[Dear Annie]

To celebrate 1994 as the Year of the Dog, Director and volunteer dog walker, Lucie Tomson, has asked her dog, Annie, to help out with canine concerns. Annie, a border collie, does her best to help her fellow dogs with their questions.

Annie's picture Dear Annie:
I feel sorry for this dog down the street. She barks a lot when people walk by her house. This is okay for her when Dad is there. She just keeps on barking after he tells her to be quiet or "shushes"her, picks her up and strokes her head. But when her Mom is home, she gets yelled at and told she is a bad girl, and when she gets dragged back into the house and has stopped barking...her Mom is still telling her she's a bad girl. What is going on over there !!!

Dear Gord:
Your little friend must be terribly confused. She not only gets treated differently by Mom and Dad, but both Mom and Dad are giving her mixed signals.

Let's look back on what Dad does when your friend is barking. He tells her to be quiet and when she continues to bark, he picks her up and pats her on the head and says things like "be quiet" and "shhhh" and "knock it off". Let's face it, we love it when we get picked up and stroked on the head, so your friend figures she is doing something right, so...bark bark bark...pat pat pat...doggy heaven !!!

Let's now look at what Mom does. When your friend barks, Mom runs up to your friend and starts yelling "bad girl". When your friend gets dragged into the house and has stopped barking, she is still told "bad girl", and "oh, you are such a bad girl, you need some training". End of story -- no training, and your friend just keeps on barking. She gets yelled at whether she barks or not.

When you review the actions in this manner, the problems are obvious. Owners: please be absolutely sure you are not unknowingly "rewarding" your dog for unwanted behaviour. In the situation above, Dad was picking a barking dog up (the dog loves this) and stroking her head (to dogs, this is a sign that we are good), so the dog keeps barking. Secondly, Dad was saying the same thing, but three different ways. To a dog, this is three different things. Pick one command to stop a behaviour. If the command to stop barking is QUIET, then everyone has to use the word QUIET. It will still be confusing to a dog if one person says QUIET, and another says BE QUIET. Now let's pick on Mom. She continued to yell at her dog after the barking stopped (nothing accomplished here), and she used the words "bad dog" to try to get the dog to stop barking. I have a pretty strong hunch that "bad girl" covers all situations from barking to stealing food. While Dad used different words to mean stop barking, Mom uses the same words to cover it all. Now tell me, how is one supposed to have the opportunity to learn that QUIET means to stop barking.

In summary, owners must be absolutely sure they are not "rewarding" unacceptable behaviour. Be sure everyone uses the same command. Do not rant and rave about what your dog did two minutes ago. Praise immediately when they stop the unacceptable behaviour. The key to successful dog training is the same key to a successful human love life -- TIMING IS EVERYTHING.

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