Cheat Sheet

Understanding Your Dog For Dummies

From Understanding Your Dog For Dummies by Stanley Coren, Sarah Hodgson

Recognizing why and how your dog behaves can help you to take on the role as pack leader to give your dog the cues, guidance, and consistency she needs to shape and develop good behaviors. Understanding your dog's body language and the proper methods of discipline, along with using basic, yet helpful commands will go a long way in developing your pooch into a well-behaved companion.

6 Useful Commands for Your Dog

Though a dog can recognize up to 165 different commands, or words, your goals need not be so lofty. Here are six directions that are most useful for navigating your life together. After you have these directions firmly planted in your dog's memory bank, they form the foundation for controlling your dog's behavior. Their use reassures your dog of her place in your family and her vital inclusion in your world.

Word Cue Daily Uses
Follow When walking about town or off your property, or to encourage attention in your home
Wait-okay To get your dog to stop and check in before entering or exiting your home or new buildings, as well as when you cross the street and approach stairs
No (and other derivations, such as Not now, Leave it, Don't think about it) To alert your dog that any given impulse is not in her best interest (for example, stealing food, chasing an object or animal, and so on)
Stay Enforces impulse to control; ideally used when you need your dog to be still or to relax
Down (and Settle down) Directs your dog into a submissive, relaxed pose or to her bed
Come The human phrase equivalent of the word "Huddle"

5 Dog Discipline Do and Don'ts

No one wants to frighten their dog, but many people do just that, often under the guise of disciplining them. Some people yell at their dog or puppy, though these methods have been proven ineffective. Others are locked into a vicious cycle of physical corrections, though they have no educational value and often instill aggression or make matters worse. If the goal of discipline is to teach a dog better manners, then the effort to communicate as much must be closely examined. Here's what doesn't work and why, and what you can do instead:

Don't stare. Unless your gaze conveys deep affection, staring is perceived as confrontational and threatening. Don't confuse your dog. He'll learn to fear or challenge you.

Don't chase. Imagine rushing onto another person in the same manner. This technique induces fear or confrontation, not understanding. It's ineffective in communicating anything, except perhaps that you've lost your mind.

Don't grab, drag, or hold. When you grab, hold, or drag a dog, his only option is to defend himself. Though you may contain him in the moment or vent frustration, it will lead to out of control behavior.

Do stay calm, setting the example to model. You should be the one setting an example of how to act in all situations. Give your dog a good example to follow.

Do direct your dog. Your dog can't read your mind. Teach your dog basic commands, such as to stay, follow your lead, and come.

Do provide alternatives. Give your dog every opportunity to behave well. Provide ample activities to occupy his energy and curiosity. When you discourage one activity (such as jumping), encourage something else, such as fetching a toy or sitting.

Reading Your Dog's Body Language

Your dog is communicating a lot through her body postures and also tuning in to your body language more than you might imagine. Regulating how you hold your posture and recognizing your dog's body language can enable a fluent dialog between the two of you. The figures below illustrate common dog postures.

Remember that if your dog is shrunk and low, she's feeling insecure or scared. If her weight is pitched forward, she's confident, on alert, or in defense mode. If her head is hung low, but her body is relaxed, the message is loud and clear: "I'm exhausted!"

Common dog postures showing dominance and aggression.
Common dog postures showing dominance and aggression.
Common dog postures showing fear and submission.
Common dog postures showing fear and submission.
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