How do 3 dog moms make lemonade when their dogs give them lemons?
You’ve heard that proverbial phrase, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
But what if your dog gives you “lemons”?
By “lemons” I mean your dog doing stuff like:
jumping on you and everybody else, including kids and strangers in public,
barking too much at all the wrong times and in all the wrong places,
resisting cooperation with normal care like grooming like nail trimming,
running around and ignoring you when you call, and
pulling on the leash like a freight train so that just going for a walk is a chore.
So, how do you transform the “lemons” your dog gives you into juicy sweet “lemonade”? The transformation could look something like this:
always greeting you with four paws on the floor,
barking when it’s appropriate and just enough,
cooperating willingly with care and grooming,
returning reliably when you call and waiting for your signal to go,
walking on a loose leash while still investigating so the walk is fun for everyone.
The key to making behavior changes simple and quick is starting where you are, in the middle. You don’t have to start from scratch!
Starting from scratch involves struggling to get rid of those “lemons.” Yet to make your “lemonade” you have to get to the valuable “juice” hidden inside them.
For example, “attention-seeking dogs aren’t being naughty.” [check out my earlier email and blog] Seeking attention is actually a sign that they’re ready to learn. That desire to learn is your key to making the behavior changes you want. It’s the juice that’s hidden inside the lemon.
Bringing about desirable behavior changes in your dog goes more smoothly when you and your dog have a mutual understanding:
Dog moms make lemonade when their dogs give them lemons!
I’m so excited to share the successes of 3 amazing dog moms! I hope their stories inspire you as much as they have inspired me!
Beth and her 2 Corgis, Maggie and Peter
Beth wanted to teach her two Corgis, Maggie and Peter, to calmly cooperate for routine nail care. She struggled with filing their nails on a nail board while she distracted them with peanut butter. But this method was awkward and inefficient. Because both dogs love treats, they tolerated nail filing. But they didn’t cooperate willingly with the procedure.
Beth’s goal for both dogs was relaxed cooperation during nail grinding with a Dremel.
To achieve relaxed cooperation with Maggie and Peter, Beth
- observed feedback from the dogs at each step
- approached each training session with a goal and a plan
- revised the next step in her plan based on the feedback she observed from the dogs
- met her dogs’ emotional needs by staying below their anxiety threshold and not forcing if they resisted
- set her dogs up to succeed by rewarding small steps
Today Beth can Dremel Peter’s nails without depending on peanut butter! And Maggie is making progress every day. Beth’s patience and consistency gave her dogs the confidence they needed to cooperate willingly in their nail care.
Trish and her Bouvier, Shadow
Trish’s family always had cats. But when she added a big playful puppy to the household, she reached out to me for help. She wanted her young Bouvier, Shadow, to go for daily walks in the park on a loose leash. Shadow was young, impulsive, and strong. He lunged after squirrels and rushed to greet passersby. The more excited he became, the more he jumped on and mouthed Trish. Occasionally Shadow would just park himself in one spot and refuse to move!
Shadow’s behavior during his daily walks made Trish feel frustrated and helpless. She was at a loss about what to do. Nothing she tried would work for more than a minute, if at all.
To reach her goal Trish had to first close the communication gap between herself and Shadow. Her intentions weren’t clear to Shadow. Trish was familiar with cats, but getting along with her dog was new territory. For example, Shadow didn’t stop jumping on her and calm down when she pushed him away. Instead, he got even more excited the jumping and mouthing got worse!
In order to accomplish her goal of calm loose leash walking with Shadow, Trish
- shared quiet moments of calm petting and soothing talk with Shadow to grow and deepen their relationship,
- played simple interactive games like targeting and hide and seek so Shadow would develop the habit of focusing on her to receive attention,
- modeled emotional calm for Shadow during their walks in the park,
- used touch, voice, and body language cues to close the communication gap with Shadow,
- observed Shadow’s feedback and calming signals so she could manage his behavior proactively,
- respected his emotional need to occasionally take a break and reset.
These days Shadow and Trish enjoy their daily loose leash walks in the park. Shadow stays close by and occasionally stops for a good sniff. He no longer chases squirrels or rushes toward passersby. Trish is now more tuned in to Shadow’s signals and she manages his excitement before it ever becomes a problem.
