Do dogs know right from wrong and other dog training questions

Over the years I receive many dog training questions. Here are some of the often repeated ones and how I answer them.

My dog “knows” when he has done something wrong because he slinks around with his tail down and looks “guilty”. This means he knows he shouldn’t have . . .  gone potty in the house, chewed my shoes, etc. Right? Nope. Dogs don’t know the difference between right and wrong. They only know the difference between safe and dangerous. Your dog is reacting to your body language, stress level, tone of voice, etc. He CAN’T make the association between his actions and the consequences that follow unless they happen IMMEDIATELY after one another.

Is it true that I should not feed my dog from the table? Remember, dogs do what works. If they sit next to you at the table and you give them food, they will do that more in the future. If you don’t want a dog that begs, establish that rule in the household from the beginning and train your dog to go lie down during dinner.

When should I reward my dog? It is important that you reward within 1-2 seconds at the most or before another behavior occurs. If your dog sits and then sniffs, wags his tail, looks at the door before you give him a treat, then you are rewarding him for looking at the door.

Should I ever punish my dog? The only punishment that you should EVER do is time him out or remove a reward that he wants. If he is timed out he is alone with nothing interesting to do for 20-30 seconds. You can also remove something that he is expecting, such as his food bowl. A good example is asking him to sit for his dinner. If he stands before you give the OK, take his bowl off the floor until he sits.

Can my dog go on the couch or the bed? You have to decide if you want him to. If you don’t mind him on the couch or the bed, then it is not a problem. Read this post about dogs on the couch.

I don’t want my dog chewing on my shoes. If I give him chew toys to chew on, won’t that teach him that he can chew on my shoes as well? No, that is not true. You can help him distinguish between appropriate chew toys and inappropriate chew toys by instantly taking away objects that you don't want him to have and replacing it with an appropriate chew toy. Give him a lot of encouragement and attention when he is chewing on the appropriate object and he will start to gravitate towards that and leave other objects alone.

What is a chew toy? A chew toy is anything that is safe for a dog to chew on. This includes ropes, Kongs, bully sticks, dentabones, dimple bones, booda bones, rawhides, pig ears, etc. Get a variety of chew toys and see what your dog likes. Always supervise your dog until you are comfortable with his chewing style. Some dogs will try and ingest big chunks of their chew toys and it can be harmful or fatal.

I had a dog when I was little and I was always told to leave the dog alone when he was eating. Is this correct? A resounding no. Actually the complete opposite is true. This is probably one of the leading causes of small children getting bitten by dogs. They run up to a dog while it is eating or chewing a chew toy. This can be prevented very easily. Read this post about preventing resource guarding.

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