Living with a dog who has behavior problems can be trying on any family. Not only are boundaries tested, but also the dog’s behavior problems can often disrupt even the most stable household.
A lot of dog training success is contingent on working in collaboration with everyone who lives with the dog. If you’re having problems with your dog, one place to start is with the dynamics of your family.
Dr. Erin Kuntze, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, says, “Setting aside an hour to meet as a family will make the role of each family member significantly more clear and make a smoother, more successful transition into helping the family dog become a welcome member the household.”
“Like children, dogs thrive in a household in which the rules of the house are communicated in a clear, consistent way,” Dr. Kuntze says. “Similarly, if each family member has a different set of rules — and they often do — the behavior of the family dog will reflect this.”
4 Tips for Dog Training Success
1. Be Consistent
Have a family meeting to make sure everyone is in agreement. It will never work if some family members want to allow the dog on the couch or the bed and some don’t. Discuss everyone’s ideas so that each person knows the training rules. That will prevent the dog from getting mixed messages and becoming confused.
2. Include Everyone
Quite often, not only success but also resistance comes from different family members. Someone might want to feed the dog from the table, but doing that might teach the dog to beg, which could annoy other family members.
We might be able to keep everyone happy if they all knew how to turn that feeding into a training session to teach the dog to stay on his bed during dinner.
3. Be Positive
Give each family member “action steps.” That is much more helpful than telling everyone what not to do.
- Do not say: “Don’t chase the puppy when he grabs a sock.”
- Do say: “If he grabs a sock, offer him something better like a desirable chew toy so he comes to you and gives you back the sock undamaged.”
4. Reach Agreement
Family dynamics sometimes make it difficult to reach an agreement, because being a pet’s caregiver can be a personal and emotional experience.
When I was a child, my parents would not allow my dogs inside, and there was no room for discussion. It made for a difficult family dynamic, because I resented the decision and would sneak the dogs into the house and then carefully hide any damage.
So let everyone have a voice, and be open to compromise.
This video shows a girl named Elsie working on commands with her dog, Harlem, with her mom’s instructions:
Consider a Counseling Session
Sometimes a family counseling session can help. It can open the lines of communication.
We have found a real benefit to incorporating family counseling at “I Said Sit!” School for Dogs, my behavior and training school in West Los Angeles. In fact, we have included Dr. Kuntze as our “school counselor” to help with more complex family cases.
In one case, she helped identify the need for the parents to be more supportive and better recognize and deal with some of the children’s needs. The kids had sought comfort from the dogs, and Dr. Kuntze was able to help the parents console and guide the children to contribute in a positive way to the training program. Once we made that change, success was easier to achieve.
Dr. Kuntze says, “In the most successful cases, I have done at least one counseling session with the entire family to identify the needs, motivations and skill set of each family member…. This has made for a much smoother and more successful transition of a pet into a household, and the family often enjoys the session as well.”
Having a pet can be a pleasure when it is a welcome part of the family. But when the pet is the focal point of the problems, then consider the family communication as a big part of the behavioral treatment plan.
In the same way that you would consult a qualified positive training professional or behavior consultant for your dog, consider professional counseling to open the lines of communication for the family.