Dog Training: Set limits and allow freedoms? - Part 1/2
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Dog Training: set limits and allow freedoms? - Part 1/2
At the dog park you can hear it very often: "Dogs need limits!". This phrase is used under dog owners almost in excessive manner. But what kind of limits are meant? Do dogs really need limits? Are freedoms for the dog allowed? With these questions, I am dealing in this two-part article series.
Misinterpretations in behavioral research of wolves
Some dog experts believe that dogs that exceed the limits, will be aggressive. The reality is different. Dogs are very social creatures that basically want to avoid conflicts. The theory of these dogs professionals is based on an incorrect interpretation of behavioral studies made about wolves and dogs. Wolves, from those all domesticated dogs are descended, are extremely social creatures.
It is repeatedly asserted that wolves build a rigorous hierarchy in the pack that needs to be disputed by fighting and aggressive quarrels and that have to be strengthened again and again.
Today we know that it is not right. This does not reflect the real social behavior of wolves. Reason for these false assumptions are studies of wolves that lived in tight enclosures.
Here, the animals could not go out of their way. Furthermore, the wolves were not related. The pack thus consisted of randomly matched characters that would not live in this form together in the wild.
Frustration and increased stress caused aggression between the wolves. It is comparable, like taking the behavior of prisoners in jail as an example for the entire human behavior.
Dogs basically want to avoid conflicts
Free-living wolves do not practice rank and status disputes within their family. Dogs have their social skills from the wolf even expanded in coexistence with the humans. Dogs also want to avoid conflicts and aim rather to a harmonious relationship with the humans.
For some dog owners who have multiple dogs, it may well lead to friction among the dogs. But this must not occur. This is similar to the random living wolves that live together in tight enclosures.
If in a multi-dog ownership it should come to disputes between the dogs, so it is helpful that the dogs have sufficient free space where they can go out of their way.
Learning from dogs
When observing wild dogs, you can see that dogs dealing with conspecifics are setting limits. But this always happens in direct social interactions, such as when it is about food when it is too roughly in the game or when the behavior is too intrusive.
Here, the boundaries of behavior are shown with body language or threats. In rare cases undesirable behavior among dogs is prevented by pain or struggles. Very often, however, undesirable behavior will be simply ignored by the dogs, so that there will be no success.
Set limits properly or set the behavior a frame
The behavior among dogs can be very well transmitted to the dog training. If a dog begs quite pushy to get, for example, food or toys, you should ignore this behavior strictly and give him nothing. If the dog is very intrusive, you can push him away with the hand and let him know that you do not want such behavior. Thus, the limit in the social context, as practiced among dogs, is set.
Also important is the body posture and tone of voice. Hanging shoulders, indecision or a quiet tone of voice will be seen by dogs rather as indecisive and weak and won’t be taken so seriously.
Limits must always be clearly communicated. To set limits is basically nothing more than a change of behavior, so to stop or to block unwanted behavior. Important is here consistency and straightforwardness, so that the dog understands the undesirable behavior and take us seriously.
If there are no clear rules or no clear communication by the dog holder, the dog can not recognize the limit and will also unintentionally exceed this over and over again. Many dog owners interpret such behavior as if the dog wants to test the limits.
Hierarchy behavior in dogs should be regarded rather as secondary. In this respect, the limits should be set only in the immediate social context. Here you can, depending on the situation, then e.g. ignore the dog or train him an alternative behavior (e.g. “sit” or “down”).
If the alternative behavior is executed properly by the dog, he should be rewarded. The dog learns thus that this alternative behavior is much more worth as the undesired behavior.
If the dog is during a play or in other interactions very rough, you should stop the game without comment and do something else without the dog. It is important that undesirable behavior is not rewarded, and thus additionally reinforced.
Begging at the dinner table, for example, should be strictly ignored. This must be consistently adhered by all family members in the house. Only in this way the dog learns that this behavior is not desirable and don’t bring any success.
Do not forbid and limit everything
Among dogs setting limits is a not so often shown social behavior. Accordingly, you should not exaggerate with setting limits. If everything will be forbidden and limited, this will be rather counter-productive, because we are working then against the natural behavior of dogs. This usually leads to frustration and stress for our four-legged friends. Permanent stress may in turn give rise to an undesirable behavior.
Very important is also a clearly structured dog's life, which gives the four-legged friend security. To this and to the freedoms that a dog should have to be balanced, I'm going to write in the second part.
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