Bonnie and her Boston Terrier, Mr. Gibbs
Bonnie and her husband adopted Mr. Gibbs, a 12-year-old Boston Terrier. Everything went well for a few months until Mr. Gibbs developed an overly strong attachment to Bonnie. Whenever she prepared to leave the house, Mr. Gibbs would become agitated. His excessive barking and jumping on Bonnie at the door to the garage felt intimating. They quickly realized that “correcting” his behavior only made it worse.
When Bonnie contacted me, she was worried that the dog would get so agitated that he might bite. Mr. Gibbs was gentle and affectionate toward her except for the times when Bonnie was getting ready to go out through the door that led into the garage. After she left the house, he became calm again and he was glad to see her when she returned.
We don’t know anything about Mr. Gibbs’s life experience before Bonnie and her husband adopted him. Any assumptions we made about his past would only be guesses.
More important is understanding what Mr. Gibbs needs and wants right now. And fortunately, Bonnie and her dog both want the same thing. A calm departure without the drama.
To accomplish her goal of calm departures, Bonnie
- took advantage of Mr. Gibbs’s calm behavior during the day by petting and praising often him during those times
- invited him to go into the garage with her often during the day so that it always predict her departure
- changed her routine so that picking up her purse didn’t always signal Mr. Gibbs that she woud be leaving the house.
- spent more time reinforcing Mr. Gibbs’s calm behavior and encouraged family and visitors to do the same
- added structure to his routine for mealtime and bedtime.
Making small changes and building on the things that Mr. Gibbs already did well had a huge impact on the dog’s emotional calmness. Bonnie reports that Mr. Gibbs is now more relaxed at the door to the garage. He has stopped his agitated barking and jumping. In addition, visiting family members who previously had a low opinion of his behavior, say they notice an improvement in Mr. Gibbs.
Beth, Trish, and Bonnie are amazing dog moms who make lemonade when their dogs give them lemons. Their successes are evidence that even the most troubling dog problems have achievable solutions.
Achievable solutions start with knowledge:
Three non-negotiables for successful behavior change.
After 40-plus years of helping dog parents solve behavior problems, I believe successful behavior change has three non-negotiables:
- Putting the dog’s well-being above the task. Empathy.
- Starting in the middle and using skills the dog already has. Simplicity.
- Closing the communication gap by observing the dog’s feedback and then revising your next learning step. Clarity.
For a long time, like most dog trainers, I defaulted to “more obedience training” as the solution to the problems dog parents brought to me. Yet, obedience training is actually an advanced skill. To do it right, a trainer has to know about nerdy things like reinforcement schedules, timing cues, and approximations. But none of that matters when all a dog parent wants is a dog that doesn’t leave muddy paw prints on clean clothes or bark at all the wrong times!
I hate to see people who truly love their dogs struggling to “do things the right way” when tricky complications are completely unnecessary! A core value of mine has always been that dog training should be fun and easy for everybody. Even if it means stepping outside the traditional “command, correct, repeat” obedience training model for teaching our dogs.
The thing is that dogs learn a ton of skills without our help. To catch up and to lead we need to meet dogs where they are first. To help your dog understand you, first understand your dog.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
It’s simple to make lemonade if you already have the lemons!
The successes of 3 amazing dog moms, Beth, Trish, and Bonnie, represent achievements that are available to everybody. Because it’s not complicated to make lemonade when you already have the lemons! Here’s the formula for their success:
Behavior changes begin with Empathy, opening your heart to your dog’s emotional needs.
The changes continue with Simplicity, creating opportunities for dogs to use their existing skills in a new way.
Changes become habits with Clarity, listening to the dog’s feedback, and closing the communication gap.
No matter what the unique combination of emotions, skills, and feedback turns out to be for each individual dog and person team, there’s a way to customize a quick and easy results-based plan that transforms unwanted behaviors into sweet lemonade. At the core of every customized behavior-change plan is the truth about the nature of dogs – how they think, learn, and experience the world. Although we think of dogs like family, we can’t ignore the fact that they are a different species.
We honor their nature as dogs when we know their truth. 14 True Things About Training Dogs is an Infographic I created for dog parents. Some of the insights are counterintuitive. Remember dogs have species-specific behaviors that are different from human behaviors.
For example, here’s True Thing Number 12 from the Infographic.
Socialization is changing emotions, not behaviors. What matters most is whether the dog is feeling safe or threatened.14 True Things About Training Dogs
Get your own free copy of 14 True Things Infographic here:
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