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Don't Shout At Your Dog, And Other Pet Owner Fails

Ever heard the saying 'don't talk back'? Well, you should bear it in mind the next time you discipline your pooch.

Raising your voice at Fido -- particularly when they're barking up a storm -- seems logical. They're making a loud noise, so we should make an even louder noise in order to get them to stop, right?

Well, according to Lara Shannon, dog behaviourist and trainer and co-host of Network 10's Pooches At Play, shouting at your dog will only make things worse.

"If your dog is barking, when you yell at them they are picking up on the raised voice, and in their terms they think you are barking as well," Shannon told 10 daily.

'Barking' back actually justifies the dog's behaviour, telling them that it's okay to keep on going.

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"It gets them more excited and on higher alert, and they don't understand why you're yelling in the first place."

The whole scenario is confusing for the pooch, and reinforces their bad behaviour meaning they'll do it again next time.

In a fearful situation -- such as a run-in with an unfriendly dog at the park -- getting shouty is also a no-no as it tells your pet that they should be afraid.

"In the dog's mind the owner has reinforced that they are in a dangerous situation, and saying 'you were right to be scared, you were right to bark,' and it reinforces that behaviour and it'll only get worse in future," Shannon explained.

What should we do instead?

"The whole key to dog training and behaviour is to be a leader.  Our dogs are looking for leadership -- we need to be clear, confident, and show them that we have the situation under control," Shannon said.

She shared a few helpful pooch-positive strategies to try:

  • Diverting behaviour -- this is where you divert your dog's attention to something else that they're familiar with and is positive, such as telling them to sit. It shows them that you're in control.
  • Staying calm -- if your pooch is getting all excited at the front door for example, you can say calming and firmly, "I've got it, I will answer the door" then tell them to sit.
  • Waiting for quiet -- if your dog is in the habit of barking for attention or to be let inside, don't yell "Be quiet!" as it shows that their action works in getting your attention. Instead, wait for their barking to stop or pause (they have to take a breath at some point!) then open the door, issue a 'counter command' such as sit, then reward with a treat or a pat and allow them inside.
Other common pooch owner fails

Jumping up

If your furry friend tends to jump up on you or visitors resist the urge to say "Get down", or push them away. Instead divert their attention with a good old sit/stay command and when they obey give them a treat or a pat in reward.

Another idea is to encourage your dog to wait elsewhere such as on their bed while you open the door. Shannon taught her own little dog Darcy, a five-and-a-half-year-old 'bitzer,' to wait on the couch when there's a knock on the door. 

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It took about 10 minutes to train Darcy by showing him where to sit and when, and giving him some pats and treats along the way. Now he knows to hop on the couch whenever someone's at the door.

Hugging

Giving Fido a big cuddle when something bad happens -- that run-in at the park for example -- falls into the same category as shouting at them, would you believe?

Hugging or picking them up to protect them reinforces that they're in a dangerous situation, which makes them freak out even more. And that's not what you either of you want.

Instead resist your instinct to scoop them up or soothe them with a hug and -- you guessed it -- go for a diversionary tactic like a sit/stay command. Again, it shows that you are in control and that they should stay calm. You can even grab their attention using a treat.

Once they're focused on you, and not the stress happening around them, then you can calmly walk them away.

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Fireworks and storms

Another instance where cuddling your good little boy or girl should be avoided is during fireworks or storms, two things that happen a lot during summer. We know, it's super hard not to wrap your pooch in a bear hug when the world is exploding outside.

Try your best not to fuss, and instead create a positive association with the drama outside by doing something that you know your dog loves like playing ball, giving them treats or even doing some training.

But hugs are not totally off limits. "You can of course give them a soothing pat, but first tell them to sit down, show them that everything is okay and then give them a pat," Shannon told 10 daily.

You just want to make sure that you're giving hugs and cuddles on your own terms, and in a response to a positive experience or behaviour.

"Pats are great when your dog is being nice, calm and relaxed -- not when they're jumping up on you, pawing you and trying to get attention," Shannon said.

Pooches At Play airs 8am Saturdays on Channel 10

Feature image: Getty.