When you communicate with your dog about ANYTHING, your timing is your message. That’s because dogs are creatures of the moment – they live in a perpetual NOW. To put it in practical terms think of it this way. If two events happen at the same time, or if one event takes place immediately before or immediately after another, then your dog may decide that the two events are connected.
Sometimes the connection happens after only a single experience: a puppy gets car-sick and is afraid to get into the car after that one bad experience. Often, however, a connection grows in the dog’s mind after a few consistent repetitions: the sound of a bag of treats being opened signals the dog that sitting will earn him a treat.
The most important lesson that you as a dog owner can learn about training your dog is that your timing is your message. The timing of the message determines what your dog learns. If your timing is off, your dog gets a different message from what you intended. If you want your dog to refrain from a certain thing, such as jumping up on you, the ideal time to teach him is not after he is already jumping on you. That’s too late. It’s already water under the bridge. A done deal. The dog decided what he was going to do and then he did it. It’s history.
Practice Perfect Timing for a Perfect Message
When is the timing right, then? You can’t turn back the clock, but you can interrupt your dog just as he is thinking about what he is going to do. Thought precedes action. Interrupt the thought and you can change the action. Good timing for teaching your dog not to jump up on you is when he’s thinking about jumping and before he acts on what he is thinking about.
How can you tell what your dog is thinking? Sometimes it’s hard to miss if you’re paying attention. You notice that your dog has tensed his muscles and is staring intently at the cat. It’s pretty obvious that he’s about to chase the cat. Your teachable moment is when he’s thinking about chasing the cat, not after he’s gone from zero to sixty in two seconds! My advice about teaching your dog not to jump on you is very simple. First, teach your dog a rock-solid reliable sit. Then, tell him to sit when he is about to jump on you and before he follows through on the thought.
How Late is Too Late?
What’s the problem with reprimanding your dog after he’s already jumping on you or already chasing the cat? You can’t just do nothing and allow bad behavior. Of course, do your best to stop it. But realize that acting after the fact has two unintended consequences. One of these is that the message your dog receives is not necessarily the message you intend to send. When you give undesirable behavior your attention, even if it’s negative, you are unintentionally reinforcing the behavior. Your dog gets your attention when he jumps on you. So, he jumps on you repeatedly to get the attention he wants.
The second unintended consequence is that you don’t make any progress. Your training goal is having a dog that doesn’t jump on you. Stopping the dog when the behavior is in full force is, at best, damage control and reactive. It’s not proactive training that’s able to influence your dog’s future behavior.
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