Help! My Sister Won't Train Her Dog

Dog getting in trouble
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Q: My sister doesn't seem interested in training her dogs. They jump on me and my kids whenever we visit, they don't listen, and they bark at everything. They don't even know how to walk on a leash. It drives me crazy that her animals don't have manners. How do I convince her to train her dogs?

A: When I attended the San Francisco SPCA School for Dog Trainers, one of the issues raised was the importance of referring family members to outside trainers instead of attempting to train their dogs ourselves. Using trainers outside the family is a measure to maintain sanity and decrease tension, and family members are more likely to value their advice.

Dog manners are an issue that can be very sensitive for some owners. Puppy parents may become as emotional over criticism of their pets’ manners as they do about their children's. Although your frustration with your sister is understandable, the only way to get her to change her attitude is by using a tactful approach that doesn’t leave her feeling judged but that gently guides her toward a desire to train by opening up opportunities and showing her immediate results. 

1. Gift her a little help. On the next gift-buying occasion, whether it’s Christmas or her birthday, give your sister a gift certificate to a local positive reinforcement trainer. Gift certificates can cover private lessons or a group class, depending on your budget. Instead of stressing to your sister why she “needs” to do this immediately, emphasize the positive, such as how the trainer has helped countless pet owners deepen their bond with their pets in a way that is both effective and fun. Some dog trainers even give a discount for dogs from the same family, so this may be an opportunity to enroll your own dog in a class with your sister's dogs to promote bonding between you two. It may even feel less judgmental to your sister if you are taking the same class with her. Best of all, the trainer will be able to offer your sister advice as a third party, which she will be more likely to take; she will also be more likely to follow through with the training. 

2. Support her success. Showing your sister immediate results in training her dogs will also make her excited about the training. Many owners are hesitant to invest in training, usually because they have been unsuccessful in the past or they feel their dogs are too far gone or too established in habits to change. But if she can see a tangible difference in her dogs after a few training moves, she will be more likely to see that training can have an impact on her relationship with her dogs

The easiest way to show her immediate results is by purchasing equipment to make walking her dogs a more positive experience. Try a front-clip harness, such as the Easy Walk Harness, which is simple to put on and which most dogs tolerate well. Front-clip harnesses, which clip at the dog’s chest, minimize pulling and give greater control than a collar.

For households with multiple dogs, opt for a leash with either two leashes stemming from one handle or for a dual doggie attachment that can be connected to a normal leash to allow for walking two dogs at once. Dual doggie leashes help keep leash tangling to a minimum and make it easier to walk multiple dogs. Also replace any retractable leashes your sister may own with soft leashes, which are safer and offer more control on walks. Not only will she see the initial result of being able to walk her pets on a leash, but it opens up the possibility of exercise, which in and of itself can have a powerful effect on decreasing excess energy and cutting down on behavior problems in her dogs.

You can also gift your sister a variety of dog food puzzles, which will help cut back on her dogs' boredom and offer enrichment for her dogs, making them less likely to bark excessively.

3. Show her the way. Take a gift of training treats to your sister’s home when you go visit. Ask your sister if you can give her dogs treats. If yes, then treat her dogs for doing any behavior you would like to see happen more often, such as sit. Simply use your voice with a "good" or "yes" when one of her dogs' bottoms hits the floor and immediately follow with a treat.

Teaching "sit" is a great foundation behavior because most dogs will naturally sit on their own, even if they've never been taught. If your sister's dog jumps up toward you, turn your body to the side and ignore the dog until all four paws are back on the floor. As soon as her dog's paws are all on the floor, you can turn to face the dog once again and be ready to reward a sit. Have your children practice getting your sister’s dog to sit as well by treating as soon as the dog sits. Eventually her dog will learn that sitting yields a reward while jumping is ignored, and he will be more likely to sit when around you and less likely to jump on you or your children. Not only will your sister’s dog become a less pesky jumper, but your sister may be so impressed with your training she may be inspired to continue training on her own.

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