some will let you know they are losing interest more quickly. Puppies need private time to rest and should not be bothered or enticed into playing when they'd rather be napping. When you do play with your puppy, make sure you are in a safely enclosed, familiar environment; if unfenced, always have your puppy on a leash. Wait until your veterinarian tells you your puppy is safely immunized before playing in fenced, dog-frequented areas, and be sure to let your puppy get to know new dogs and puppies at its own pace to avoid injury or fearfulness.

When you do allow your puppy to play with other dogs it feels comfortable with, do so only in a safely enclosed area and remove its collar because it could get caught in another dog's teeth.

Be sure to verbally praise enthusiastically whenever you like what your puppy is doing. To make praise words meaningful, anytime you are petting your puppy be sure to praise at the same time; this will help your puppy learn the phrase "Good puppy!" equals touch and attention!

LEARN TO EARN:

Too much unconditional play can accidentally allow a puppy to conclude it has higher "rank" than its playful human friends. By requiring a puppy to do something for you (Sit, Down, etc.) before tossing a toy or playing, the puppy is learning to give in order to get. Don't force the puppy or punish it; simply show it what you want by placing it gently in the desired posture, then naming the desired behavior. After a few days, if you silently hold the toy and wait, your puppy will "experiment" by voluntarily assuming the posture you've taught to see if it will cause you to relinquish the toy. Name the behavior when puppy gets it right, rather than confronting with a command, then say "OK!" as you toss the toy.

NO ROUGH STUFF:

There are just too many potential problems resulting from "roughhousing" or "wrestling" with your puppy. If the puppy tends toward a forward personality, dominant behaviors such as mouthing, jumping and biting will increase, especially with children and less assertive family members. Puppies with flighty personalities may not consider roughhousing "play" at all; they may instead perceive it as a confusing situation in which their owners are attacking them! They may become fearful, distrusting, intolerant of approach or even defensively aggressive as a result of this inappropriate play. Generally passive puppies will quickly become more excitable and unruly, their laid-back tendencies rapidly evolving into either more aggressive or flighty responses to people. Rough play has no benefits for family pets and should be discouraged.

SIMON SAYS:

Throwing a toy, or else having a helper pull a toy attached to a long cord as you simultaneously give a release command ("OK!") will teach the puppy to associate the word with the act of releasing. Give permission without holding the puppy back; simply wait for its first forward impulse toward the toy to say "OK!" By following a behavior with a command, you will give your puppy a 100 percent positive and successful association of that word with a specific behavior (in this case "OK" equals release). After using permission with no restraint for several days, you can begin to occasionally withhold permission as you throw, similar to a child's "Simon Says" game. Be sure to have a buckle collar on your puppy with a short (6- to 8-inch) length of leash or rope "handle" attached. Hold the "handle" in your left hand, with puppy at your left side; each time you toss the toy and "OK" your dog, let go. When you are ready to teach your puppy the "Simon didn't say" part of this lesson, toss the toy and say nothing. As the puppy starts forward, stop it with the handle (don't jerk!) and say nothing. Remain silent for a moment, then release with "OK!" As you practice this game, you will notice that instead of having to ask your puppy to stay, it waits for permission to go!

WAIT:

Once your puppy has become confident at Simon Says you can increase the difficulty of the game by adding an occasional interruption that requires the puppy to stop while in hot pursuit. Too many Wait commands will cause puppy to decide this game is no fun; be sure to use an interruption no more than twice during a play-training practice session! To teach Wait, begin without a toy involved; have your puppy on its collar and a long (10-foot) length of cord or a light leash. When puppy walks, follow; or if your puppy likes to follow you, walk around a bit. Anytime you observe your puppy stopping for any reason, say "Wait!" and praise. When puppy begins to walk, say "Let's go!" When you feel you've spent enough time attaching these commands to behaviors unrelated to play (at least a week with Wait), you may introduce it into your game. Be careful when using your leash not to jerk or punish your puppy, and don't give a Wait command to a puppy that is running, or it may get too much correction from the leash. After several OK commands to a toy, allow the puppy to release again, and when it is halfway to the toy, command Wait; at the same time allow no more leash for the puppy to continue forward. Hurry and catch up to the puppy (reel in your leash as you approach, so it doesn't take off again!), praise and command "OK!" again. You may need to have the toy on a string, and your helper pull it to re inspire your puppy's interest after being interrupted. With practice you can ask your puppy to Wait, then give an OK command without having to catch up. This is a very important command for puppies to learn well; a Wait command could even save the life of a dog that is running toward danger.

GIVE/ TAKE:

Anytime you observe your puppy picking up a toy, attach the command "Take it!"; when you observe your puppy dropping a toy, say "Thank you!" If your puppy approaches you holding a toy in its mouth, avoid the urge to command Thank You; instead praise and pet your puppy, but do not touch the toy.

Wait until it voluntarily drops it to say Thank You, then give the toy right back to the pup. Never grab a toy from a puppy's mouth. When you feel you are ready to confront with a Thank You command, say it once while holding the puppy's short leash "handle." (Be sure to take this off when you are not training, so your puppy doesn't get caught on something and choke.) If the puppy doesn't drop the toy, just wait, and don't let the puppy leave. Do nothing until puppy finally drops the toy; when it does, repeat Thank You, praise enthusiastically and then give the toy back with an OK command.

If puppy grabs the toy, repeat Take It! This play-training will familiarize your dog with commands that will be important to future training involving retrieving and also helps an owner maintain leadership. Puppies need to be taught to surrender objects willingly but also to trust owners will give as well as take.

Do not allow people to be "gator bait" or test victims with your dog's aggression; instead, seek the help of a qualified behaviorist who can help you modify your dog's territorial and dominance behaviors and who can help you improve your skills as a "leader."
building basic training skills


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