“How Do I MAKE Him Do What I Say?”

Photo Courtesy Kate McGill

Photo Courtesy Kate McGill

If I had a dollar for every time I heard or read that statement, I would be happily retired and writing full time in some cabin by some body of water somewhere. MAKE. That word has such connotations that I shudder to hear or read it. Think about it. How do you feel about someone who MAKES you do anything? Warm and loving or resentful and wary? Which way would you prefer that your dog feel about you? I know which one I want. If you are with me, then let’s talk.

We have learned so much in recent years about how dogs learn, their intelligence levels and how they communicate. We need to toss old fashioned words and ideas to the curb and accept the knowledge that we have been given. Dogs deserve our respect just as much as we deserve theirs IF we choose to make communication a two way street.

It’s amazingly easy to persuade a dog to do things that you, as a human want from said dog. Fun is a super motivating state of mind. Teaching a dog to make better decisions that you both enjoy makes your life as a dog parent far easier in the long run. I am a lazy trainer. I don’t think that I should have to tell my dogs what to do forever. I want them to have learned what behaviors to offer. So I spend a lot of time at the beginning of our relationship establishing the perimeters. Win/win. Less work on my part and more rewards on their part.

How does this work, you ask? Very easily. Learning about rewards based training and capturing is the best gift that any dog parent can give both themselves and their dogs. No need to make your dog do anything. You will have taught your dog to do what you need, with pleasure on both sides of the equation. You will, of course, be paying them handsomely for a job well done. Because you don’t work for free so you certainly should not expect your dog to.

Do you want to be a scary dictator or a wise parent? I will choose wise parent every time. Part of being a good parent is mutual respect. This involves allowing your dog individuality. Do you want a cookie cutter dog or do you want to embrace your dog’s individuality? I encourage a healthy curiosity and the full development of one’s personality and talents. Every dog has a unique personality just like every human. We all have different needs. Some need more alone time, some need more interaction. Within reason, it’s important to accept individual needs and quirks.

As long as what your dog is choosing as an activity isn’t harming anyone or anything, then allow it. For example, your dog enjoys spending some alone time in a different room from you every day at around the same time. At the end of this time alone, he joins the rest of the family. No biggie. Make it a point to not bother your dog at that time and you won’t have a complaint about him being distant from you or even growling at you as you try and force an interaction at the only time of day he doesn’t welcome it. Another example is a dog that doesn’t want picked up without warning. How would you handle the same scenario? I personally would object to handling without asking. Why expect your dog not to feel the same way?

Respect is important for everyone. You don’t need to make your dog do anything. You can teach him to do pretty much anything with mutual fun. One of my most requested behaviors from clients is a recall. “My dog won’t come when I call him.” Think about how you sound when you call him. If you wouldn’t pay attention to your tone of voice, don’t expect him to do so. Be the fun! Be the best thing that ever happened to your dog! Build a relationship with mutual respect and love, not a dictatorship. Your dog should not “obey” you just because you want him to. Refer to the first paragraph of this article for more clarity on that.

So stop MAKING your dog do things. Teach him what you want and make it fun! You will wonder what took you so long! Respect, give it and you earn it!


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Positively Expert: Debby McMullen

Debby is a certified behavior consultant and the author of the How Many Dogs? Using Positive Reinforcement Training to Manage a Multiple Dog Household. She also owns Pawsitive Reactions, LLC in Pittsburgh, PA.


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